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.
Smile and Ride!