Riding with Buck is like peeling an onion. You ride with him, you think you get it, and then you’ll be out in the pasture one day, riding of course or maybe your’e in the pickup opening gates for your cowboy, and “BOOM!” it hits you what he was saying. What you were supposed to feel. How the horse became centered. How he’s truly light in your hands. It never gets old for me, folks.
I’ve already been through a lot of the high points of the clinic as far as I can recall- and I’m sure as I go in and recount these days I’ll remember more.
For now, let’s talk about what an H2 class involves.
Before riding in H2, I had seen his ranch roping class, his foundation horsemanship class, and his cow working class. I’d ridden in H1, three times, but had never seen an H2 class.
Basically, H2 is an extension of what you do in H1, with some ranch roping and cattle work thrown in for practicality, and refinement. Or kicks and giggles for Buck. Probably for the practicality and refinement. The fact that Buck is entertained is simply a bonus for him, I suppose! More on this, later. Quite honestly though, it’s about putting what we have been learning, and hopefully teaching our faithful steeds, to use.
Since I live on a ranch, cattle working isn’t a foreign concept to me, though I don’t claim to be an expert; but I, more often than not, (these days anyway) get the job done. I also get to rope at brandings, though I certainly can improve. A LOT! Zach, My Cowboy, likes to refer to my roping the dummy as “personal development” time because he doesn’t like to hear me whine around about missing, A LOT, at brandings. I didn’t grow up with a rope in my hand. But I did rope breakaway calves in high school and college. I wasn’t great, but I didn’t completely suck either.
Day one of the clinic was basically a sped up version of the whole four day, H1 class. Also known as “dry work”. He wanted to see that our horses could pick up a soft feel, carry the feel through walk/trot transitions, and he wanted to see that they could disengage the hips, and bring the shoulders through. So turn arounds, backing circles, soft feel and for some of us, collection.
We worked on several things at once, actually. He wanted us busy. Hindsight being what it is, this may have been why I was utterly exhausted at the end of each day. Well, that combined with all the thinking I did, and Dino’s (I HEART HIM) sticky accelerator. As tired as I was at the end of each day, you’d have thought I don’t ride much!
Going to the right (he sends you right A LOT, y’all), we began by working on getting our horses to walk out, while we would pick up a soft feel, have them NOT slow down, pitch them back the reins, and have them walk out again. Then he upped the ante and had us ride them to a fast walk, pick up a soft feel and cary that down to as slow a walk as we could get them to take without stopping. You might need that slow walk when walking into a herd of cattle. I like to call it the creepy-crawly walk. He wanted our seat, not our hands to do the work and I thought this drill was great. So we did that. When he saw that our horses were doing well, he told those folks in the class whose horses were carrying the soft feel well, that they could trot as they wanted and work on the soft feel at the trot, and carrying it through upward and downward transitions. He wanted us doing upward/downward transitions on a soft feel, giving it back, picking it up again, etc.
After he felt we had that working good, we added in disengaging the hips and bringing the shoulders through. He caught me this day with my right leg in the way; and I was thankful he did. I’m so right-side dominant that I really have to focus on keeping my right leg out of the way and that made my right turns clean up so much- becoming cognizant of where my leg was.
When we thought he certainly couldn’t add anything else, he threw in some open serpentines, and leg yields. If you’re unfamiliar with a leg yield, it’s essentially your horse being bent (with proper flexion of course) in the direction you’re going. So you might leg yield your horse to the corner of the arena- since they may tend to fall toward the center or away from the fence when they make a turn.
You can leg yield your horse three ways- they can lead shoulders first, even, or hips first (or haunches out if you will). He wanted us to get our horses good at this because we were going to need this for the next three days in our dry work drills.
We also talked about hackamore horses and Buck gave us his laundry list of things he wants his horses to be able to do and told me mine isn’t ready- that he’s doing good but he’s not there yet. The list is EXTENSIVE. Though he also says if you’re doing everything you want to on your horse, you can put them in the hackamore. His list is lead simple lead changes (one trotting stride and on to the next lead), the start of flying lead changes, they can lope short circles at least as short as the length of their body, he’s roped several hundred head of cattle, they’re gentle, and well, you get the point. I’ve got simple lead changes going pretty good- and when my right leg is out of the way I’m about 95% on them. I haven’t roped several hundred head yet- only 50 maybe, but I’m pretty pleased with where Dino is. He may, at this stage, as a 5yo, have a solid 2 years of riding on him now, so I have to remind myself that 1. I’m not in a hurry, and 2. He’s a rockstar. Because really he is.
As class came to a close, Buck talked about what we’d be doing in class the next day- when the cattle arrived. We’d be having a little friendly competition. We would have to cut cattle out of herd, take them to the other end of the arena, and file them in front of a roper. If we spilled the cattle we were out and would have to do 10 pushups, or 20 jumping jacks, and if you were man, and were tired from doing too many pushups you also had the option to skip across the arena like a girl, and curtsey at the end. If the team was successful and got the cattle to the roper and the roper missed the pushups/jumping jacks were on the roper alone. This got a laugh out of everyone and we were pretty excited about that for the next day.
Essentially that was day one. He scared the poo out of me, when near the end of the day, he said he wanted three barrels for the next day’s class. I know what that drill is all about and I hadn’t, up to that point, loped very many circles on my horse. I just kind of stopped loping circles on my young horses (which is strange for someone who runs barrels, I know) after Shuttle’s injury. I figured if I can pick my horse up and have him get round when I asked, that’s good enough. But Buck says we should lope circles on our horses. We don’t have to lope a lot, but they need to know how to do it. And if I want to be able to counter-canter, loping circles is kind of essential. I have to remind myself that Dino is 5 now, and he’s been allowed to grow like a horse should, and he’s been taken really slow, so since the clinic I’ve been loping circles whenever I ride, and we’ve even started to be able to gather up enough to lope some short circles. Someday, I know, those will become canter pirouettes, but I’m in no rush.
I love how, after riding with Buck I come home and it feels like I really progress. Does anyone else feel that way?