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Buck Brannaman Clinic by Kim Stone
A Way of Life
By Kim Stone
“When you reach for your horse, does he reach for you?”
I was asked this question as I sat upon my copper colt, in the humid drizzle Friday morning. I was among several riders perched upon their mounts; we were all seeking a better way to communicate with our horses.
This was my first Buck Brannaman clinic. I was excited to be learning from a legend in his own time. His horse was soft and supple, moving effortlessly around the white fenced in arena, changing leads, moving on the diagonal, all with soft collection; it was magical to watch the two dance together.
As the clinic began Buck asked more questions: “Do you know where the bottom of your horse is?” “Can you feel your horse’s feet independently?” “Do you know what lead you are on, at the walk, the trot, the lope?”
“Do you know where the bottom of your horse is?” “Can you feel your horse’s feet independently?” “Do you know what lead you are on, at the walk, the trot, the lope?”
My mind was swirling with trying to answer each question. Could I tell where my colt’s feet were at any given moment, at any gate? No, I knew where two of them were, the front two, but I had to really feel for the back two, the rhythm, timing and cadence of each hoof beat. My colt and I in no way mirrored what I was watching Buck do, with his big red horse. Yet, I wanted to mirror that softness and elegance.
As the morning rushed on Buck began to challenge us at our own individual levels. He would call out maneuvers:
- “Turn a half circle to the right. Make sure all four feet are reaching evenly, when you are done walk them out.”
- “Walk with life, as if your life depended on where you were going.”
- “Now back your horse a half circle to the left. Your horse needs to bend around your leg and rein – smooth, all four feet reaching together.”
I began to feel of my horse, feel where his feet were, and how I was supporting him in each maneuver. Did I know what I was asking? Did I have a plan? Buck reminded us that we need to know what we want before we ask, and that our leg should always be before our hand. Give the horse the benefit of the doubt to let him find what we are looking for before we come in with the rein.
Give the horse the benefit of the doubt to let him find what we are looking for before we come in with the rein.
At the end of the first day I was tired and frustrated with the lack of softness in my colt. I was ready to take him home and trade him in for my older, more-advanced mare. However, I was a long way from home, and it seemed that I needed to find a way to connect with the colt I brought with me.
He is a beautiful colt, though dull to my leg and unmotivated to walk out, or move with a purpose. My mare’s characteristics were the exact opposite. She walks with a purpose, moves off my leg, eager to look for the next activity. I missed that energy.
Saturday brought out more challenging foot work, flying lead changes, leg yields, diagonals, serpentines on a loose rein, back ten steps cross the front over the hind….get a “soft feel.”
“If your horse gets lost, stop him, move the hind quarters…”
My mind was spinning. My horse’s feet were moving faster than I could keep up with them. We were not together. More frustration. Buck kept calling out dance steps, then reminding us to have a soft feel; it’s all about the feel.
"Count the footsteps. Know which foot is hitting the ground and when. Feel your horse. Get to those feet. It's all about the feet."
Saturday afternoon, after the class was over, I took advantage of the beautiful trails behind the indoor arena and fenced-in paddocks. It seemed to be just what we needed. As we loped up a long gradual hill, my colt seemed to break-free and let loose. It felt good. He was moving with a purpose.
Sunday, the threat of heavy rains and wind kept us in the small indoor arena, tight quarters! As was customary to begin each session, Buck gave us a chance to ask questions before we began working with our horses. This was a time to reflect on what we had learned or tried to do over the past two days, and where we were going.
Everything seemed to boil down to a few key items: timing, rhythm, feet and feel. Something had changed in me and my colt as we began doing the different exercises and maneuvers. He was soft and seemed to feel of me. He walked with a purpose, yet, he waited for me too. I began to feel as though we were dancing, with rhythm and timing! It was amazing!
When I would lower my hand to reach for him, he was reaching for me!
As Buck called out more maneuvers and steps we began to meld together, to move as partners each supporting the other. I felt as though my colt and I were the only two in the arena with Buck, focusing on the dance steps, moving effortlessly around the arena.
As with each day, there were new challenges, today we would be asking our horses to trust us with flags, slickers and swinging a rope – now there is a challenge for the uncoordinated!
Swing a rope at the walk, trot and lope?! That is like walking and chewing gum, or tapping your head while rubbing your belly – except you are on a 1200 lb, decision-making animal. If he chooses to leave while you are trying to get yourself organized with your rope, then you have to balance, gather your reins, rope and get yourself back together.
My colt tried his best to be patient and still. I’m not coordinated enough to swing the rope without touching his ears or tail on every other swing…We had a good laugh, and learned more about what we needed to work on after the clinic.
As the third day ended, instead of feeling frustrated, I felt a connection, a closeness to my colt, an understanding that we had made it through a dark-clouded tunnel to a better place - together.
Monday, that last day of the clinic, it was difficult to believe that we would be working with Buck one last time before heading back to our real world responsibilities.
My colt was soft, supple, giving to my legs and reins as we moved around and through the puddles in the outdoor sun-filled arena.
As Buck continued to challenge us, I had a clearer understanding of the feel, timing and rhythm, as well as the commitment and dedication that it takes to join up with my colt.
I had a clearer understanding of the feel, timing and rhythm, as well as the commitment and dedication that it takes to join up with my colt.
In letting go and feeling of his feet, he began to feel back and give to me, to be with me. We were dancing together, moving as one. I didn’t want this connection to end, but rather to become a way of riding, a way of life for me with my horse.
I would encourage anyone who wants a deeper connection with their horse to attend one of Buck Brannaman’s clinics. If you are unable to do this, there is a farm here in Maine that teaches this style of riding – Footloose Farm. Terry McClare has been studying under Buck Brannaman since 1993. She has attended at least one, sometimes two clinics a year. Terry has also had the privilege of working with Buck at his Ranch in Wyoming on two different occasions.
View Reader Comments:
Hey, we need more guest columnists! I loved reading this article.
Buck is the man!
Which of his clinics did you attend? I am attending his horsemanship clinic in May and wanted to know if this was the same one? Editor's Note: To Jill, this article was written some time ago. I don't think Kim will attend in May
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"Practice sharpens, but overschooling blunts the edge. If your horse isn't doing right, the first place to look is yourself" - Joe Heim
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