Sunday, December 13, 2015
I was inspired by a FaceBook thread recently to look for the Buck Branaman 7 clinics DVDs. I loved the documentary (Buck) and had considered picking up the 7 clinics set in the past, but they were expensive and I just never got around to it. I’m heading into winter (more training than conditioning) and my horse has begun to push her limits, so I did a little digging and found a used set very reasonably priced and decided to give them a try.
They are worth every penny in inspiration even if not one direct training tool surfaced.
I never saw Ray Hunt or Tom Dorrance. I think Monty Roberts is amazing (and I’ve learned a ton from him via video and books). They are all legends to me. But for me, seeing Buck Brannaman work a horse, ride a horse, or talk about horses connects with something deeply stitched into the fiber of my being.
It is not something I can explain here in words. Some who read this will know exactly what I’m talking about, some are less inspired by him but have others they prefer the style of, and some have never heard of Buck Brannaman (if that is you- please watch the documentary Buck, it’s not long and streams live on Netflix. It’s a story worth the viewing and beautifully done. You don’t have to care about horses to enjoy this film).
Watching the lightness and feel that he has with a horse is so inspirational it re-energizes me to get more serious about our training; makes me consider trying to get to the barn early on work days for just 30 minutes of groundwork. It makes me want to be better than I’ve ever thought I could be.
I watch all the groundwork discs and am inspired to hit the barn and start working on our walking circles. This is not lunging (which I don’t do) but asking the horse to walk in a circle around you while you also make a smaller circle inside always walking toward the shoulders. It doesn’t look that difficult (though I know better… everything is simple and nothing is easy!).
We can do this.
We are a mess.
Buck says it’s a dance. Everything with your horse is a dance. Watching him it always looks like a dance. He says you just have to learn to lead the dance, the horse will dance with you anywhere once you learn to lead it well.
I am a terrible dancer.
Really, in life I am- but also our walking circles were terrible. I know because I took video. I could go into all the reasons they were not good, but in the end I loved watching us try because I could see all the wrong things I was doing (lots to work on) and what I really loved was watching Khaleesi try to sort out what kind of dance this was and what I wanted her to do about it. She has such a generous spirit and must be entertained often with my human attempt to communicate to her. Occasionally she would just give up and try to eat some grass [Let me know when you figure out what you’re trying to say to me…]. I would wave the flag at her head and try to get her walking on again… she would walk right into me, I’d push her out.
I have this footage on youtube and am not going to post it here because it really is terrible! If you are inclined to want to see it drop me a note and maybe I’ll share the link…..
I am not discouraged because everyone starts somewhere. We have only one direction to go from here.
I went back a step and worked on our leading dance- something we could be more successful at. We have worked on it a lot already- she is not so good with backing up quickly when I do. We can work on that.
I loved the quote: Everything on the ground has relevance to what you do in the saddle. If you can’t lead a horse well what makes you think you can ride one?
I also took video of this. It wasn’t as embarrassing, but I noticed something I might not have before: she wasn’t always paying attention to me. One thing I picked up when going back to the clinic video is that Buck’s horse is more focused on him more often. Khaleesi is ok, she pays ‘enough’ attention to me to get the job basically done, but she can be distracted, look around, might even consider a bite of grass if it looks good.
In working with a young colt he did this thing where he demanded (for a short time) the colt just continue to pay attention- to look at him. It didn’t seem like a big deal, it wasn’t the point of the lesson, but when I saw Khaleesi from video I thought: she could pay more attention to me.
In Buck’s words: Because I’m important to him, not because he fears me.
How do you get that? To be THAT important to your horse? I would say I am important to my horse and I have some of her attention but not as much as I want.
…. maybe my horse has to become THAT important to me first?
This is where my thoughts have been rambling lately…..
Most people find where things are functional and “good enough” and they work there. I do that in many parts of my life. You have to because otherwise you wouldn’t function. You can’t get much done if everything has to be exceptional all the time. There isn’t enough time in the day. Good enough is relative- it depends on what you’re trying to do and what your needs are. Good enough can sound like a cop-out, but in reality it’s a positive thing most days. Hopefully what you do IS good enough for your needs and those around you.
For a horse there are many levels of “good enough” and different horse people have different expectations of their animals.
When I first started riding I wanted to see the woods. I wanted my horse to be good enough to enjoy riding safely even when the trails dissipated and I hacked my way through brush. I had a good trail horse. Maybe a great one. (I still have her of course). She was calm and safe and smart and kept her head about her in every situation I’ve put her in. To me it didn’t matter if she only lead “pretty good”. If she didn’t step on me, run me over, pull or drag too much and we could get to the barn- that was good enough. It was not worth taking time out of our riding in the woods (what I wanted to do) to play around with our leading game (booooring). We had some great times together exploring the woods.
Faygo is a good example actually. She is a fantastic horse, even a special horse. However the more I learn and see our relationship I realize that she takes pride in her “work” and she is well trained- she would take me anywhere I asked her to but we haven’t exactly been dancing together.
I love her dearly- and don’t get me wrong, I believe she likes me as much as a horse can like a human who straps dead animal hides to them and climbs on them for a day of hauling up and down mountains sometimes where there are no trails and occasionally briars to pick through. I even think she likes her job most of the time. I think we have a pretty good relationship. I don’t think she’s an unhappy horse at all, and her life is pretty good.
Unless she is having a ‘pissy pants’ day where she wants to run me home and is just ‘not into this’ (which we all have so I don’t hold it against her) she does what I ask her to do, but it feels more like good training than a dance. [I should also clarify that good training is huge- some people don’t even get to that point and it takes love and patience to train a horse] There is a very fine line somewhere between ‘well trained’ and ‘hooked on’ but if you look- if you are really watching, you can see it. When you do see it, it is life changing.
Stacy Westfall dances with her horse. She inspires me. If you haven’t seen what she and her mare Roxy would do bareback with no bridle it’s worth a watch.
One place I’ve seen this up close and in person was volunteering for the Old Dominion 1oo last June. I scribed for a vet (any green endurance riders out there… DO THIS, I can’t say enough how valuable that experience is). I saw a lot of horses come through but the one I will never forget was a mare (I believe she was rescued) that rode in the calvary class (when you ride the 100 mile but have to do it without any help or crew… or supplies really. This is truly hard-core.). She was ‘hooked on’ to her rider. He was important to her and you could see it. She was a beautiful confident mare who was soft in the eyes and body yet completely focused on him. She would ride with him to the end of the world and back because that’s where he was going- not just because it was her job. They were truly connected.
To me it seems like this: once a horse sees that you understand them, that you are listening to them and at least trying to learn their language there is a glass wall that begins to melt away in your relationship and the horse wants to be connected to you. That is how you become that important to the horse- you enter their world. Next comes how many levels you are able to melt away as each takes time, experience, dedication, feel and patience. This is the journey we are all on as horse people.
Once you are truly able to connect with your horse that they hook on to you, they submit willingly to you, Buck would say you then owe it to that horse to make them a winner every time. Never ask from the horse what she can’t give. Never allow them to get into trouble or a place they could fail. Build that horse up, make the horse a winner and the horse will make a winner out of you- never the other way around. The horse will go to any length to perform for you because your goals become their goals.
This level of feel and lightness is what inspires me. It goes beyond functional, but it’s what I want in my relationship with my horses. This is the true goal.
I think for the first time I’ve realized that I don’t have a hobby… I don’t have a horse… I don’t just want to get ride time in, I want to be that important to my horses. I have a passion for them. I want us to be that good someday. I want to be that good for them.
I am still clumsy, uncoordinated… My communication is often too loud- I forget to whisper first. My timing is not good enough, I am not tuned in enough to the subtle signals. I don’t always pay enough attention. I think of better solutions to problems while laying in bed the next morning (that is way too late!) I have a long way to go- maybe the rest of my life.
But one thing I know:
I don’t want to ride anymore.
I want to dance.