“It’s a devotion and art to refine a horse”

                  Buck Brannaman, Aintree June 2017

Buck Brannaman needs no introduction, a true horseman of the highest calibre and possibly one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet. I can hardly believe it has been two years since Buck first came to the UK to do a clinic, but due to the determination of Total Horsemanship’s Tina Griffin, Buck returned this year. The venue again was the wonderful arena at Aintree Racecourse.

Now a lot has happened since Buck was last here and I, unfortunately, lost my equine partner Ada just before the clinic. So having participated last time, I now found myself experiencing the clinic from a different perspective, but I guarantee that did not mean there was any less to take away.

The participants were a mix of abilities and experience, some having ridden with Buck before and a lot for whom it was their first time. On the first day the atmosphere was almost palpable with excitement and anticipation, but when Buck walked in and made everyone feel like they were amongst friends, there was a collective sigh of relief.

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I never get tired of watching Buck on a horse, if you pay close attention Buck teaches you on at least two separate levels. The first is visually in the dance with the horse, and secondly, in the parables that he tells. These are peppered in throughout each session and are absolute gems of wisdom and knowledge. A particular favourite of mine this time was this:

“There is a piece of the horse, the best thing he has, that most riders will never use let alone find. But depending on the rider’s personality that piece can end up dead in the horse, and you will never get it back. That piece that made him something special. When it is gone, it is gone forever. So even if you can’t find it, or use it, whatever you do don’t kill it in that horse.”

— Buck Brannaman

For me, that sums up how high a regard Buck holds a horse. It is never a one sided conversation when he is with a horse, he offers them the lightest of aids, waits on them to think and then gives them the peace they seek through the release. That’s how a horse learns without trouble, and as Buck says, “Soon what the horse does last, he will start offering first”. Now that for me is a conversation.

Another key thing from the clinic was the importance of the reins hooking down to the feet, and you have to understand that whenever you take hold of the reins, it is a connection to their feet. With this in mind, it is also important to know where the feet are. Buck had the afternoon group go round the arena passed him, and he asked them to call out when they thought a particular foot was leaving the ground (this was quite entertaining).

Without an understanding and awareness of where your horse’s feet are, and bearing in mind that your reins should be connected to those feet, you leave yourself open if your timing is off. Not having this connection and feel may result in you pulling your horse off balance, or experiencing a brace when he physically cannot carry out what you are asking of him. He will protect himself, so you need to understand where and when those feet are so you can influence them when leaving the ground.

It’s not just his feel and timing with these animals which take this style of horsemanship beyond the mechanical, it’s the respect he shows them, and indeed expects in return. Buck is truly alive in each moment he is with a horse, particular in every detail and really with them and there for them.