Today, we have a special guest writer– Emma, one of this summer’s ranch interns. She’s here to share her experience with you and tell you how much she learned and how much she loved it. If you’d like to go back and read her journey in her own words, check out her blog, here.
So without further ado, here’s Emma, to share her summer experience with you. She forgot to mention that she was fortunate enough to tag along to the annual Buck Brannaman Clinic I attend. Happy Trails!
My internship at The DX Ranch was absolutely everything I had hoped for and more. I thought I would just be working with horses, but I learned many valuable lessons with cattle that tied into the concepts that I was learning with the horses. I learned more in those six weeks on the ranch than I had in the last ten years of horseback riding.
The list of activities I engaged in and learned how to do would be far too many to detail. I cannot even start to explain how valuable each one has been to my education, especially those I learned working with the horses.
When it came to the horses, we worked with them almost every day. Most days we got to ride, but some days we just worked with the yearling colts. My first day was a little rough, since I did not know about anything they were teaching me. They use the training and riding methods of Ray Hunt and Buck Branamann, but I had never really studied those before. However it didn’t take much time before I caught on to what they were teaching.
The first thing I learned was how to saddle my horse without hitting them or knocking a stirrup into their side. I also learned a better way to bridle that doesn’t bang them in the teeth. After that we moved to guiding the horse with my feet only and transitions using my seat position. Both concepts were very new to me, and I still need to practice them a lot. Having been riding so differently for the last ten years made it a little bit more difficult to grasp these new techniques.
We then worked on moving the hind end both through groundwork and riding. I learned the four ways of moving the hind end while on horseback and the difference between working with an eight year old and a yearling. Working with a yearling is a lot more difficult because you really have to make your presence known and you need to move your feet fifteen steps for every step they take. Jenn said, “if you’re not breathing hard, you’re not doing it right.” With colts, there is a release for every try they make, whether they did it the way you wanted them to or not. I also got to see a difference in halter breaking a yearling as opposed to a two-month-old colt. With the two-month-old, we released for every try, when he faced you, or when he moved his hind end.
Whether you’re working with a colt or a fifteen year old, you must always “keep a float in the rope.” This means you must keep some slack in the rope so you don’t drag the horse around. This is one of the basics of the feel method of training. It lets your horse feel where you want him to go.
Every bend begins with a reach. That is probably one of the most important concepts I learned on the ranch. Without a reach, the horse simply cannot bend. When you reach for your horse to bend, he should also be reaching for you. That feel of your hand sliding down the rein should be signal enough that you want him to bend.
However, I could not help my horse to reach until I found where my horse’s feet were. I worked on timing when my horse was picking up a certain foot. They also showed me how to pick up a certain foot with the rein and place it somewhere. After all, Buck Branamann said in his clinic, “The reins are hooked to the horse’s feet, not the mouth.” The slightest adjustment in timing can make all the difference, whether I am on the ground or on horseback.
To help with reaching, they told me it would help to make a plan for my horse’s feet. Instead of mindlessly going around the arena and changing what I wanted to do every second, I should make a plan, almost like a pattern, so that my horse can stay engaged and it is easier for him to understand what I am asking of him. If he doesn’t respond to Plan A, go to Plan B, but continue to work at it until Plan A prevails.
Toward the end of my internship, we worked a lot on leg yields and haunches in. I had never really been taught how to leg yield properly, so it was definitely nice to see how it should be done. Both of these are great exercises for shaping the horse for changing leads. Without them, you cannot properly set up your horse for a certain lead.
When not working with the horses, I learned a lot about roping and cattle. On the first night I arrived, I learned how to bottle feed calves. Although it was a chore, I was always excited to go see my calves. It was the only consistent thing I got to do on the ranch so it was quite relaxing. I also got to go out with the ranch hand frequently to check the cows and calves in the pasture. He taught me how to tag the newborn calves as well.
A few weeks into the internship I got to attend some brandings. This consisted of gathering the cows, sorting, branding, flanking, fly tagging, and long hours. Although they could be crazy hectic days, they were some of the most fun while at the ranch.
We even worked with the yearling cows on the ranch in the pasture. I learned a way of herding them slowly and smoothly, walking around them in a circle to get them used to riders doing that, and cutting one out of the herd. From there we worked on changing eyes and hooking them on to your horse. On my last day we even got to use some breakaway ropes on them. When I had arrived at the ranch, I had never even picked up a rope. On my last day, I was able to swing some head shots at some yearlings and I was getting better and better at my heel and trap shots with the roping “dummy.” Not many ranchers would let someone so novice even near their cattle to rope them.
My stay at The DX Ranch was phenomenal and has taught me so many valuable lessons with horses and life. I cannot wait to continue to build on everything I’ve learned and to one day train my first horse from the ground up.
By the end of the internship, everything I learned started to come together. It was definitely difficult trying to learn something completely new in regards to horses, when I’ve been riding for ten years already. But it was definitely a wonderful experience that has changed the way I look at horses and myself for the better. I owe Zach and Jenn so much for letting me stay with them and teaching me so much about horses.