This morning we find our whole crew in Las Vegas, Nevada at the South Point Hotel and Casino for an event we feel all horseman should attend.
We’re at the Legacy of Legends event. For those unfamiliar with the event, it was started after the death of legendary horseman, Ray Hunt. The mission of this event is: to “endeavor to promote and protect the teaching and ideals of legendary horsemen, Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt.”
Among the folks that will be presenting information are:
I’m sure we’ll have a report for you when we return, complete with photos so you’ll know what you missed. Enjoy your weekends and rub a horse for us, will ya?
In previous discussions about my time riding with Buck, we discussed what to look for when deciding to attend a clinic, how effective his clinics are, and how to get the most out of the experience. We’ll wrap up this series today by talking about how the experience benefitted my business and why I would recommend other professional horsemen attend his clinics.
Absolutely any time you go ride with someone else- even if they’re a friend of yours that has a lot more experience than you, you can almost always take something away from that experience. As I’ve said before, even if what you learn is what not to do it can be beneficial. But to really grasp why you should attend Buck Brannaman clinics, we’ll have to delve a little deeper.
Saying that you’ll come away with a different attitude is an understatement. This may be true for other clinics too- I don’t know, but Buck never makes you feel like you’re not good enough or that you won’t get there. He will tell you- “just keep working-you’ll get there”. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. He’s quick to tell you when you get it right, and is absolutely encouraging when you still have a ways to go!
2. A New Perspective
I know plenty of trainers that approach horse training from a negative perspective. One in which they feel they must exaggerate things to “make” the horse do what they want; or think that as if by the exaggeration they are teaching their horse that things will be easier when they let up. On some levels I can see that way of thinking- and as I’ve said before “believe in what you’re doing or do what you believe in”.
But what you’ll learn by riding with Buck is that our horses are an exceptionally forgiving creature. That they truly love to please us, and that teaching them is a simple as pressure and release, even if you don’t immediately get what you want, you reward the slightest try so that they learn to work hard for you. You’ll learn that your horse can think his way through things if you set it up and wait when it comes time to teach him. You’ll also learn to let go before your horse feels like he has to quit. For example, if you’ve a lazy colt that has trouble moving out the last thing you want to do the first time he lopes off is force him to go around the arena a half a dozen times. What you should do is get him to lope off and then immediately let him trot again. By releasing the pressure to go faster as soon as you get what you want, your horse will start to search for the release, and that’s what we’re all after.
The difference in theory between today’s modern performance horse trainer and someone who trains in the Ray Hunt/Buck Brannaman method, could in and of itself be several posts for discussion.
3. New Skills
It is inevitable that you’ll come away with new skills that can be implemented on not only the horse you took to the clinic, but skills that will apply across the board to other horses. Now, that is not to say that every horse is the same, they’re certainly not, and what works for one horse will not necessarily work in the same order on another horse but you’ll have some new tools in your arsenal. Not only will you get some new skills, but you’ll have plenty to think about for the coming months, and plenty to work on. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll come away with a new set of goals and ideas and thoughts and you’ll be frenzied just thinking about it all.
4. Life Lessons
One of the things that I think makes a Buck Brannaman clinic a totally unique experience, is that in addition to gaining a positive attitude, perspective and new skills, you learn things that will help you throughout the rest of your life. I think the most important of those being consistency. If you can be consistent and positive for your horse, and make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult without punishing your horse in the process, then it isn’t a far reach to say that you can apply those same principles to people; interpersonal relationships with your family members, your kids, your co-workers- the list goes on. Now, I’m not altogether excellent at this yet, but I know plenty of people that are just brilliant at it and I’m fortunate enough to live with one of them!
Have these clinics helped our business? I can’t say that there’s measurable fiscal result as of yet; and one of the reasons for that, is that Buck, to me, is like God. You don’t take his name in vain. As such, it’s fine to say you’ve been to a Buck Brannaman clinic in marketing yourself, but one Buck Brannaman Clinic does not a Buck Brannaman horseman make. Maybe 5 years of riding with Buck can get you closer, but I believe it’s a very fine line to walk. That’s not to say that I don’t tell people that I practice natural horsemanship in the style of Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman, because we clearly do here, at the ranch, but I have a very long way to go before I get to a place of competence, to a place where I can claim that I’m even remotely close to being a horseman that stands on the same, sacred ground as Buck Brannaman.
Should every professional horseman go to a Buck Brannaman clinic? My answer to that might surprise you. I do not think that every professional horseman should go to a Buck clinic. The reason is really quite simple. There are plenty of professionals that believe their way is the best way, and they’re not particularly concerned with the horse, or with broadening their horizons. They believe that what they’re doing is working for them, and that’s fine. They also might believe that they don’t need help and they don’t need to learn anything else, and for them, that’s fine.
As for me and my horses, we’ll continue the journey of horsemanship and try to fine tune the balance, timing and harmony, so that someday my horse can be as happy and satisfied as Buck’s horses- and maybe, just maybe, he’ll be just as handy as Buck’s horses are too!
There is now an award winning documentary about Buck. You can learn details about this video here– it might be coming to a theater near you!
In previous installments we discussed how you’d choose a clinic to attend, and the effectiveness of his clinics. We’ll touch more on that today as we talk about how to get the most out of a Buck Brannaman Clinic Experience.
As with any clinic you go to, you’ll either choose it because you know something about the person, or they came recommended from a friend, or a friend simply drug you along and you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. Whatever the case, I think there is plenty to be learned from Buck before you get to his clinics that will help you while at the clinic. That’s probably true of many clinicians out there- in fact a lot of them on RFDTV have themselves marketed such that you know a lot about them before you ever get there. But regardless here’s my suggestions.
Read as much as you can about the man, his methods and who he is.
If it were not previously mentioned, this seems like a good time. Buck Brannaman is an author. He’s written four books, “Believe- A Horseman’s Journey”, “The Faraway Horses”, “Groundwork: The First Impression” and “Ranch Roping” (for Western Horseman Books). I’ve not read “Groundwork”, or “Ranch Roping”, but I can say I’ve read the other two- more than once! Both are exceptional- the first book, “Believe” is as motivational a book as I’ve ever read. It’s an easy read- as each chapter is a new “story” about how Buck’s methods have saved people and their horses; about how horses have saved people and how Buck’s teaching has saved them from themselves. It’s about believing in the good; finding it, finding yourself and running with it.
“The Faraway Horses” is an autobiography. It’s all about Buck’s life- his less than excellent childhood experiences, and how he ended up where he is now. It’s about a lot of the horses (and people) that changed his life, and you learn a great deal about him by reading it. I think everyone who goes to a clinic should read that book before they attend; that way you’ll have some background upon which to base questions, or even conversations. Something from the books has come up at both the clinics I’ve attended, so I figure it’s pretty safe to assume that it comes up often.
Get your hands on some DVDs. Pronto.
Even if you don’t go to a Buck Brannaman clinic, I think every aspiring horseman should own his DVDs. It probably wouldn’t hurt to look at a couple of Ray Hunt DVDs as well since there are countless references made to Ray in each clinic.
That said, there’s often so much more covered at the clinics than in the DVDs. And you notice things watching him ride in person that you miss in the DVDs. Every Horsemanship 1 Clinic participant should watch the “Making of a Bridle Horse Series- Part One: The Snaffle Bit”. I find watching them, helpful because you have some idea what he’s talking about when it comes to terminology, as well as some idea what to expect at the clinic. Plus, if we’re really interested in getting the most out of our horses then we should be watching and studying these things. All of his DVDs are great; but for first time clinic participants I can’t see how it would be anything but beneficial. Furthermore, if you’re one of those going, say to a colt starting clinic with him, it wouldn’t hurt to have watched his Colt Starting and First Ride DVD; or if you’re attending the Ranch Roping Class you should watch his Ranch Roping DVDs. I will add to this- I do not believe, as a general rule, that you can watch a DVD and “poof” overnight, you’re a horseman or trainer. There is absolutely NO substitute for hours in the saddle and time spent with people who are more advanced than you, whose horses ride around better than yours and just generally have more experience than you. Timing, feel and balance are something that can’t be accomplished by watching a DVD. The DVD can help, but the best way to get there is to have someone around to help you when you get it right, and tell you when it’s not there yet. Someone positive who’ll make you believe you can get it. Because if you believe it can happen, it will.
You may want to work on some of the things you’ve watched in the DVDs and that’s perfectly fine. Anytime I watch one of his DVDs, and it’s usually at night, I can’t wait to get to the barn the next morning to implement the new nugget of information I gained, or to go back to something I already know and see where it will take me. If you’re not that advanced or comfortable doing that, don’t worry about it. Spending time in the saddle is better than spending time on the couch, when you plan to spend four hours a day (or more) horseback for four days in a row. I guess what I’m saying here is, be in shape for that amount of riding. Because if your tail-end hurts after two hours, on day one, it’s going to be a lot harder to pay attention and keep up!
Understand the equipment.
Some clinic sponsors include information when you sign-up, about the type of bit/rein/bridle set up that Buck prefers to have his students using. At the Texas clinic, the sponsor didn’t say anything about his preferences, and there were several people there in curb bits (leverage bits) which Buck himself doesn’t use. One of the horses he asked to be put back into the snaffle. At this point some of you are probably panicking, I know. You’re saying “OMG! I can’t ride my horse in a snaffle bit with no tie-down!” I assure you, you can. Buck will assure you that you can. And your horse will thank you for that change. As for some of the horses in leverage bits- they were doing just fine like they were, so they completed the clinic in their leverage bits- so maybe the above freak out wasn’t necessary. However, Buck does prefer that you ride in a loose ring, d-ring, or egg-butt snaffle. And a particular type of rein set-up called a Mecate or McCarty. There is a purpose to riding in this type of equipment, but it’s not widely known outside the Great Basin, in rodeo circles or even cutting horse/reining horse circles. It’s known to the people that are making bridle horses (mainly buckaroos) who are concerned with putting feel into their horses; not getting their horse ready for competition at 3. It’s what works for him. And me and countless others. But to each his own. That’s not to say that there aren’t some handy people out there that might use this set up and have their horses shown at 3. Buckaroos are more like a Western Dressage Rider- they don’t plan on having their horse in the bridle until he’s 7 or 8 and then he won’t be considered solid until he’s 10 or so.
As to putting feel into your horse- the purpose of a mecate rein set up, as I said earlier is to help develop feel in your horse. Explaining how it works could be a post, all by itself, but the long and short of it is, that the slobber strap is designed to give a pre-signal to your horse that you’re asking him to do something. And that pre-signal is what makes your horse soft, and responsive with very little effort on your part.
Something else that helps with the feel is having the bit adjusted such that it’s not pulled up all the way into the corners of your horse’s mouth. For years we all heard you needed to see a wrinkle (or two). Now, I subscribe to having the horse carry the bit and prefer to have it sit, just below the corners of his mouth, so that I can give him plenty of signal before I pick up the bit and make contact.
If one were to take all of the above recommendations you’d be as well-prepared for his clinic as possible; however, I realize that not everyone gets to ride everyday, or spend as much time in the saddle as myself. So if you have to choose, the two most important things would be to ride as much as possible, and watch a DVD or two. And if you don’t have access to those, there are countless videos on YouTube that you can view. But more important than both of those things, is to realize that an open mind, and “can do” attitude are the most important things needed at any clinic to get the most out of them.
In Part One of this series, we learned a little about who Buck Brannaman is, how I chose to ride with him, and how practicality, safety and confidence play a roll in his clinics.
Today we’ll touch on how effective I think his clinics are.
I haven’t been to but a handful of clinics in my entire professional career. But I read what other horsemen have to say from books to magazines, and purchase DVDs from horsemen and individuals that I admire; there is usually something to be gleaned from everyone- even if what you learn is what NOT to do.
What I can tell you about Buck’s clinics, is that he is a master at assessing the level of the riders in the class and can learn more about each individual by watching their horse, than he can from actually talking to you. He can see that such and so isn’t very assertive, because maybe their horse is pushy; or that this person over here is overly aggressive and their horse is about to come apart at the seams because they are impossible to please. And he can stop that wreck before it happens, because of his ability to read the horse. I believe there is a spiritual/emotional side too- because I’m sure he can see the sadness and struggles someone has by looking at their horse.
Our horses, they don’t lie.
He can see straight past what we think we know, or what we think we’re showing him because how he reads a horse is a gift; an impeccable talent that he spent years honing. He’ll tell you that Ray Hunt was the master at that very thing (and you’ll shake your head thinking, “but, but, but, I just saw what you did, and you’re saying he was better?”); that what he learned doing ground work with colts, wasn’t anything specific that Ray taught him, because Ray could read a horse so well he could knew what he could skip, still be safe and get the job done. Helping a rider get to the root of their problem, and making the solution easy for the horse to understand is something that Buck is quite adept at; in fact, he’s genius. Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult; and don’t punish the horse in the process.
In theory and more often than not, function, his clinics are broken down like this (from his website):
Colt Starting: A class for young horses that may or may not have been handled or worked with, instruction is directed on groundwork and preparation for the first ride. Halter work, gentling and saddling without stress – for both horse and rider – are the main focuses of Colt Starting. The four day class is intended to conclude with the rider safely aboard and beginning work in the snaffle bit.
Fundamental Horsemanship: This new class is for the green rider or a green horse who may feel the need for additional groundwork prior to riding. During each of the four-day sessions half of the class is dedicated to working the horse from the ground in preparation for riding, with the second half of the class horseback.
Horsemanship 1: For the green horse and rider already comfortable in the snaffle bit along with aged horses needing continued work. This is the first stage of progressing into the bridle with all basic movements introduced. All levels of riders – no matter what discipline – will benefit. The class features strictly dry work – no cattle. All maneuvers stress the vaquero style of riding and are appropriate for horses from first level snaffle to experienced bridle horses. Hackamore horses welcome.
Horsemanship 2: The next phase in the development of the versatile bridle horse. Horsemanship 2 introduces the rider to working the horse in the hackamore and beyond. Horsemanship 1 is a prerequisite for enrolling in Horsemanship 2 unless otherwise approved by Buck. The class involves working cattle and ranch roping so that all aspects in preparing the bridle horse-in-the-making are addressed.
Ranch Roping: As the name implies this class is designed to refine and improve rope skills – for both horse and rider – with regard to ranch related activities with stock from horseback. This class is not about timed event roping; rather it is about perfecting a variety of roping shots as well as proper positioning of the horse. Aspects of working cattle outside as well as arena roping are practiced with the ultimate intent of creating a calm and skilled approach to handling stock with a rope. Rider’s relative adeptness with a rope is a plus, but not required.
Cow Work: Limited to 12 riders, cow working is for the experienced rider who wishes to expose a green horse to cattle work or to help work further with horses already started on cattle.
Tracking, sorting and cutting are worked on with the intent of introducing or refining work with stock for the purpose of ranch work. Calmness and precision are stressed as Buck’s Cow Working classes are designed with the working stockman in mind.
Now that we know what classes he offers, let’s talk about what classes I’ve participated in and watched while at his clinics. Both times I have attended his clinics, I’ve ridden in Horsemanship 1, and both times I’ve learned new things and found weaknesses in my riding and what my horses are doing. And I will continue to ride in that class at least once a year, because after all, we’re on a journey and we can never get “too” good or “know” too much. When we get that attitude, we end up getting burnt, more often than not. Buck himself has told us that he rode in Ray Hunt’s beginning horsemanship class for 30 years because he always learned something new while in it.
That said, when I attended the first clinic in the spring, there were about 30 riders in that class. Some couldn’t sit a trot; others had no idea what foot cadence was and still others just struggled because they never get to ride. Overall, the general feel of the class, at least to me, was very novice. So we didn’t get to do a lot of the things that I thought I was ready to, and wanted to work on- like lead changes, and more advanced collection maneuvers. But what we did get to work on made a HUGE difference in my reformed runaway, go-to-ranch horse, Gump. I found a brace through his right side, and was able to increase the amount of softness and collection in him. I found out that my horse wasn’t as ready as I thought he was for those more advanced maneuvers. If it were not for the slow work that we did for four days there, I would not have been a believer in doing as much slow work with my horses. Slow work is under-rated by many people. But no longer by me. If they can’t do it at a walk, we can’t expect them to do it a trot. And slow work helps to continually build and improve the foundation that every well-broke horse needs and deserves. It is what you should go back to if ever you’re in over your head. A well-built foundation rarely crumbles.
The second clinic that I attended the fall of 2010, was a different story entirely. As previously mentioned, I took a 40 ride colt, Gump’s younger brother with me. That class, with the exception of myself, my friend Sharon and a couple other folks, is a group of people who ride with Buck often- most are going on 3-4 years; a couple had been riding with him for 15. At that clinic we did focus on the slow work, but we were expected to do a lot of it as homework, or before class started each day. We did get to work on lead changes, and stops and back ups and lots of fun things, and while I couldn’t correctly do a lot of those things on my colt, I learned a lot that helped me, and my colt. Than I came home to the ranch, got on Gump and other snaffle bit horses that are close to ready for the hackamore, and worked on the things I learned there. I am by no means tooting my own horn, but I don’t recommend to everyone that you take a 40 ride colt to a clinic if you expect to the get the most out of it. I needed to do that for confidence reasons, and because riding colts is one of the weakest areas of my horsemanship and who better to help me with that than Buck?
In Texas, at my very first clinic I watched the Ranch Roping Class in the afternoon; it was excellent to see how the principles you learned in the morning class (Horsemanship 1) were applied in that setting. I watched him take a woman who had never roped before, who was riding a burnt out cutter that was scared of the rope and cows, to being confident and competent enough at the end of that four days to get her horse close enough to take a shot, all while helping both her and the horse to stay calm. That class actually looks really fun, and I hope I can attend that one at some point. It’s a very effective class if you’re someone like me who lives on a ranch and has the need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Or in this instance, ride a horse, carry a rope and learn to NOT disturb an entire herd of cattle in the process.
The Fall Clinic, my second, hosted the Fundamental Horsemanship class in the morning, and I was wishing that my checkbook would have permitted me to do both on my colt. Not because the colt necessarily needed the additional ground work- but because I do. Now that’s not to say that we can’t get our horses too good at leading or on the ground. That’s not possible. But I watched that class and longed to be back at the ranch working on those things he was teaching with all the colts we have here. That class had a few beginners in it too, and at least one rider that had more colt than he needed; but they got through it with the help of Buck. What is often forgotten in the horse world, is that how horses behave/react/respond on the ground directly affects how they’ll be in the saddle. It’s one of the reasons you rarely find me tying a horse to saddle him. I hold them in hand, because I want that connection. I want to feel what my horse is thinking. I want to know if he’s going to pay attention and be tuned into what I want from him or if he’s going to come apart, be alert vs. aware, and just generally where his mind is. Ground work is probably one of the most effective ways to accomplish this.
I believe these clinics, or for that matter any clinic, can be as effective as you make them. If I would have gotten frustrated by the lack of riding ability of most of the folks at the first clinic, I would have been focused on that, instead of working on getting my horse to be soft as butter. And the clinic would have been a waste of money, but Buck is very good at keeping them interesting. If you’re a student that is farther along, than another, often you will get additional tasks to do, if he sees that you’re ready and understand what he’s asking. He may have you pick up a “soft feel” or trot your horse and pick up a “soft feel” (just two simple examples). Because he is so good at assessing the ability of each horse and their rider you may find yourself getting different things to do if he sees you struggling with something. Maybe your horse is buddy sour, or in my case, you have a colt that’s lazy and struggles with moving out. It may or may not have made a difference to him that he saw me ride earlier in the year, but he had me doing things that others weren’t doing because he was teaching me and giving me the tools to help my colt.
In short, believe in what you’re doing or do what you believe in; I believe in Buck and what he teaches. Therefore it works for me. It’s really that simple.
I would like to consider myself a professional horseman. But the truth is, I’m hardly there. Yes, it’s true that I get to ride horses and colts for a living, but just because someone makes a living doing something, doesn’t mean they’re as good at it now, as they will be in 10 years or even 20. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to riding and teaching horses. I know a lot of people that train horses for a living that could care less about the horse, and even less about whether or not they’re considered a horseman. That’s not me. To me, horsemanship is about the human taking responsibility for the horse. It’s about timing. Softness. Foot Cadence. Balance. Harmony. You learn to realize that any shortcoming in the horse’s performance is your fault. It’s about looking at things from the horse’s perspective, instead of, in the words of Buck- “Anthropomorphizing the horse”. Look it up.
So how is it, that someone like me chooses which clinics to attend and why? Why did I ride with Buck twice in 2010? And why am I planning to ride with him at least that many times in 2011?
Let’s back up.
Horsemanship is a life-long journey and while some people might consider me to be a horseman, I pale in comparison to Mr. Brannaman. Let’s just say, I’m on the journey. Thankfully, Buck is wise enough, dedicated enough and kind enough to share his knowledge with the world. And I do mean the world! He spends about 40 weeks a year on the road, so chances are there’s a clinic near you! And if you’ve never been to a Buck Brannaman Clinic, I would highly recommend it- with the caveat that they’re not for everyone. They’re not for the weak-hearted, the easily offended, the impatient, or anyone who isn’t ready to take full responsibility for their horse’s shortcomings. And some would consider them spendy- last year’s prices were $600 for the four day clinic- and that’s only 3 hours a day. Trust me though, that three hours is some of the most challenging time you’ll ever spend horseback, and it’s worth every penny.
So who is Buck Brannaman?
In the words of journalist Tom Brokaw- “[he] is part guru, part psychologist and all cowboy. He is a nineteenth-century man in a twenty-first-century world…”
He isn’t just your ordinary, run of the mill horseman/clinician and to me he certainly stands taller than anyone you see on RFD Tv. Not that there aren’t some handy folks on that channel. But there’s a difference between mechanics and feel. You can see it in his horses. You can see it in him. He’s a master at reading the horse’s mind, body and soul and he is able not only to communicate that effectively to the horse, he’s able to help you, as a student, learn to think, learn to communicate, and learn to take responsibility for your horse’s shortcomings. He, is a student of horsemanship that goes above and beyond most, by studying classical dressage all the way to the early masters such as Xenophon (as close to that classical dressage as we’ll get today is the modern Bridle Horse). He’s played polo, rides with George Morris (world renowned jumping horse trainer), helps dressage riders, buckaroos (who cowboy for a living), professional horsemen (even other clinicians), to the greenest of the green riders, the world around. There isn’t one thing he does best- he is a master of communication with horse and rider. By choice he’s one of the less commercialized clinicians of the Natural Horsemanship movement, and if you were to ask me I’d say he’s the only one that you need follow. I have reasons for that, which we’ll delve into as we get further along in these discussions.
How is it, that someone, like me, who makes their living riding horses, chooses to attend a clinic in the first place?
Some might think I already know enough. I will be the first to tell you that I learn something new in this business everyday. But more important than that is this question, which I ask myself before I listen to anyone: “Do I like the way this individual’s horse reacts/behaves/responds/leads/rides around? Is their horse a willing, happy participant with a kind, happy, expression?”
If the answer is yes, and ultimately you’d like to have your horse ride around like that clinician’s horses then by all means go to their clinic. But to take it a step further, I like to look at whether or not that clinician is pushy, jerks, snatches, or is less than subtle about the cues they give the horse.
Are their hands kind?
Do they wait enough?
Do they put a spur in their horse’s side every time they want something?
Do they punish the horse for not doing what they asked for immediately?
Do they refer to the horse as bad or naughty?
Do they give the horse the benefit of the doubt?
Does what they say make sense from an equine physiological perspective?
Can your horse comfortably do that and have it make sense to them?
Does logic prevail in this maneuver?
Personally, I’d prefer to have someone have to ask me “what’d you do to get your horse to do that?” because I’m in such harmony with my horse that a spectator wouldn’t even see the cue I give. But most important when choosing a clinic, don’t forget to look at the horse. That is, ultimately what we’re all searching for- a happy willing partner in our horse. Riding with Buck you see just that- nothing. Yet his horses do all kinds of fancy things- canter pirouettes, side-passes, beautiful, cadenced turn-arounds. And you have no idea what he did to get that beautiful movement.
Practicality, Safety and Confidence.
Taking the above a step further, I think it’s important to look at what it is you want to accomplish with your horse. That’s not to say that if you’re a barrel racer (me, I run barrels, but I’m less likely to call myself a barrel racer these days), a calf roper, or a trail rider you won’t benefit. It’s quite the contrary. Though there are those that would say, “well what he’s teaching doesn’t apply to me.” Those are the people that need not attend a clinic like this. Because it absolutely applies.
Four or five years ago, when I was training barrel horses for the public full-time, I probably could have learned something from his clinics, but I would have been offended by some of the things he said, because frankly I had a chip on my shoulder. I thought I was getting my horses *broke. I know now that I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg. My attitude and mindset would have had me not gleaning as much as I could have from the clinic. Honestly, I thought I knew that what I was doing was best for myself and the horse; and as such, my feelings would have been hurt. I said you can’t be thinned skinned to attend. I would have missed the spiritual connection that he’s trying to teach you as well, because while I did what I thought was best for my horses, I wasn’t always putting their thoughts or feelings first.
*As an aside, one of the most misused terms in the horse-world is “broke”. It is often confused with gentle. They’re not the same thing, however. You can have a broke horse that isn’t gentle and a gentle horse that isn’t broke. With the best combination being a broke horse that is gentle. And broke means different things to different people, but to true horsemen it ultimately should mean a soft, willing horse, who correctly moves in a collected manner. He’s safe to ride in any circumstance and is so tuned into you that the world could fall down around you in a wreck and if you’re not bothered by that wreck, then he’ll stand there solid as as the most immoveable boulder.
If you’re interested in riding your horse, as opposed to playing with your horse, and your horseneeds to be practical for you or you simply want him to be practical- i.e. the time you spend with him you want to spend on his back- then the Brannaman Clinics are great, because he too needs his horses to be practical since he runs yearling cattle on his Wyoming ranch. Here on our ranch, we want to give our colts a job as soon as we can. So if they’re riding around safe and soft at all three gaits, we might take them out to the pasture at ride 7, 10 or 12 and move cows on them, or sort bulls, or even flag another colt from their back. His clinics teach safety (which is a key part of horsemanship) and through that safety you undoubtedly gain confidence.
Without going into ridiculous detail, let’s just say that confidence is something I’ve gained from both clinics. Take riding colts for example. I had ridden a few colts in my life prior to my moving to the ranch here in South Dakota (I had even started my own from the ground up), but riding colts wasn’t something that I thought I wanted to do and it wasn’t something that I was comfortable doing. You could put me on barrel horse that had alley issues though, and I’d be right at home. Frankly, the barrel horse is more dangerous than the colt that knows nothing, but mentally I couldn’t wrap my head around that. By reviewing the fundamentals on my “go to” saddle horse (many of them were fundamentals I already knew), at the first clinic I attended in the Spring of 2010, helped me realize how everything we do on our horses is related. I had known that, but I hadn’t really believed it. Pardon me if I’ve lost you. I can’t think of another way to explain it. Because of the first clinic experience, I became confident enough in what I believed and in my ability to have it happen, that I took a 40 ride colt to the second clinic I attended in the Fall of 2010. It was that colt’s first trip to town.
When I got back to the ranch after the Spring clinic, I began to ride all my going saddle horses with a daily review of the fundamentals. It wasn’t too much longer and I began to see a difference in my confidence level on my colts. One colt in particular (the one mentioned above) had bucked me off twice already and I knew it was my lack of confidence that had caused that. It’s a hard thing to do- sit on a colt and stay relaxed while letting them travel where they will, at the speed they want to travel, while quietly directing them when it’s the easiest thing for them to do. But it’s something that Buck is good at getting you to do on the horses you take to his clinics- regardless of the rider’s level. Making the right thing the easiest for your horse sounds so simple, right? that is yet another principle of “natural horsemanship”.
Understanding how to keep yourself safe using a one-rein stop (which I knew of before hand) and by waiting on your colt to find what you’re looking for has helped my confidence. I assure you that had I never ridden with Buck, my summer this year would have consisted of me riding the same old saddle horses, and putting a ride or two on my colts when I was confident enough to do it. Instead I found myself getting on more and more colts, believing and knowing to my core that it would all be good. The second week of October, I took my 2 year old filly out to the pasture for her 5th ride. Her 5th ride since the fourth of July. We covered about 4 miles- up hills, down creeks through draws, all the while with cows milling around. I would have never done that a year ago. Don’t think, however, that I don’t still struggle- I figure when I’ve thrown my leg over another 100 colts there will still be struggles but they’ll be different than the ones I’ve had recently of whether or not I’m going to survive this ride.
Practicality, confidence and safety are all related and they’re all things that increased in myself as a result of the clinics. Buck oozes positivity and there’s something about him that helps you believe that you too can do whatever you want with your horse. They sky is the limit if you set yourself up for success with good fundamentals, patience and a learning attitude.