Sigh. It was the last day of the clinic. As I mentioned, I bought a western bridle and had one of the guys at Frecker's (the saddle shop that was selling lovely saddles and bridles and bits and spurs and mecate (is the plural mecates?) and bosals and all sorts of other wonderful things) assemble the mecate and headstall with my bit. I had to watch carefully because when I got home I bought a new bit (they were sold out at Frecker's at the clinic) and would have to disassemble and reassemble it on my own!
Here I am at home, trying to figure out the mecate before taking it apart and putting my new eggbutt plain snaffle on.
Anyway, on the night of day 3 I had already done my riding homework and Mac had been so good that I just put the new bridle on him and practiced flexions. My first reaction was that I could "feel" more - or maybe Mac could feel more, because it seemed I could have a lighter contact with the mecate to get the same response as in my english bridle but with a heaver feel. I wonder if it is the weight of the mecate rope and the slobber straps that offer the horse a "pre-cue," so to speak, to tell him that something is coming? In any event, it was an interesting difference.
So the last day came and Buck wanted us to be ready to ride in the clinic right away; meaning, do your ground work before class starts and be ready to get on. When I brought Mac in to the arena ahead of time, as I had done every morning prior, he was quiet and settled. There didn't seem to be any tension, and I felt like I didn't have to do as much ground work as the previous mornings in order to get him to the same soft and ready-to-work spot. So, gulp, I got on. There were a couple other people mounted but everybody else was doing ground work. Mac felt so good underneath me! I practiced the one-rein stop from the walk, we trotted forward, we trotted in circles around other people, and if I felt him falling in to the circle, I would use a modified one-rein stop to get him to disengage the hind end, then continue forward. I think this is what Buck was referring to as the drift, so I'll talk about it for a moment.
Buck spoke of the drift in the classes, but he didn't have anyone practice it. I think I was actually already practicing it, so I think I understand what it is. When having the horse circle, change your body position and rope position to move back toward his haunches so he disengages for a couple strides. Then ask him to move out on the circle again. So you don't come to a stop, you have the horse just cross over behind for a couple steps, then go forward again. This is an excellent set up for the very thing that I tend to have trouble with when I first start a ride - Mac will get heavy on his inside shoulder. What he needs to do is line up his haunches and he also needs to understand the connection with my rein to his hind leg. This exercise helps with that and was one thing I was practicing before class started.
The last morning of questions someone asked about a horse who is terrified of cows. Buck had an interesting comment about horses and cows. I'm paraphrasing, of course, so I hope I'm correctly summing up what he said. He said the first time he heard of a horse afraid of a cow, he thought it was a joke because in his experience with working ranch horses, horses inherently know they are superior to cows. Horses are faster than cows and they know they can move them around. Otherwise, he said, we'd ride cows and rope horses . . . that got a good laugh. To work with this problem, change your approach (your, as in the person) to the cow. Instead of being scared of the cow and thinking you hope your horse doesn't spook at it, think "I'm gonna git you, cow!" and move with the intent to move the cow. Once the horse realizes that he makes the cow move (just like the dominant horse makes the lower horses move), then the story changes and the horse becomes confident.
So back to the riding part. We all mounted up and Buck had us working on the same things the other classes had been working on from day 1: short serpentines and the 180/180 exercise. He watched us as we played around with that for a while and I'm happy to say that Mac was totally focused on me this last day, and I was totally focused on him. I wasn't worried about where other horse/rider combinations were, I wasn't worried about who was doing what, I completely forgot that there might be anyone watching us (even Buck!), and I was really in the moment and in the exercise. Now, that doesn't mean I did the exercise perfectly, of course, but I did have moments of getting it and so I would keep hunting those moments.
After working on those on our own for a while, Buck had us see if we could take a soft feel on the reins and practice a bit of longitudinal flexion at the walk. Then we'd take a soft feel and stop; then walk forward; then do a serpentine or 180/180 - basically we mixed it up a bit with all the things we had been practicing. He had us change direction with purpose, paying attention to our timing . . . this is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny, but interesting. I find I'm guilty of this so often, and I saw other people in the other classes were, too. When doing an exercise, one can be so intent on trying to do it right - there's a lot of try there and a lot of attention to detail. Yet when the exercise is over and we stop for a break or chit chat, we stop feeling of the horse, we stop riding. The first time I noticed he drew attention to this was with one of the riding classes earlier in the clinic. When he asked people to reverse direction, they just fell apart and stopped focusing on their feel and timing. I don't know why that is, but I get it and I'm guilty of it as well. Basically, we should be riding with purpose and quality all the time!
Buck mentioned a time when he was riding one of his horses . . . actually, I don't remember the set-up, but I don't think it was in a clinic. Anyway, he came in from his ride and someone asked him how it went and he said he had a good ride. The other person said "but you didn't do anything, you just stood there!" Buck commented that to an outsider maybe that's all it looked like; but to him, he was developing feel and timing the whole time. He was working with the horse on such a subtle level of shifting weight in response to cues that to someone who wasn't paying attention, it looked like nothing was going on. That level of subtlety is certainly something to strive for!
In our closing circle Buck said he was proud of all of us - we tried hard, we did good work, the horses progressed throughout the clinic. On the first day he said he "hates Fridays and loves Mondays" because Fridays are a bit chaotic, but Mondays are the days when it all comes together and you can see the results of everyone's efforts. It was a bit melancholy, too - the energy had changed because we'd all be leaving after this.
I wish I could do the clinic justice in my writings here. He shared so many stories, but if I wrote them all down at once it would make your eyes bleed from reading them! I learned so much by watching so many different teams work together. I learned so much by listening to his lesson-disguised-as-an-anecdote. You may think he just has funny stories to tell, but each one is a lesson in humility, grace, leadership, and life.
My goal is to continue attending clinics, to continue watching my 7 Clinics DVDs over and over and over again, to seek out quality people to learn from, to trust my own instincts when it comes to my horse, to never stop learning. It was truly a life-changing experience. And you know what? The last day Mac didn't call out to anyone while we were in class - that was my question for Buck at the beginning, and at the end, I had Mac's full attention. Well, almost . . . at the very end of class, in our closing circle, Winnie his neighbor and new love did quietly nicker at him - and he nickered back.
There was a photographer there who was taking pictures but I think it will take a while for her to get them up, so I'll share just one more that my friend took. This is me and Mac. I'm hot and sweaty after day 2 and I'm waiting to have my picture taken with Buck. Mac is calling out to one of his many friends, so his nostrils are flared. But I love the alert expression in his eye, the strength of his head, the trust he places in me to lead him through this adventure.