Before we get into the details, I should start by saying that this was the best money I have ever spent. I spent the weekend overwhelmed with emotion- mostly I was so happy I could cry. It is an honor and a privilege for someone like me who is taking the horsemanship journey to ride on the same ground with someone like Buck. I came away with more confidence, an amazing review of the basics and so much knowledge that will allow me to refine the way I ride my horses and will increase the way I communicate with them. While I am aware that we rode for 3- 4 hours at a time, 4 days in a row, with a homework assignment on day 3, I know that the *feel* my horse was giving me and the additional *feel* that I put in my already decent hands got better, and because I desire to be a world-class horseman, it will be better the next time Buck sees me.
Below is a synopsis of what we did, and what I learned in the first day. Some of you will be bored reading through the details. Others of you will be like, “heck yeah, I’m practicing that this week”!
Day one was pretty simple and straightforward, at least to me. We did what are called “short serpentines”. They are just what the name implies, it’s a serpentine shape, but essentially your horse folds in half and keeps going forward. The goal is to keep your horse moving forward, and balanced, while he folds in half. Meaning he drives up underneath himself, and takes equal, forward steps as you bend his head to the right and then get in time with his feet so you can pick up and go left as his left foot leaves the ground. I’ve watched all of the Buck Brannaman DVDs we own, which is all but a couple (his ranch roping DVDs), and while I’ve heard him talk about where his feet are placed before it has never clicked with me. Before we started our serpentine drills he talked about how we should move our feet based on the direction our horse is turning. If he’s going right, our left foot is slightly in front of our right foot. We need our right foot out of the way of our horse’s shoulder so he can get round going to the right, and we need our left front foot in a position to block him from going left should he fail to make the turn or try to leak out and not fold in half. That was something I worked on all weekend. I must say it is a very clear signal for your horse! It will be a habit for me in the next couple of days.
Of the 30 people in the class, very few understood foot cadence (maybe 6-8 of us). That is something he talked about on this day. For those of you that don’t ride, the foot cadence is simply the footfalls your horse makes. I can’t ask him to turn right and expect him to be successful if his right front foot is on the ground. I must wait for him to be picking that foot up and then direct that foot. I can set it out, forward or back. And for me, even one that isn’t well trained, I can set if where I choose to set it. The other purpose in doing this drill is get your horses soft and bending. By a soft horse, I mean that when you pick up a rein, the horse puts his head in the vertical position. In other words, he’ll put slack in the reins for you. It is referred to, in the world of horsemanship, as a soft feel- a phrase coined by the late Ray Hunt. One of THE masters. He was one of Buck’s mentors.
Buck wanted to see how fluid we could get our horses by doing the serpentine drill and how far we could bend them around and have them keep going forward. About half way into our second or third time around the arena, he said, “those of you that can pick up a soft feel on your horses, you do that for a few steps every once in a while and then go back to your serpentine shape. Those of you that have no idea what a soft feel is, you keep doing what you’re doing”. I was glad for the break from the serpentine drill, though I must say, it made my horse feel like butter in my hands and I thought he was soft before that drill!
After he thought we’d had enough of that, he had us walk our horses in a straight line and do some one-rein stops. This is the first thing that a good horseman teaches his colts. And a good horseman continues to do this drill on their horses, because it also makes them feel like butter in your hands. A one-rein stop is exactly what it sounds like. But it is also designed to keep your horse calm. Bending a horse in half is soothing for them. It lets them know that there is no need to be scared. And that you control their feet. A well-trained horse isn’t going to come undone if the rider on his back isn’t coming undone, and is cognizant enough to pick up one rein should they feel their horse falling apart underneath them. In order to properly do the one rein stop you would pick up on the right rein, bring the horse’s head around to your right knee and disengage the horse’s hips, by pushing them to the left. A horse can’t go forward, bolt, rear up, buck or any form of that if we take his hips away. His back feet are his motor. A one-rein stop is the equivalent of putting your car in neutral. He had us pick up them up to both sides, switch hands with the reins, and rub our horse’s head with our right hand if we were bent to the right, and with our left hand if we were bent to the left.
I don’t know how everyone else did at these drills because frankly, I was so tuned into my own horse that I didn’t watch what anyone else was doing. Though I did try to stay away from some of the more inexperienced riders in the class. They really were probably in over their heads the first two days, but it all worked out for them in the end. At the end of the day he went around and said all our names and asked if we had any questions. I was just soaking it in so my answer to him was, “I’m just awesome”.
I was, and it was.
I didn’t have anyone to take pictures that morning, but I took plenty in the afternoon of the Ranch Roping class he was teaching.
Of the three women standing there, only two actually ranch. Betcha can’t tell which two. One of them had never roped a live calf on their horse before this clinic. And she got the chance this clinic to do so! And she rocked it.
Any chance you could pick out who is the team roper in this picture?
Buck giving a talk.
One of the students in the ranch roping class had never roped before! Here is another student showing her “the ropes”. Aren’t I funny?