The horse world was changed forever by Buck Brannaman. The movie Buck was loved by horsey people and non-horsey people alike. The 7 Clinics With Buck Brannaman DVD set is made up of video footage that was not used in the movie however still had instructional value for those interested. I think I have just about worn my copy out, I have seen it so many times. I still try to practice things I first saw in those DVD’s. It has been approximately 8 years since I first encountered them. Perhaps the best thing I have gained is an improvement in the way I was using my hands. This applies to the reins and the lead rope.
Some in the horse world begrudge Buck for how he does things with horses. I will admit, and he probably would too, that some things he could do better. Although, in terms of sheer feel and skill, particularly with a rope and a green horse, it is hard to top Buck Brannaman. So I appreciate Buck and his success for it has enabled me to learn. I also appreciate that he is a very open and honest teacher, not all of them are. Whilst I now find myself looking more abroad for things to learn from I still keep in mind what Buck showed the world. It doesn’t feel like 8 years but time does fly. I find it incredible that I could have spent so long working at some of these things and still not have mastered them all. As Ray Hunt said: it takes a lifetime to live a lifetime.
Chip has taught me so much lately. You forget how much you have learned over time but starting all over with a new horse quickly reminds you. It has been pretty slow for Chip for most of the year. Recently he has really picked up in his mindset. His body has also changed dramatically. He always had a strong looking body. However, while the hind legs looked long and powerful, his front legs moved like a short fat man struggling to keep up. His head position and neck movements where also not ideal. He carried his head high and his neck short, moving it like a chicken. Peter Decosomo described this as being a demonstration of poor balance, the horse will use its head like a tightrope walker uses a pole to counter any variances in balance.
Over the course of the year Chip has learned to free up his front legs and to move with his head in a lower frame. His shape has clearly shifted (according to me anyway) from being that of a quarter horse to that of a racehorse. bearing in mind that he has breeding of both. His racehorse shape is proving far easier for him to move and for me to work with. He is more easily able to yield and flow in his movements. He turns much more smoothly. I can’t wait to see how the next few months unfold.
It is hard to say what changes that can help a horse progress. In regards to Chip, I have increased the energy in his feed. Spring has sprung. He enjoys a paddock on his own now. There are quite a few things that have changed that might have led to him changing. In any case I will not complain because Chip is now in a fantastic place. He has a great learning frame of mind, he picks things up quickly and diligently tries to do what is asked. He seems very happy in himself and I feel like I am really building a fantastic relationship with him as we work together. Bring on summer!
Zeus has very little go when I ride him. Many people have told me ‘just lunge him, that’ll get him going’. I recognise that sorting problems from the ground is far better than trying to solve them ridden. I am also mindful of the fact that a horse that doesn’t move its feet when you ask it to go, planned on never going in the first place. When a horse plans not go when asked, one must ask ‘well what did he plan to do?’. So get him forward on the ground. But how? I don’t want to drive him.
I use my lead and encourage him up to a trot. That’s half the battle, but what about canter? I move my trotting horse over to the long side, so that he arrives at the wall as he comes around. Without driving or increasing my energy, I encourage him to go up a gear using the lead rope. Voila! Canter transition. So I have addressed the issue of a horse not going forward, uncovered possible inclinations to buck rather than flow through and I havn’t upset my horse by chasing him. Happy trails!
I find Zeus can be a challenging horse at times. He can go from being very cruisy to high energy in no time at all and without much stimulus. On top of this he fancies himself as quite the Alpha. What I find has been beneficial is that I have put Wizard in the paddock with him. Wizard isn’t a super dominant horse however, as an ex-racehorse, has abundant energy. Coupled with the fact that he has had extensive dressage training, Wizard has been a great antidote to flighty Zeus. While Zeus will duck dive, jump and spin, Wizard remains calm and ever persistent. Ignoring most of what Zeus throws at him Wizard just marches towards him nipping here and there relentlessly. Zeus may be high energy but he isn’t ‘endless energy’ the way Wizard is. Eventually Zeus became tired and , for a moment at least, had to accept that he isn’t the number 1 horse in the paddock. Of course I could watch all of this from the comfort of my back lawn. Happy with the fact that I have one horse training another in the paddock. I wonder what other ways I could come up with to save me from having to do all the work all the time.
As soon as you tap an aggressive horse, it is like you have broken some sacred pact. They feel they can get physical with you. Even a very gentle tap and it changes the agreement and the horse will start to follow through on its threats. You can get really big and active without touching and horses will respect this but as soon as you touch you cross a line. You see them do this to each other, they will throw heads at each other for hours but not bite, they will kick up their heels but will not land a blow. So get as loud and big as you like, but do your best not to tap them. You can block them if they are coming towards you, that’s OK. You may arrange things so that if they come towards you they bump into something on their own. This sort of thing is common with horses that get aggressive when girthing. The rider will tap them as they come around. This is where it is preferable to be ready and block rather than tap.
A rider comes to know their horse and gets confidence. The horse gets to know the rider and also gains confidence. But the experienced rider knows the horse better than it knows itself and can give confidence and calmness it didn’t even know it had.
People are hard to be around, they can be slow, messy, smelly, noisy, irritating and dim witted. But we still choose to be around them. Horses are the same, they can give each other all sorts of grief, but they still get very upset when you seperate them. When I work with horses I try to keep my work consistent with the pressures they would get from other horses out in the paddock, if you exceed that you start doing damage to your relationship with your horse.
I had been trying to improve Chip’s steering and responsiveness to turning left and right. He was slowly getting it. However, I realised that I could do it in way that would make more sense and be more fun for him. I decided that he might prefer going for a walk around the paddock and going around the trees. This way he could feel like he was going someplace and get an idea of why we are turning in the first place. What difference this made. Having to turn around the trees really helped his turns and his comprehension of what we are trying to get done. He became far happier and his confidence improved also. On the second day he got a bit ‘rushy’ but I just went with him and let him work it out. I didn’t wanna stress him. On the third day he slowed down a bit a relaxed. It is a great feeling when you can find a simple, easy way to help a horse learn.
I have had a busy time lately. Attended clinics from a wide variety of clinicians. Harry Whitney, Ken Faulkner, Mark Langley, Ross Jacobs, Sofia Valencia and the list goes on. Clinicians in teaching the things they have to share can be dogmatic in the application of the their methods. They can be prone to using words like ‘never do such and such’ and ‘always do blah, blah’. Generally, their advice is very good. Any surviving clinician these days has to have have something pretty good to offer or they don’t fill clinics. What I have come to appreciate however is the advice my mother gave me growing up, ‘all things in moderation’. So while clinicians may instruct riders with strict prescriptions to help them learn, I think riders are wisest to apply what they feel is appropriate when educating horses alone. In this way each rider develops their own style as they must because, as I have found, no two people will do things the exact same way, particularly when you add the randomness of individual horse behaviour.