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Brent Graef, Young Horse Handling, Part II

Published: 3/2/2016
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.

In this new multi-part article, Skinner discusses a visit to Texas to work with Graef.

Read Part I
Read Part III

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

The second day of Brent’s halter starting class started out with better weather and each of us feeling eager to get out and put in practice what we’d learned.  We grouped together to move the colts from their pen to three individual pens, separating them.  We stayed in a group to help each other catch up each colt, being careful not to move quickly or startle them.  Once they were each caught up, Brent instructed us to begin working on circling the babies.

As I worked on asking my colt (whom I named Comanche after the territory where he was born and raised) to circle, I was amazed at how responsive he was right off the bat.  As I sent some feel down the line to ask him to move off to the left, he stepped right out and never hit the end of the line.  It struck me that the horse’s nature, pure and untouched, is to get along, and that humans mistakenly teach them to be dull. 

If I could keep everything working for this little 18-month old, he might never learn to hit the end of the lead rope.

Brent helped me refine my feel in small ways that made a huge difference.  Rather than opening my leading hand and driving him forward, he showed me how to send a little energy down the lead rope without opening it too much.  The horse could follow this float sent to him and feel it. 

Brent demonstrated its effectiveness and clarity by having me close my eyes and hold onto the lead rope while he directed me.  The difference was major and much easier for me to follow with much less disruption in feel.  He also had me change the way I asked the colt to roll his hindquarters over and pointed out that when I asked him there was a small degree of pull in the rope on my part that caused him to come toward me.  He showed me how to lift my fingers toward the horse’s tail rather than toward me. It made a world of difference. 
Brent also showed me how to let the slack in my rope slide through my hand so that I could give a release smoothly without disturbing the flow or scaring the horse.

Throughout the day, we worked on getting closer to the colts and touching them.  Our goal was to be able to run a brush over them and eventually a saddle pad and saddle.  We also were hoping to get their feet picked up and prepare them for their first trim, and to be mouth handled for their first worming. 

I was able to get a little closer to Comanche’s neck, but had a harder time touching his back, shoulders and hindquarters.  Brent instructed me to just work at it a little at a time and not make too big of a deal out of it.  I was able to run the rope down his legs and eventually pick all four up without too much trouble by the end of the day.

[photo: Amy's fellow student works with her colt.]

Once we’d had some good changes and the colts were feeling pretty relaxed, Brent had us put them up for the day.  He wanted to set it up so each colt could stay with us mentally the whole time. Therefore, we watched each other to make sure we all let them loose at the same time.  This would prevent any of them getting upset and looking for their buddies.  He had us get all our pets in before we let them go, and as we un haltered them we would walk back to draw them into us, and then leave them before their attention left us. 

Once they were all loose, we opened the round pen gates and drove them back into their pens.  The colts moved off peacefully, and tired from the day, went to see about their hay.
At dinner we discussed our successes, struggles, and changes.  Brent urged us to move slowly and focus on preparing the colts for each thing.  He quoted Joe Wolter by saying, “it’s the preparation for that’s more important than the doing of.” 

He said if we focused on getting every little step ready, the colts would come around in their own time and usually do what we asked by themselves.  He urged us not to be too picky because it was important not to kill their try. 

“Try is all they have right now,” he said.  “Make them feel good about it.”  We concluded the day proud of our accomplishments and eager to start again the next day.

View Reader Comments:

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3/3/2016 Lauren Pine
Hi Amy, I've heard wonderful things about this learning experience with Brent and the young horses from friends who have gone to do it again. I just saw that a spot opened up in May, and I took it. Looking forward to hearing more of your story.
3/13/2016 Amy
Lauren, you will love it. The Graefs are very kind and the experience is incredible. There is nothing like working with an untouched horse, especially when you have someone skilled helping you through it! Wishing you the best, and jealous I can't make that class too!

"Here lies the body of my good horse, The General. For years he bore me around the circuit of my practice and all that time he never made a blunder. Would that his master could say the same." - President John Tyler's epitaph for his horse