Decorah Iowa is a sleepy little town, nestled in amongst bluffs and trees in the Mississippi River Valley. It doesn’t look like what most of Iowa does- it’s really quite pretty. Definitely not what I expected. This year I took Kelsey (Most of you know her as My Cowboy’s daughter), my niece, and Zach’s cousin, who also went with me last year to Steamboat. It was, once again, a great experience for all of us!
I’m not sure exactly where to start writing this time. A lot of what we covered is stuff I’ve already written about and some of it might be more than you’re interested in knowing. But since most you that read this have never ridden with Buck, and I figure more people want to do right by their horses than not, I guess we’ll start at the beginning. We’ll cover day one today, and then move on to day two, three and four in separate posts.
If you’ve not read my previous installments about riding with Buck, and you want to, I’ll post links at the end of this blog so you can go back and find them easily since my search button seems to be missing at the moment. I’m working to get that fixed ASAP (I have NO idea what I did!). There is also a series on riding with Buck on our ranch blog, if you’re interested in reading that.
It always seems surreal to me to ride in the same place as Buck. It’s an honor and a privilege and it takes me at least one day of the clinic to come to grips with where I really am. Friday started like any other day, except this time, Buck had a pretty, gray, 3yo mare, a new snaffle bit horse, that he’d started. She had all of 25 rides and was the handiest 25 ride colt I’ve ever seen. But what would one expect from the handiest horseman on the planet? It was great to see him get to handle a colt, since all he’s had with him since I’ve been riding with him are two rein and bridle horses (and I’m aware, I’ve slacked on what a bridle horse is- I am still formulating that post).
I said good morning to him, asked if he remembered me and he said, “sure do”! I nearly fell off. How does a man who sees thousands of people each year remember? I’m not sure how he does it- it’s possible it’s the awareness in him that allows him to notice the details and remember them. We’ll talk more about awareness as we go through these blogs.
The morning began with the usual Q & A, in which Buck asked if anyone was having specific problems/issues they wanted to work through. It is always interesting to me to hear how people phrase their questions. Most being with “my horse is” or “he seems to want to”- in which case they’re anthropomorphizing their horses- and not understanding that the horse is only doing what it feels it needs to do to survive in the given circumstance. But isn’t that what we’re all taught? That the horse has to take responsibility? That it’s never our fault? That we need a different bit, or that we need a pair of spurs? That it’s certainly not our inability to communicate with the horse that’s the real issue? What Buck teaches is contrary to these notions and it does take some getting used to. But our horses thank us for it, continually, if we really take this to heart.
We started this clinic with elevation and lateral flexion. Two of the MOST important things you need in a well-broke horse; more specifically a bridle horse. Most people don’t have the need (or the patience) to make a true bridle horse, so they need elevation and lateral flexion simply so their horses are as safe and soft as possible. And besides, when you’ve ridden a horse that’s soft as butter, you don’t want to go back. And the “soft as butter” horse, starts RIGHT here.
This drill was a good reminder to me that while my colt is soft, he wasn’t in quite the right position as he was last year. Last year in Steamboat I was one of the first people to get this drill right, and have it look like it was supposed to. You want to imagine a string hanging from your horse’s foretop (forelock) and as your horse’s head meets you laterally, you want the string to stay hanging in the middle of his face, as well as down the center-line of his head touching, all the way down.
You want your horse’s jaw to roll up and under and slightly left or right. Hand position is important in this because you do not want your hand to go across center, and ideally, you don’t need your hands higher than your belly button, or askew for that matter. Straight up and down will do just fine. I believe, and there are those here that may disagree, but I think you can actually change the angle of your horse’s head by your hand position- from perpendicular to the ground even as little as 15 degrees off perpendicular (in the photos, look at Buck’s hands). Further, when you ask your horse’s head to come around you want to ask “around”. Meaning you don’t take hold of the rein and go straight back with it. You take hold of the rein, “ask” out and then back toward the mane to finish.
There’s three parts to this: Elevation, lateral flexion and vertical flexion. Most people won’t have all three at first. You can tell if you’re getting all three by 1. Your horse’s poll is above his withers. 2. His ears are level and not all screw-jawed, and 3. He’s reaching back to you by being rolled up through the jaw.
Once Buck has you work on that for a while, we go into short serpentines. Which serve several purposes- though I seem to learn more about them every time I do them. First, it’s really just practically applying the proper flexions. Second, it’s about learning to move your hands on the reins. Everyone has seen, or knows someone, or they themselves play the piano. Think of your reins as a piano keyboard. The better you are at moving your hands on the reins, the more you can help your horse. If you can only move your hands over 12 inches of the rein, as opposed to 36 inches of the rein, you’re not going to be able to “dance” as Buck likes to say, nearly as elegantly as someone who can really move their hands up and down the rein as necessary. Third, it’s about teaching your horse to be balanced and move equally, all four quarters. Serpentines are great for building up a horse’s hindquarters.
Here’s some photos of serpentines taken by my niece.
Dino and Me. I have too much lateral flexion and not enough vertical in this photo:
Buck and his pretty filly, Gidget:
When doing serpentines, it’s best to be in position 1- “your going forward in a hurry, or jumping something position”, I like to call it!
Here he is changing directions:
It’s important to note that the fourth part to a serpentine is foot cadence (I really don’t know that these “parts” are in any particular order- they’re my observations. Buck may have entirely different reasons for people to do them. Honestly, I’ve never asked). People really have no idea how rude they are to their horses when they ask them to turn a direction that they’re not physically ready to go. And by that I mean that if you ask your horse to turn right, but his right front foot is on the ground, well, you’re not going to have much luck, are you? More than likely what will happen is that your horse may move his hips to the left, to take the weight off of that right front foot, or the left front will have to step across first, or both may happen, before the right front foot could come off the ground.
If you want to have good success keeping your horse calm, quiet and relaxed learn their foot cadence so you can ask them to change direction when they’re set up for success. Here’s Buck, doing just that.
I bet my niece had no idea she was getting such “educational” photos! Good job, girl! And how lucky to have a mom that lets you out of your first week of school to get an education that’s just as important as the one you get in school! Note that in the photo below, if a string were hanging from Gidget’s foretop, it’d be touching her head all the way down and would be dead-on in the center.
Here’s me doing the same thing!
Asking when the right front foot is in the best position to leave. His ears are even, and his jaw is rolled nicely up under him with pretty good lateral flexion. It could be just a tad deeper though:
Going the other way:
His jaw isn’t rolled up quite under him in this photo. But a girl has to have goals, right?
Anytime you’re riding and you’re still centered on your horse, you should be smiling. But I’ll admit, I smile a LOT bigger when I get to ride with Buck!
That’s not altogether bad form. Can you tell I’m right-handed?
We stopped doing serpentines to have another discussion and Kelsey, looks pretty darn happy to be there too, eh?
After the serpentines, there was a lot of walking, trotting and if you were me, loping around, picking up a soft feel and carrying that down to the walk, or the stop or through the back-up.
What’s NOT to love about this:
Such a handsome horse with good elevation and flexion!
At the end of the class, or near the end anyway, there was a woman who had been having trouble picking up a soft feel with her horse. I’ve described in detail, what a soft feel is in previous posts, so you’ll have to go back and read those to understand, if you’re currently lost. Anyway, I digress. Buck stood over this woman’s horse, with his hands on either side of her reins, and helped her horse to pick up the “soft feel”.
After about 15 minutes it was happening pretty regular like, though she was having trouble believing it to be so. She had the reins, and her horse was having trouble picking up what she was asking for, so Buck said, wait, watch and stepped to the horse. As he did the horse picked up a soft feel. Now that, my friends, is presence. He knew it would happen and his energy had the horse believe it too!
And with that, class ended. But not before Buck announced that he’d be making an appearance at the premiere of the Documentary about him, Buck, that evening, at the local theater! More on that later!
Stay tuned! Happy Trails and Happy Tuesday!
More about my time riding with Buck is below.
First Clinic in Belton, TX:
Second Clinic in Steamboat Springs, CO: