I'm home now and it has been a couple days since the clinic. It is weird how time flies - the clinic was something I looked forward to for so long and it has since come and gone. I stayed the night after Monday evening's class and as I was driving out of the fairgrounds I wondered if Buck just packed up and moved on to the next place. Sure enough, when I drove in on Tuesday morning, he was gone. Just like that it was over.
I'll try to recap the last day as best as I can. In the morning class I noticed that when Buck was doing his ground work with Guapo before getting on that he was using a flag technique in the "walking half circle" exercise whereby he used the flag up by Guapo's head. I was going to ask about it, but he beat me to it. (Again, sorry about the picture quality - I only had my cell phone and it isn't good for action photos.)
Buck said that it is helpful, if you have a horse who wants to move into your space during the half circle walking exercise, to use the flag up by their eyes instead of at the shoulder. You actually use it before they turn to get them to back away from you and change eyes. He said he doesn't usually teach it in clinics but since he was using it he wanted to show us the hows and whys of it.
He also talked again about using a rope instead of a halter when first getting a horse started on the ground. He said he much prefers the rope because when he starts the horses as weanlings (with ground work), it is too easy to pull their little heads and necks around and hurt them, but you can do all the same work with the rope as you can with the halter. Here he's holding the rope and he was actually showing someone how to use it to create a halter.
Here's a picture I took after Buck got irritated because the custodial crew came to empty the garbage and they dragged the can from near the stands all the way out the door. He said it didn't matter to him if it spooked his horse but he wants everyone to be safe and someone could have gotten into real trouble by the commotion that dragging sound created (especially if they were riding at the time). He also commented that he was glad he insisted on no dogs in the bleachers this time because last year it drove him nuts and again wasn't safe for the riders.
To be honest with you, I now cannot remember anything about the middle class, so I'll just skip to my class.
There was a woman there who asked about trail riding and what to do about getting her horse good on single track trails when she's out with other people. I loved Buck's answer. In addition to advising her to do her ground work and get her horse mentally right ahead of time, he said "be careful who you ride with" or something like that. Basically, don't ride out with yahoos who don't consider you and what you may be going through with your horse. And he suggested to her that if her horse is herdbound that she leave the group and go off on another trail by herself and do some work, then come back to the group, then leave again - instead of letting her horse get upset by the group leaving her. Good advice.
I asked Buck about his horses and if his goal is to make every horse of his a bridle horse and he said yes. He said that in his lifetime he'd like to make 30-40 more bridle horses. MORE - sheesh, I can't imagine making even one, let alone 30-40 in the second half of my life.
I also asked him about offering the horse a good deal. I had two a-ha moments in the warm-up before class (more on that in a minute) and so I wanted to ask Buck about the good deal for going forward. I realized that when he was doing ground work with a horse, sometimes he'd pull and hold pressure and offer a release as soon as the horse moved forward. Yet I didn't think he squeezed all the time with his legs, so I asked him about that. He said he never squeezes with his legs, that there's an imaginary bubble between his legs and the horse and that he may put pressure on the bubble, but he doesn't just squeeze and hold. He demonstrated with Rebel (his bridle horse) what squeezing would do. He said he was squeezing with x amount of pressure, x times 2, x times 4, and so on. And Rebel just stood there. Buck said Rebel didn't even know what to do because that constant pressure doesn't mean anything to him. What does make sense is maybe an opening of the legs, or a little flutter, or just the swipe of a pant leg, but it shouldn't be any more than that. He said he's studied classical dressage masters (in addition to his own teachers, of course), and that the leg aids should be so subtle and light, that it is just like the softest indication of direction or movement, just like a dance.
And then I asked him about saddle fit, because I noticed he was riding in at least two different saddles. He said for his young colts when they are first getting started and before they have their withers he uses a saddle that is six degrees wider than the saddle he was using on Rebel. Other than that, he didn't have any revelations about saddle fit - basically he said it is easier to pad up a too-wide saddle, and that a narrow saddle isn't good. He noticed my saddle and thought that maybe Mac was round but I commented that he really has a lot of padding because the saddle wasn't fitting right (more about that later, too).
So, back to the warm up. In the outdoor arena, I had an a-ha moment related to feel that is hard to put into words. When we were cantering on the right lead, I just had this lifting and opening movement on my inside rein to ask Mac to lift and bend in the canter - it was timed with his footfalls in a way that seemed to make sense to him, that got him light and round and properly bent and forward and it felt lovely. And then when we were warming up indoors before Buck arrived, I worked on fluttering my legs (when asking him to move his shoulder over) instead of squeezing (which is what prompted my question to Buck later) and Mac was responsive. It is one of those things that seems to work when you have all the time in the world and no pressure, but when you are being instructed you try too hard and then it doesn't work so you resort to kicking and crude movements. And when I say you, I mean me. Other things we did in the warm up indoors were trot a straight line, halt, back, then turn on the haunches to change direction. That felt great.
At the end of class I thought we'd do the clapping exercise, but we didn't. People clapped and the horses were fine and maybe Buck didn't think we needed a specific exercise to work on it. Or maybe he forgot. Anyway, Mac was fine with the clapping. Actually, he was much better this year with all the people in the stands and the music and the noise and the distractions. He was really, really good!
There are so many more things I could write about, like how Buck talked about using his energy to bring life to his horse and his movement. Or about how he'd single someone out and be hard on them but not because he was being mean (at least to me - it sounded like it to others, I think, but I believe him when he says he's hard on people because he cares and doesn't want them to get hurt and wants them to improve). Or how someone he was being hard on talked back (really?!) to him and got defensive. Or how he has a funny sense of humor and likes to make people laugh. Or how he seemed a bit melancholy about missing his teachers. Or about how he's constantly striving to learn and do better and improve his horses.
At the end of day four, though, I felt like we just weren't in synch. I think Mac was tired or maybe had a tummy ache or was a bit dehydrated because he didn't drink as much as at home or maybe his back was bothering him with the saddle and how it slips or whatever, but it wasn't our best day - I thought day 3 was our best. When I took the saddle off and saw the sweat pattern, I could see why he was leaning into my right leg by how the saddle had been rolling to that side and the sweat pattern was off center. That did it. I'm selling this saddle and getting a new one.
Which leads me to Tuesday morning's adventure. I drove up to JJ Maxwell saddle maker in the morning since they're just 30 minutes or so from Red Bluff. I of course had my saddle, so I showed him and explained the trouble I was having. From the surface it looks like the saddle fits, because the angles look good, but underneath the tree is too straight and there's a portion right under the seat that doesn't really make contact with Mac's back as it should. Joe used the Steele tree forms to find a likely tree candidate for Mac's back (and it isn't a mule tree, after all) and then once we had a couple options he got actual trees to put on his back and after careful consideration decided on the LT tree. So I ordered a saddle. There's a decent waiting list, but I figured it is best to work directly with the saddle maker on getting the right tree fit and ordering all of the things I want vs. continuing to guess and try and try and try a bunch of saddles that may or may not fit. So now I wait. For the chinks and the saddle! In the meantime, I think I'll go ahead and sell my current saddle because - while I don't think it is hurting Mac - it isn't helping him. I've got my dressage saddle which is a good fit and doesn't slip or roll. It is hard on my seat bones on trail rides, but I can get a fleece seat cover that might help.
So I'm getting a new western saddle, custom chinks, got my new boots, I got a rope, and a bunch of cute shirts and some cute belts . . . looks like I may turn into a rawhide Barbie after all!
Oh, and I got some proofs from the photographer of pictures - I ordered them and will post as soon as I get them!