Riding with Buck: Part Three

by Jenn Zeller

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.

Start riding.

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.

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