This weekend I had the utmost opportunity to work on my horsemanship riding with Buck Brannaman in Omaha, NE. To say that this is always a privilege is almost too simplistic a statement for what Buck graciously brings and shares with all of us at these clinics.
I rode in the Horsemanship 1 afternoon class with my warmblood Zeus, and audited the morning Foundation class. I could talk about what all I gained from the clinic and all the amazing moments I had with Zeus, but I thought that it would be more important to share some key points that Buck shared over the weekend. Of course, I hope I can do him justice conveying forward the principles he gave us all- although no one talks about or demonstrates true horsemanship better than the man himself.
The foundation class started out each day working on groundwork. Buck was quick to emphasis two key points in the groundwork. #1- not enough people do it, do it well, or do it enough. #2- Quality groundwork can save your life, and keep both you and your horse out of trouble. The first few exercises Buck went over on the first day revolved around making sure your horse would yield to you, making sure they were free from fear by testing out working with a flag, and by getting the horse to properly operate their hindquarters. Buck was gracious about spending as much time as it needed on the explanation and demonstration of these principles before giving everyone a little project to work on.
Some of the most prolific statements he made in the foundation class were as follows:
- “The most loving thing you can do for your horse is to be a leader and learn to set boundaries by saying “No.” AND meaning it. “
- “Horse operate from one premise- Do I move you or do you move me? Answer always needs to be that the human moves the horse, or you are gonna be in trouble.”
- “You have to often work thru the fear a horse has before you can gain their respect. “
- “I am always asking 2 ?s when I step to the hind quarters- Are you soft on the rein? and Do I need to drive you? If answer is (no) to first and (yes) to second- I keep at it until it works out. “
- “Getting a horse to break over in the hind quarters (disengagement) is NOT a disciplinary move- it should be a comfort to the horse.”
In the horsemanship class, Buck continued to share many moments of clarity and knowledge with all the participants. We worked on mounted exercises ranging from walking loose rein circles, to leg yields at the trot, to haunches in, to canter work. Buck made some points that bear repeating, and apply to our day to day horsemanship journey as well.
- “It takes a lot to do the right thing with conscetious thought IN THE MOMENT.” – Buck talked a lot about how riders often understand the concepts he is explaining, but that being able to do them with timing, and feel- when needed while riding is what makes true horsemen.
- Buck also emphasized that to get some of the skills need to ride well, we needed to work on having a Plan A and a Plan B, and to know when to use them.
- He also talked about the importance of learning footfalls and counting cadence, in order to improve your timing with the horse.
- Buck also made sure to repeat often that things should be done with the horse incrementally, and to not expect everything all at once- this can lead to confusion and frustration for the horse when they are learning.
- To Buck, Life in the horse was defined as being 2 factors- Punctuality and Lightness in the horse.
- When discussing getting a horse cantering accurately and comfortably: “Make sure to slow back down (to trot) while things are still going good, while the horse is a winner. Often, people wait until a horse is careening around out of control and then they try to stop- when it makes the horse a loser instead. Why? Why not stop when the horse is still being successful instead.”
- ” Reins are for directing the horse, not for dragging them.”
- When horses are nervous/energetic: “Stop trying to STOP the excess energy and direct it into a good cause instead.”
All in all, it is hard to put into words how humbling and enlightening it is to see Buck Brannaman and learn all you can from him at these clinics. The items above do not even scratch the surface of the knowledge that was shared this past weekend. Just getting to observe and watch Buck ride and visualize the expression on his horses and try to replicate it in moments with your own horse is a priceless gift.
I think Buck said it best when he explained, “This (horsemanship) is hard. It takes diligence to get good. You can’t just dabble at it, you can’t be mediocre. If you are in it for the horse, and you really want to progress- you have to LIVE this stuff.”