Riding With Buck- H2 (Part 1 of who knows how many)…


I’m really not sure where to start, and I’m not sure that me NOT taking notes this time was such a great idea.

Why, you may ask?

Well because there was so much information given to me in the course of four days, I’m pretty sure there’s no way I’ll remember it all, but I’ll do my best to hit the high points (to me anyway) and the couple notes I did take, during the morning (H1) class, I’ll share for sure.

I kind of think that before I get too involved in the ins and outs and all the stuff we did in H2- I should talk first about all the things I learned/relearned/reheard/or heard Buck say that stuck out to me through the weekend.

Horses want peace.

Watch a horse long enough and you’ll see him just “be”. He eats quietly, and he doesn’t thrive on drama, much to the chagrin of a human sometimes. He runs when he has to (and sometimes even when he wants to), but given the chance, he will return to quiet. That’s the deal we make our horses in this life- If you get soft and try and give to me, I WILL ALWAYS GIVE BACK TO YOU. We’ve made him a promise that we’re going to always let him return to what is easiest for him- and that is just being a horse. Humans are the only “animals” that will choose a leader that is unfit to lead them. A horse, is by his very nature skeptical, because his survival has depended on it,  and as such it’s our job to show him we’ll be a great leader and keep him out of trouble, AND be honest with him. All. The. Time.

Short serpentines serve countless purposes and we should be able to master them.

For the horse they help him become confident switching eyes, and help him learn to be balanced and supple. An unbalanced horse will often pick up an inside leg in a turn and jam it into the ground- not set it quietly down, where you ask. They need to learn to break in half- and keep both ends moving evenly with their heads balanced, in proper vertical flexion. A supple horse will allow you to move any foot where you want, quietly, even going so far as a half-step at a time.

For the person, short serpentines help us with our footfalls/cadence, they help us learn to ride forward and short on the reins, they help us learn to stay balanced and how best to help our horse because it’s easy to feel when your horse is falling into the turn, or has slowed the hind or the front. It teaches us to properly use our legs- right leg back, left leg forward when going right- vice versa for the left.  If we don’t get good at asking when it’s the easiest thing for our horse to do, we will not have a soft horse.  If we’re constantly tripping him up over his own feet, he’s not going to have a lot of faith in us and is quite likely going to become braced through his body, for his own protection.  You must learn to ask when the it’s the easiest thing for your horse to do.

Until you get your open serpentines working for you, hands free, you have no business putting your horse in the hackamore.

Your legs have to mean something. And for me that means, continuing to work on my legs being less about going forward, moving out or getting somewhere and more about meaning something to him as far as the “shape” of his body is concerned. I have had such a sticky accelerator on Dino for so long that a lot of times my legs don’t mean what they should.

Even when we’re not in the arena, and we’re out doing a job we should ride our horses with quality.

This means that if we’re working cows,  loping across the pasture, or trotting out to do a job, we are aware of the diagonal, we should not just throw softness or correctness to the wind to get the job done (though sometimes we do need to get the job done) and we need to pay attention to what lead our horse is on even if we are loping across the pasture. Proper form shouldn’t be thrown out the window just because we have a job to do. Quality is quality no matter what we’re doing. I don’t tend to struggle with this- because I am constantly working on teetering my horses, or asking for a lead change when we’ll jump a ravine or something and I like them to always reach back to me when I ask- but there are people who need to hear this, or Buck wouldn’t continually say it.  If you ask your horse to go after a cow to the right and your horse is on the left lead, well then that’s not going to be as easy for him as it would be if you were paying attention and “helped” him from the beginning.

Everything is incremental.

We have to walk before we can run- and as such, a horse has to be able to pick up a soft feel before he can become truly collected. He has to be feather light at a standstill before we’re going to be to successful (as average riders) to get him soft at the walk. He’s got to be soft at the walk before he can be soft at the trot and he’s got to be soft at the trot before he can be soft at the lope and so on, and so forth.  You cannot get one too soft. Rarely do you see people sitting around Buck picking up a soft feel on their horses either vertically or laterally, while he’s talking at the beginning of class each day- but we should all be doing that.  He always says if we sat and counted the number of times he picks up a soft feel each class we’d be astounded. I wouldn’t, though I haven’t counted, because I feel like I pick up a soft feel a lot. I still may not do it enough, but I reach down and feel for my horse quite often- not just in class with him, but when I’m holding herd, or waiting on some sluggish cows, or talking with the kids hanging on the fence at home.

You don’t teach your horse anything new in the two-rein.

If your horse hasn’t got down what he needs to get down by the time you put him in the two-rein, you’re really not going to teach him much. That is a refinement set-up; not a teaching set up.  A horse should be able to do everything we need them to do in the snaffle before they go into the hackamore. What Buck wants his horses to be able to do and what we will be able to get our horses to do is quite likely much different. If I told you his list you might cry. I did.  But I’ll keep working on those things. I can do almost everything I want to/need to do on Dino- but there is always room for things to get better. And Buck says Dino isn’t ready for the hackamore. So does Zach. And I knew that anyway, but I had to ask. The better your horse is in the snaffle the less time you spend in the hackamore. Buck says he has some horses only in the hackamore for 3-4 months. Now that isn’t probably realistic for any of us, but we can all work toward getting a soft, responsive horse in the snaffle so that by the time we get to the bosal, people will think our horses have been in it for months already! If we’ve done our homework, that will be what happens.

A Bridle Horse should be able to:

Quietly, and kindly pack a kid around. They should be gentle. Gentle and broke are not the same things folks. A broke horse may not be gentle, and a gentle horse may not be broke. A TRUE bridle horse is both.

Pick up leads from a standstill.

Go from a lope to a walk.

Counter Canter.

He should be able to be roped off of.

Open serpentine.

Be soft every time we ask.

Half Pass

Leg Yield- from the front, the center and the hips (front first, even, hips first)

And the list- well it goes on. I think you get the idea.

All movements on a good horse happen from the center.

Buck often talks about a rectangle when riding your horse-getting your horse to stay in your rectangle. A horse, can push out the front of the rectangle if he gets heavy on your hands. This was a huge thing for me to learn, as I never realized that that meant he was coming out the front of my rectangle- I thought that meant he was going out the back. When your horse is heavy on your hands, it usually means you’re not getting to his feet.

A good deal means more when you work on it until the good deal is all it takes.

Offer them the best deal and then do what it takes. Do less than what you think it will take. Let him soak when he gets it from the good deal. Address it again until the good deal works all the time, the first time. As simple as this sounds, it’s not- simply because most of us won’t keep it at until we get the good deal working for us the first time, every time. I am guilty of this and it’s one thing I will continue to work on until it just “happens” with little to no effort.  Countless times through the clinic I heard, “I wouldn’t have quit him there. I’d have wanted that to get better. I might have spent a couple hours on that”.  We do like to ride, so we just as well work on those things, right? Though I realize for some of you on a schedule it’s harder than for others of us whose daily agenda involves riding until we are done.  That’s when we go back and start with something we’re both good at.

Your horse will know if you don’t like him or are mad at him

A great horseman keeps his emotions out of his riding. Around here we like to say if you can’t smile while you’re horseback, you just well not be.

I hope this has been helpful to all of you. As I go on and recall my days of riding I’m sure I’ll think of more, but for now this will have to suffice. Please feel free to ask questions/comment as I’d love to hear from you regarding your experiences, or your thoughts on this post. To see all my write ups on my time riding with Buck, Click Here.

Happy Trails!


  1. willinghorses says:

    Wonderfully helpful! Thank you for sharing your experience. For years like this one, when I can’t get to Buck, having you bring him to me is great inspiration and information!


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