notes from one day observing a Buck Branaman clinic
These are my notes from watching one day of a four day clinic of Buck's. It was about an hour and a half from my home. It was very cold and rainy, and we had only outdoor seating. Sometimes the audio wasn't so good either. So, please forgive the very scattered nature of these basically uneditted notes of mine. Make of them what you will. Sorry it's so very long.
The participants started with their horses saddled on the ground on rope halters with leads, many persons with flags. He talked about how many people say their horse is so good at home, then not when they go away. That’s because their calmness at home is reliant on their surroundings, which are known and comfortable. When they leave those, they have nothing to rely on. They need to take their comfort from the rider. How to do that? By, “me causing you to move your feet.” (a direct quote from Buck). So, that was part of him explaining the value of groundwork.
He mentioned that he doesn’t like to see people lunging a horse round and round and round trying to wear down the horse ‘cause “it’ll get fit faster than you will”. That lunging should be
“Accurate and calculated movement”.
He talked about not liking to see people swinging the tail of their rope a lot and hitting the horse a lot. He said he rarely hits a horse. And he said that applying any kind of corrective measure, like hitting the horse, when it is looking away from you focused out ward is likely to result in it kicking outward. Get the horse to look at you if you must apply any corrective pressure.
He firmly reminded people when he works on the ground that the horse must stay out of his space. He says , ‘I don’t have any backward steps in me” . He walks always toward the horse when lunging, well, not straight toward it, but kind of walking on a circle with it, never just standing still in the middle. And never backing away. If the horse comes in on you, he said be sure to use your flag or whip or rope to move the shoulder away from you before it got so close in on you that you have to choke way up on the flag and are unable to extend it and protect your space. He said draw an imaginary line around you and say “Do not cross this line.”
Then he worked on a bit of desensitizing with the flag and using it to move the horse. First to be sure that the horse is not afraid of the flag. So, he would hold the rope in his leading hand, in a “neutral” position. Neither leading the horse forward, nor stopping it from walking forward on the circle if it needed to. Then he would start putting the flag on the horse. He said to be sure to start behind the driveline (or balance point , as he put it) because if the horse is scared and needs to move, you want it to move forward, not backward. Always forward, forward, forward. So you start putting the flag on the horse and if the horse moves forward, you continue following it with the flag neither taking it off nor upping the energy. If the horse tries to flee you , you “corner him”, meaning bump the rope back toward his hind end such that he moves his head around and his hind disengages. Then you start again. Eventually, the horse will choose to stop. Do this until the horse can stand with the flag all over it. THEN, using a feel in you leading hand, you ask the horse to move forward with the flag on it. Can the horse tolerate the flag while he is moving and standing? Eventually the horse will understand the difference between you moving the flag just to move it on him, and you moving the flag to ask him to go forward, and in neither case will he be fleeing the flag in fear. He suggested people do this with ropes too, and showed ways to move the rope around the horse’s body , lift up feet, make them move, rope around belly and others.
If the horse , when doing the desensitizing work, backs up away from you, he said don’t pull back , but go with him. You continue using the flag to drive the hind, asking continually for forward, and you might bump the line “forward” but you don’t’ try to anchor the horse by pulling back equal to him. You continue asking for forward. If he tries to turn, you bump him the other direction with the line. Eventually, he will choose to go forward rather than backward, and you give a slight release.
He said to be careful about bringing the flag up from the ground toward a horse’s chest, because that is their blind spot and they might strike at you.. He held his flag more up, he said, “like a tennis racquet.”
Now he went into the” full circle exercise” which is basically lunging ., but not like on a long line. The horse is very close to you. You use your body, or flag or lead line to ask the horse forward. Wait, I forgot some important parts!
The first thing you do is to move the horse’s front quarters away from you onto the circle. So, if you are going to circle the horse to your right, the very first thing you do is ~YOU MOVE YOURSELF TO THE RIGHT. So, you put your right hand out to the right and you step to the right (on your circle) and the horse should step away from you , kind of mirroring you, and this brings his balance point to your access, so you can put some pressure on to create forward movement, on around the circle.
You want the horse to follow the feel of the rope to go forward; you do not want to pull the horse forward. You put the forward feel in the rope (by extending your hand in the direction you want him to go., keeping a drape in the rope). If the horse doesn’t follow, you drive him forward.
You want the horse to ,maintain this “float” in the rope. The horse does this my keeping his nose tipped to the inside, and stepping under himself with his inside hind as he goes around. This is the “accurate, calculated movement” But, you don’t pull the horse into the bend (my mistake much of the time. I do this too much!). You ask the horse to keep that position with his body and his mind. If he goes too straight and tries to “leave” you, then “corner” him with a bump back toward his hind quarters. If he falls in on you, point at his shoulders and drive him out on the circle. This way he keeps the bend himself.
Buck mentioned that if the horse has little life in him, that he uses the flag more than cornering to bring up the life. If the horse has more life, he uses more “cornering”
Having the horse go forward, with a bend in his body, and eventually the next step was to ask the horse to untrack his hind (disengage the hindquarters), but to do that the horse must be moving forward. He said you “cannot get a horse to “turn loose” to you unless you have forward first”
So then he had the participants circle the horses each direction having them disengage the hindquarters by walking around toward the hind and driving the hind if necessary, bumping the head back if the horse tried to just flee straight away.
Then, he had the folks do the “half circle exercise”. They were to walk forward with the horse walking around them from one side to the other , changing direction when they were on the side of the walker, so a kind of figure eight on each side, while the rider /walker is moving forward. This causes the horse to really have to reach under itself with its inside leg as it’s walking around you. You have the horse in a continual bend, going first one way then the other, never straightening out at all. This was difficult and after he demonstrated it on his gray filly, he said, “usually when I watch folks do this for the first time at these clinics it makes me want to throw up in my mouth a bit.” That got big laughs.
And, it was a bit of a circus. But, nobody got kicked and everything went ok. He said one trick was to start the change of direction when the horse’s flank passed right in front of you, you have to change your hands on the rope and start the disengagement, so it ends up happening on the side of you, never behind you. This is hard to explain in words, but seeing it makes sense. I look forward to trying this myself.
As he was watching the participants work on this he kept up a steady stream of advice that was sometimes hard to figure out to whom it applied. But he said “humans don’t learn as fast as horses do, and that’s weird” when talking about how hard it is to teach people how to do some of this stuff.
He repeatedly said to not pull the horse into the bend but to have the horse maintain the float in the line , thus the bend in the body, he said the horse’s mind has to be in the bend. Regarding using gadgets for bending: “if you make the body conform to a certain shape without the mind – you are in danger~!”
So, that was pretty much what they did in the morning. The afternoon session was mounted. I did not take notes this part, so working form my memory is harder.
He talked about flexing the horse’s head and the importance of doing it correctly. The three parts of flexing were: Elevation, poll must be above the withers, though it needn’t be a lot.
Head must be vertical, meaning the ears do not tilt, but are both level to the ground, nor does the chin of the horse turn more around than the rest of the face
And lastly, the nose is vertical in the other plane; such that if you hung a plumb line from the horse’s forelock, it would hang straight down the middle of the horse’s nose, and hang straight off of the nose, no angle, no bend.
Of all of them start with elevation . Then keeping the ears level (no tilt), then lastly vertical on the face (chin not behind the vertical nor in front of it). Bringing the head around with a tilt to the face puts the horse off balance and does not stretch the muscles that you need to stretch. He wants the flexing process to be done without causing the even weighting of the legs to change. If the horse tilts its’ head in order to reach around, then it will weight the front more than before the flexing. If you ask the horse to flex and he does tilt his head, you ask for a little less bend and you don’t release the rein until the horse changes something in it’s position that moves it more toward that vertical position, then you reward. You are “showing” the way to a correct flexion, but you may have to go back to smaller flexions that are more correct to start with.
He said you cannot do too many of these. The object would be eventually for your horse to get so good at this, at following the feel of your rein, that it “gives” you it’s head.
He talked about “the one rein stop” and said he doesn’t want to see the horse stop still leaning on the rein. You should ask the hind end to step totally under and over (disengagement) and the front end comes to a total stop. Then you give a loose rein. If the horse walks off, do the whole thing again, but you never allow the horse to stop with it’s head cocked over leaning on the rein. Follow through with the disengagement and give the rein. “See if he will honor the stop”. If he walks right off again, go into the hind again.
He went from there into having the participants walk forward, disengage the hind, and then step the front over in a 360 degree turn. He would say, “Give me the hind, now give me the front”.
He said think of it like a dance, “hind two three four, front two three four”. In counting the rhythm of it. When you get the hind quarters to step under, your hand comes out from your hip toward the inside, asking the front legs to step across, but your hand does not go in front of your leg for this maneuver, just straight out from your hip. And in disengaging the hind, your hand should never go behind your bottom, or up to your chest or shoulder.
When asking the hind to step under for the disengagement, if you time your asking with the inside hind stepping under, the horse will comply better and be better balanced, and when stepping the forequarter over, try to “catch the inside front and lift it up and put it down with your inside hand” (but of course, never in front of your leg!) If the horse hurries that inside hind over in bringing the fore quarters across, then it was not in good balance to begin with and that is usually due to not having the hind quarters properly set up.
He really broke down this movement into Hind/fore. He’d say “move the hind to your right, fore to your left”, which was confusing to me.
After doing this 360 degree turning, he’d have them do it going forward, so walk forward, hind over, front over (360 degree turn) go forward, do it again. Then turn to the inside, and go other direction.
Then he went to the center and called everybody to come in around him again. When they went too slow, he said “hurry up, don’t be so slow!” and they all trotted in.
The worked on backing and getting a soft feel on the rein. The horse should flex to the rein, you lift it at about a 45 degree angle from the bit (so the rein forms a 45 degree angle to the ground) and look for the horse to elevate his head and to give at the poll. You don’t want it to just flex at the poll and he talked about some horses that just kind of “jerk” their face back and dive down. This is an evasion, not a follow of the soft feel. The feeling you want is the horse following your hand UP. You want to feel a lift in the wither area, as the horse lifts up its rib cage and the base of its neck through its shoulder blades. The horse will perhaps even rock back a bit.
So the participants were to practice this, and he said “if you see me looking at you like this (showing a kind of scowl and intense focus) then it means I am lookin’ at you wondering why you aren’t doing something? Why are you just sitting on your lazy ass doing nothing”. He made fun of it, but he was trying to get this rather passive group to get busy trying these things.
Which reminds me of another thing he said at the beginning of the clinic and that was that to get things good with your horse you have to WORK at it, a lot. Repeat them a lot. People don’t realize how much work he does with his horses to get them where they are, but it’s a lot of work so don’t be surprised at how much work it takes. And to do a lot of it.
But he also said, don’t overdo things. Don’t drill the horse. If you do something, and you get it good, move on to something else.
Ok, backing up the horse. He said you ask them to flex, both hands lifting the rein, and then kind of take your legs off the side of the horse to give him an “open door “ to move into. When do you quit? “ When the horse feels free” in its movement. Keep the elevation (poll no lower than withers)
He said if your horse cannot back straight this will tell you something about their ability to canter on a certain lead. So, say your horse backs on an arc to the left, he will have trouble cantering on a right lead.
You know, there was more after this, but I kind of lost the train of thought, and shortly after this we left for home, too cold and wet to stand it any longer.
I am sorry this is in such a disjointed format. Not only was it a lot to absorb, but I am really tired now. I wrote this now for fear that I would not remember tomorrow, but my brain is pretty fried right now. Thank you for making the best out of this garbled mess.