Every year I am fortunate enough to make at least one Buck Clinic, and every year when I get home, I say this was the best clinic yet. Sometimes, I get to come home and go right back to riding horses, but more often than not, I go, come back and then I am off to a branding, or off to do ranch work that doesn’t require me be horseback and I fail to have time to put into practice what I’ve learned.
This year was no exception in the learning process for me or my horses. And that’s how we should be handling our horses — as a learning process. We need to teach them to learn. Not train them to “do” or “be”. I want my horse to go where I go, at the speed that I go, and not an inch faster or slower. But I’m not going to nitpick or punish* them if they don’t make it. At least not anymore. (I’ve not “punished a horse in 5-6 years, but I used to grit my teeth, and mutter profanities under my breath if they didn’t get done what I wanted). If I can overcome that, so can anyone else who struggles.
My takeaway can be boiled down to one paragraph:
The horse is always consistent. It is the human that is not. We have to work on ourselves to be the same when we ride, when we visit with our friends, when we wake up in the morning, when we visit with our significant other… Our emotions should be in check. We shouldn’t hold a grudge. We shouldn’t get bothered about stuff not being perfect. If the horse (or a person) needs help, get in and get out, don’t dwell on it and don’t hold a grudge.
What I said above — clearly doesn’t just apply to horses. It applies to everything. This is the first time that I feel like I learned and became better because of what I learned. On the first day Buck told me I was micromanaging my horse. I didn’t get it. On the second day he told me I was micromanaging my horse and I could barely sleep that night because of it.
I’ve worked for micromanagers. They’re a pain in the ass. So, at the beginning of class the next day, I asked him what he meant. He chuckled when I said I’d worked for those kind of people and had zero desire to do that to my horses. His answer was that I didn’t give my horse enough time to make the decision. I was going to make it for him, and that if he did get the opportunity to make a choice, I was on to the next choice, without giving him a moment of peace. I wasn’t trusting in my work. I wasn’t getting in, getting out, making the correction and letting him “be” or have that beat/time to dwell when things were good. When I let go, wouldn’t you know, it got better.
I had become predictable in my riding. Demanding, even. At this clinic, I didn’t ride my most advanced horse, Dino. Instead I rode one that’s been an amazing teacher, Avie (honestly, they’re all good teachers if we get out of our own way and listen). My daily riding agenda with him, and even often with Dino wasn’t about helping the horse I was on. It was about getting him in shape for this, or that and teaching this or that. To further prove that I’m a work in progress, I came home from the clinic and began micromanaging my household — immediately. The disappointment I had in myself when my exceptionally patient Cowboy pointed it out, was overwhelming. People try. Horses try. Dogs try. You have to reward that. Get in, get out. Life is rarely ideal and the sooner we let go, the better for us and those around us.
As I changed my approach over the four day clinic I realized that I either asked for too much at once, nagged them and got no change, or did just enough and didn’t consistently reward the try. For about three years now I’ve been working on walk/canter departs on Dino. I came back from the clinic with a new outlook and wouldn’t you know, he’s ridden like a hot knife through butter and those lead departures, well, we’re nailing them which basically means, I’m getting out of his way enough for him to do something he’s been doing since he was like three days old. My ability to communicate to him what I’m after is getting better. His hips are free enough to do it. My timing is getting better. The simple lead changes I’ve been working on for years, they’re solid. More solid than I thought because, I’m getting out of his way and mine.
To say that riding with Buck can be life changing, sounds cliche, I know. But it can be if we take hold of the teachings for what they are — more than a riding analogy. They’re analogies for life. And life can be good, friends. Life is good.
What have your horses taught you?