Sunday, May 5, 2013

Buck Brannaman clinic - day 2 report

I'm having a hard time remembering the specifics of day 2 at this point - it was all a blur in hindsight! I think it was more of the same to start, so we were to work on moving around the arena on the ground, not just doing the half-circle exercise in one place. This is really hard and I actually ended up doing something a little different because I felt like that was what Mac needed at the time. Instead of going around the whole arena, I worked on the fence-line near the stands, since that seemed to scare him the most. What I worked on was simply the half-circle exercise but with me standing in place (like in day 1 . . . we were supposed to be walking in a straight line, though). I'd pick a spot along the wall and work there for a bit, then move to a different spot on the wall and work there, and so on. What I did (and I'll refer back to this later so make a mental note) was to create a "chute" of sorts whereby Mac had to pass between me and the wall. At first the chute was wide, but I slowly narrowed it so he'd have to go closer to the wall to stay out of my bubble. There were points where I would open the door (ask him to "follow the feel" of my lead rope) and he'd hesitate. All I would do is quietly raise my flag - I didn't shake it, I didn't make my energy loud, I just raised it from pointing at the ground to pointing at him behind the balance point - and wait. I didn't increase my energy because I could see his little brain trying to decide if he could trust me and if it was safe to go through. And he did trust me, and he did go through (and as soon as he made a step forward, I lowered my flag). After a couple times of decreasing hesitation, he went through with no trouble so I'd move to a different spot.

Here we are goofing off at the beginning of class before the work started.

Back to what I said to remember for the future. Buck worked on the very thing I mentioned earlier about Mac with regard to thinking and trying to figure something out. There was another horse who didn't understand how to follow the feel and the invitation to move forward. He took the horse from the owner and did a demonstration on how to get it to work, as I mentioned in my first update. If he could see the horse thinking and considering and trying to make a decision, he wouldn't up the energy, he'd wait on the horse to figure it out.

Buck was all about patience and waiting on the horse, which was so refreshing! If the horse said no, then Buck would show him the right answer and try again until the horse showed some try. When the horse was trying, Buck would wait on him to get the right answer and Buck would let him just stand there for a moment and think about it, then go back to the exercise, perhaps on the other side.

So keeping that in the back of your mind, I came up with a theory on how Buck works with the students in his class. I've heard people say that Buck seems to ignore people or not give everyone attention. First off, I will say that if you have a question, he will take his time to answer it for you. The beginning of each class is a lot of standing around and talking because he is answering questions and explaining things. I asked a question before class "started" every day, but once under saddle or doing exercises I got no instruction from him (except for one comment where he said "good timing" :-D ). I think the reason for this is the same as what I mentioned above with the horse. I think (and I could be totally wrong) that if he sees you trying to figure it out and he sees that your tries result in a correct response (eventually - it is hard to get on the first try!), then you are going to have a better understanding of how to get it right than if he told you all the time what you were doing wrong. Does that make sense? If he saw me doing something and I was close to getting it right, and then the next time I got it right, then the next time I didn't, but I did get it right two times after that, he would see that I'm progressing in my learning and the best way for me to learn is to get feedback from the horse. The horse's correct response is the best lesson and that's what will make it sink in more than anything. I hope that makes sense.

Here's a picture break to look at Mac because he's cute in a big-head sort of way.

At the end of day 2 we put our bridles on and worked on flexion for just a little bit, and that was to be our homework for the evening. Working on lateral flexion from the ground was (of course) the precursor to getting it under saddle. Buck looks for 3 things from lateral flexion: bend (turning the head to 90 degrees), poll higher than the withers, and ears level. He is adamant that if the ears aren't level then the horse will be out of balance. Of course, in the beginning you're not going to get all three at once, so start by just accepting one thing as correct. Then as that is consistent, wait on the horse until he finds the next thing and build on that, etc. Again, this isn't something that we force our horses in to. We ask, wait for them to offer the correct response, and release immediately. If you take up the reins and the horse just starts to bend, reward that and build on it. When he's getting the correct bend, then wait for him to bring his poll up (if it is too low) and as soon as he does a minute lifting of the poll with the bend, then release. Build on that. Then once he's got the bend and the poll up, wait for him to level out his ears. Once he does, immediately release. And so on and so forth. Giving breaks for really good tries is important.

Buck said lateral flexion comes before longitudinal flexion, so after we practiced the lateral we moved on to longitudinal. Same thing. Poll higher than the withers. Ears even. This time the head should be centered. Reward for tries and progress from there.

Here we are practicing some longitudinal flexion.

So our homework after day 2 was to practice these flexions and also to combine "leg" into the mix with lateral flexion. So once you are in lateral flexion, use your stirrup to gently bump, bump, bump behind the balance point. Again, quietly and gently, and wait and see how light you can be with that aid to get the horse to move over behind. Release once he starts moving so he knows that's what you want is movement. Repeat. As with all the other exercises, be patient and wait on your horse to figure it out and release immediately once he gives you a try.

Buck is gracious enough to spend time at the end of the day signing autographs and doing pictures if people want them . . . which of course I did!


  1. "When the horse was trying, Buck would wait on him to get the right answer and Buck would let him just stand there for a moment and think about it, then go back to the exercise,..." How many (yes, especially "professionals") miss that important difference between when the horse is saying "No" vs. trying to figure it out and RECOGNIZING it? They get after the horse either way, instead of waiting on the feet (during the "try") and the horse to turn loose. When they don't, you can see why a horse would get frustrated, if not downright scared.

    Enjoyed reading about your experience. You really captured the feel of these clinics. :)

  2. Thank you! Thanks for reading my blog! I wish I could be a groupie and go to clinic after clinic after clinic, but real life awaits...