Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This Changes Everything

We've had a very busy stretch here, starting with a visit from my mother. We went out to the barn once while she was here, and she did climb on Steen briefly but he showed an immediate inclination to play his "pick up the trot" game with her, and she didn't really want to play. So she hopped off and went for a jog while Brian and I had a pretty nice ride in the second pasture.
Ride Time: 0:30

After Mom left, Brian and I went on vacation. We drove to Decorah, IA, to audit a Buck Brannaman clinic. It started as more of a desire to take a vacation and perhaps work something horse-related in. We figured we'd spend about half of each day at the clinic and the other half poking around the area and relaxing.

But that's not how it worked out. We were hooked in about the first five minutes. I'd never been to a clinic before, but I've seen a lot of footage of various trainers who tout their system and spend the whole time alternating between showing off and trying to sell you stuff. This was completely different. There was no showing off and nothing for sale at all.

It is impossible to sum up what we learned in four days. I feel like an entire section has been added on to my brain and it's completely full of a new understanding of how to work with horses. We were riveted. We hardly even wanted to walk away from the arena to go to the bathroom for fear of missing something. We did nothing in Decorah except go to the clinic and talk about the clinic.

What I learned pretty much slots into three categories. First there were the things I discovered I've been doing completely wrong for a long time. Fortunately there were only two of these - the one-rein-stop and the flex. Then there were the things I'd been doing almost right, and these amounted to more than I can conveniently list. Finally there were roughly a million things I'd never heard of or thought of before.

Suffice it to say we came home eager to try out some of the things we learned. The good thing is we've been trying to ride in the style we learned about for some time and we've been doing a decent job, so the adjustments we have to make are fairly subtle. Yet at the same time they are huge.

Today we headed to the barn in the afternoon and I felt like my entire understanding of horses had shifted. Even leading Steen in from the pasture was different. We tacked up and went to the second pasture, where I attempted the first real lesson we learned at the clinic. Buck calls it picking up a "soft feel" and it mostly amounts to holding light pressure on the reins until the horse dips its chin and gives slightly at the poll in response. This is the foundation for all of the softness and collection he eventually asks for in his finished horses, and something I'm pretty sure no one had ever asked Steen to do in his life.

The driving principles behind Buck's training method are simple. Be patient. Go slow. Do it right. Ride with quality. Easy enough, I thought. Until I stood there for about five minutes with light pressure on Steen's reins and grew certain he'd fallen asleep and would never dip his chin in a million years.

He did, of course, and that was the beginning. For the next hour and a half we worked mostly on that and a few other simple exercises. I was also paying a lot more attention to my seat and legs and things felt pretty good pretty fast. I can't say by the end Steen was dipping his chin remotely as well as even Buck's very green 3-year old mare, but I can say it took less time by the end of the day than it had at the beginning. He was also stopping at a much lighter touch than I've ever felt, so that was encouraging.

Naturally we didn't spend the whole ride working on new ideas. We had some nice walking around once the new one-rein stop method shut Steen down on picking up the trot a whole lot more effectively than the old one ever did. We also had some nice trots and made some progress at relearning flexing.

More than anything, I'm excited to keep trying this stuff out. The wonderful thing about everything we learned is on some levels it is so simple and elegant, builds on what we already know and do, and makes an awful lot of sense. But on others it is so complex you can see how it could easily keep you busy for a lifetime.

Ride Time: 1:25
Horseback hours YTD: 63:55


  1. So all these years, Brian's been posting on my blog and I didn't know you even had one. I see me in the photo in this post! Thanks for sharing your horsemanship journey!

    1. Ha! That is awesome. I should have commented on your blog. I've certainly been reading and enjoying it. :)


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