Editor’s Note: This blog post is the first entry from Albion first-year student Emily (“Emmy”) Love. She (and her horse Dane) hails from Petoskey, Michigan and have only been on campus since the end of August. Emmy has agreed to blog all about her first year at Albion and we’re excited to hear about her experiences, but we had to drop you, our readers, into the middle of her story after she had the opportunity to ride with noted horse whisperer Buck Brannaman last weekend. Talk about exciting!
Read on for the full story:
Last weekend, I was able to witness the true “Horse Whisperer” in action – and what an experience it was for me!
It was a fluke that I was even able to ride in Buck Brannaman’s clinic because of the long waiting list, but I was able to squeeze my way in and rode a friend’s horse named Tamarisk, a 24 year old Trakehner mare who has been there, done that. (Everything in the books? She has it covered.) Needless to say, the clinic process was more of a learning experience for me than her.
The clinic was held in Bay Harbor, Michigan, and went from Friday to Monday. Because of school, I rode in it Saturday and Sunday and on my first day I felt like I was going to throw up because I didn’t want to be known as “the girl who did a dumb mistake in front of Buck.” But once I got in the arena with everyone, the nerves went away. This wasn’t the normal clinic with everyone sitting on their horses waiting for the clinician to come in and tell them what to do – everyone had his or her own tasks to complete before Buck even entered the arena.
We started with ground work – doing small circles with a rope halter, tossing the rope over the horse’s back, working with the flag, getting their hind legs to step over one another, and making sure the horse was paying attention to YOU and not the other horses around them. (Buck said, “If you can’t even get your horse to pay attention to you while on the ground, why the hell would you get on their back?”)
After about 10 or 15 minutes of groundwork, Buck would come in with his little gray mare. (It turned out that she had only had about 25 rides on her total at the time, but you wouldn’t guess that if you had seen the way she behaved. She watched Buck every time he moved a hand, leg, and head or even slightly turned his body.) This was the goal we were all striving for, but knew we had a long road ahead of us.
As soon as we mounted our horses and some questions were answered, it was right to work. We started with “small serpentines” and I had no idea what this was at the time, but I quickly caught on. The idea was to draw down one side of the horse’s reins and flex their head as far as possible and get them to do a serpentine loop. But once that serpentine was almost complete, the rider immediately drew down the other rein, and repeated the pattern. It helped the horses loosen up and really flex their neck muscles. I remember that this was the first time that Buck actually said anything about my riding and, once he said my name, I immediately froze. But fortunately he gave me a compliment and said that what I was doing looked good; I just needed more flexion. I took this as a great compliment!
Then it was on the next order of business: moving the haunches one way, then quickly moving the forehand the opposite. Sound confusing? Well, it was – the first 30 times! – but then I caught on. Every movement he taught us was connected to each other in some way and it all connected to whatever discipline of riding we each specialized in.
There were times when we were fortunate enough to actually watch him ride, and it was like invisible strings were attached from his body to the horse! He would lift his shoulders and the horse would immediately move. If he moved his leg closer to the horse’s shoulder, the horse would move over. If that isn’t good horsemanship, I don’t know what is! He stressed that everything you did was based on timing; you have to have good timing in order to succeed with your horse and you need to know where your horse’s feet are underneath you at all times. He encouraged us to strive for that “soft feel” from our horses and release pressure when they gave to us.
On Sunday, I was able to watch his class on “cow-working” and I will never forget how relaxed the atmosphere was! I assumed from movies and TV that as soon as the cows entered the arena, all hell would break loose – but it didn’t. He and his students calmly herded the cows in a circle and Buck started his dance on horseback. He picked out a cow and followed it around the herd while dancing on his horse. When the cow decided to abruptly turn left, his horse jumped on his hind legs to the left and when the cow decided to all of a sudden turn to the right, Buck and his horse immediately jumped to the right. But what was so awe striking about this was that you couldn’t even see Buck’s hands or legs moving! He just sat there, glued to his saddle.
Later, he surprised the crowd by doing some roping tricks during this portion of the clinic and we (of course!) all gathered around. While in the middle of his routine he said, “I better stop soon before I mess up – I’m a little rusty.” (Trust me, he was anything but rusty!)
Fortunately, Buck comes to Bay Harbor once a year to hold a clinic and I will definitely try to ride with him again. It was an experience I will never forget. And if you haven’t already seen the documentary about him called “Buck,” I highly encourage you to do so. It will change your outlook on natural horsemanship for the better.