Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Buck in Colorado

Brian and I are just back from auditing our second Buck Brannaman clinic. This one was in Fort Collins. It was an 11 hour drive to get there, but it was well worth it.

I was expecting to get a lot out of seeing everything from Horsemanship I again and thought the Foundation Horsemanship class might offer some good new tips too, but I had a little fear things might get boring or repetitive at times. In all honesty, though, the whole thing was much better than I expected. I was just as riveted this go 'round as last time. I thought I remembered things pretty well from the first clinic, and I did, but what I started to get an idea of this time was how to start to refine everything and connect the dots. I came away feeling like I now have a (albeit very blurry) understanding of the "big picture."

We got the see Gidget again, and she's looking quite accomplished.

We also got to see Buck's bridle horse Arc, though unfortunately the light was really awful in the afternoons and we didn't get any good photos. Here he is hobbled, though.

I can't even begin to summarize everything we learned, so I'll start with one good lesson we're going to apply immediately. Buck spent quite a while addressing the issue of headshy horses and horses that are difficult to bridle, which was awesome for us because this guy

certainly still needs a lot of work before he's over the ear issue.

Preparing a Horse for the Bridle

Preparing the horse to take a bridle is more important than the act of bridling itself. In cases where a horse is sensitive or headshy, it can take many, many sessions of working on this before you even have the horse to a point where you should bridle it.

Start off with the horse untied and quiet on the lead rope. Apply gentle downwards pressure on the lead rope until the horse drops its head (even a tiny fraction of an inch is enough). Release the pressure instantly when the horse gives. If the horse's head stays down, pet. If its head pops back up, ask it to lower its head again. Work on this until the head is lower than your waist, and the horse is content to stand quietly with its head down.

If the horse is nervous about its ears, start moving your hands towards the ears from one direction or the other but not actually reaching them. The idea is you push the horse just slightly, but not enough to cause real anxiety. Get your hand close and gone before the horse has a chance to get troubled and react. If you get too close, the horse might pull away and thus begin to learn to evade pressure by pulling. It is crucial not to lose patience and push this. If the horse's head comes up at any point, gently work it back down and continue. Gradually, the horse will allow you closer and closer to the area it is trying to defend.

Once the horse is accepting movements nearish its ears without anxiety, move your hand smoothly from the face up and over the forehead and back down the neck. You want to be quick and fluid, so you do not startle the horse but are also long gone before the horse has a chance to get troubled. Run your hand quickly past the ears and down the neck. If the head comes up, gently lower it. Repeat repeat repeat. As the horse gets quieter you can start to be a little more careless about this, perhaps sometimes bumping the ears on the way by.

When the horse is not reacting to the hand passing from front to back, start to work on moving the hand from back to front, being careful not to whack the ears. Any time the head comes up, you put it back down. Work on this until the horse learns that movements around the ears and head are not a threat.

Once your horse can stand quietly with its head lowered and you can reliably touch all over the head, face, mouth, and ears without causing a reaction, you are ready to bridle.


We've got a ways to go with Laredo. Buck said one thing during the clinic that made me laugh. He said, "Being sneaky with young horses doesn't work. Some people handle young horses like they can do it without the horse noticing them. They are sneaky about getting them tacked and mounted, and sneaky about riding. And maybe you can even get away with it for a while, but one day the horse is going to wake up and notice you, and if you've been sneaking around all that time, the horse is going to say, "Where on earth did that guy come from?" That is where you get your huge reactions."

We've definitely been sneaky about getting the bridle on Laredo. But I think that's ok as a temporary solution. We're certainly not walking on egg-shells around him in any other respect, and as long as we can get the bridle on without causing him trauma or teaching him to pull away, it shouldn't set us back as long as we work on systematically eliminating the need for the sneakiness at the same time

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