Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Buck Notes, Lexington KY 2013

Today the next clinic starts, the clinic after *my* clinic.  And my life goes on, blessedly not skipping a beat.  But the time outside of time, the time in the magic rectangle of an arena . . . yes, I do want to be there again.

So the biggest thing that I've brought away from the Buck clinic is that I can do it.  Maybe not to that level, but there are tools, there is timing to work on, there is the horse, there is feel, it makes sense.

First there is groundwork.  There is not anything in groundwork that is not directly applicable to riding, and it is all about getting control of their feet.  Eventually, depending on how good you are, their feet become your feet when you are riding.  And it is all about getting them to follow a feel, to be light, responsive.  One of Buck's "isms" is that a horse can NEVER be light to your hands if he is not light to your legs.  If he is light to your legs, he has a chance to be light to your hands.

Another "Buck-ism" is that it isn't about training the horse but about training your body to do something consistently.  If your body will do it consistently, your horse will pick up on it; will get the message.  And so perhaps the first discipline is to always ask as though you are on the most highly trained horse there is.  The very first time you ride a colt, ask him to walk through moving your pelvis from position 3 to position 2.  He won't know what the heck you mean, but then you back it up with the equivalent of phases and soon he will know what you mean when you move your pelvis to ask him to walk. Always always always start light.  Do this when grooming in a stall, when walking out to the fields, ALL THE TIME:  know what you want and ask with the least possible thing.

So on a lead rope, there is always float in the rope.  You can't pull a horse along: drive.  Always be prepared:  if you don't have your flag, use your rope.

Another principle is, whatever you are doing, keep doing it until you get a change.  If you are doing the half circles on a line as you walk, keep going until the horse respects your space, follows a feel, and offers good expression (for example).  YOU have to have PRESENCE to get this done.  YOU have to change.  The horse changes very easily -- it is MUCH harder for you to change BUT if you want the horse to change, YOU have to change.  The whole point of this is to not train your horse but to get your horse's feet to be your feet.  If you can do that, you can do anything (dressage, cow work, jumping, roping, trail riding, anything).  But don't ever stop doing something when it is bad -- keep at it until it is better.

Some of the things Buck said:  "It isn't about winning a battle:  It is about developing understanding.  I'm trying to get you all to make peace and you are ready to make war!"  "It is about how little you can do."  "Always be sorting out what works and what doesn't and QUIT DOING WHAT DOESN'T WORK!"  "You thin I'm just doing a little exercise with this horse.  I'm changing how this horse processes the entire species of humans!"  "I'm not a horse trainer.  I take great pride in that.  Horses don't like horse trainers."  "Learn all the things to do on the ground so you don't have to be a great bronc rider."  "Don't prevent the horse from thinking:  Allow the horse to think."  "How little can you do?" 

How should your horse be?  Always relaxed but always ready.  You should be able to bring his life/energy up and down immediately, without trouble.

So, what to do?  First, take time with the flag to get the horse used to it.  It isn't something to be scared of.  They shouldn't even startle at it.  They will learn that the flag means NOTHING if there is not a leading hand.  But that leading hand should always offer on a floating rope, and only if the horse doesn't take you up on that good deal should you drive.  Tap the shoulder, the rib, the hip, in that order, if he doesn't go.  Let him circle, and even pet him with the flag as he does.  Your feet keep moving.  Then walk to the hip, bend with the lead, untrack hind, let him line up with you.  Teeter back.

Buck has very specific ways to saddle and very specific ways to bridle and they are on his DVDs. And they work too.

Colt notes:

The horse should always understand that: 1) I can move his feet; 2) He cannot move my feet; and 3) He can move without being troubled.

The colt homework the first night was: 1) be able to be careless with the flag; 2) circling up (lock lead on outside hip, walk to hip, get flexion and inside hind steps over); 3a) throw rope over face; 3b) lead around outside of horse (rope from halter to behind him), come to pressure (be light); 4) half circle ground exercise.

From the circle up exercise, you are looking to bend and step and hindquarters move on a FEEL.

An exercise to promote precision in the human was to offer on a soft feel, make ONE circle then step to hindquarters, bend and roll hind ONE circle and STOP, being ACCURATE.  Over and over.  Because it is really the repetition.

Mount from the fence stuff includes getting them to lead by on a feel.  Then climb the fence and get them to lead by right to left.  Bump up on lead and STOP bumping when their hindquarters move to the left.  Once they are leading by and bumping up well, dink around them from above them on the fence with ropes, flags, move stirrups, throw a rope and coil back up, everything you can think of.  To half mount, always keep left hand and left foot on fence then if the horse goes, you can stay on the fence.  

When you put on the snaffle bit, you have to do all this again in that.  Bend them in the snaffle.  Get them to lead by in the snaffle.  Bump up in the snaffle.  If they are moving on a feel, this should go well.

Everyone, colt or not, will want to teach their horse to back from the slobber strap.  Take hold of it with palm facing down, pinkie just touching bit.  Ask by feel.  Add rhythm by bumping bit on chin if good deal doesn't take hold.  Keep at it until the good deal works.  AFTER there is NO resistance, add backing circles, backing faster and more slowly, back then forward (if there is resistance forward, drive with flag).  If he flares sideways, back by fence until he can straighten out.  Always build in the FEEL!

Once you do get on, you aren't going to want to ask them to go forward and then take back on them.  Leave their mouth alone.  Use a one rein stop and/or roll hind then front to give their excess energy direction.  You wouldn't be asking for soft feel with two reins until the horse could do this stuff on a floating rein.

He went through some information on hobbling but personally I'd have to know more about it that I do now to attempt to teach this.

He went over the general progression in breaking babies:  When weaned, start with a rope in a foaling stall.  Rope them but don't pull.  Drive, then put rope over hips to turn.  Teach them to corner up to yield hind, then to circle up.  Then you can touch them at their perfect balance point (where they will neither go forward nor backward) and teach them how good your touch feels.  Then to the other side.  Only then put a feel on the rope and wait for them to let the forequarters come.  That's the beginning of leading.  (Horses will learn anything if you can learn to QUIT when they are doing what you want instead of when they are doing something you don't want.)

Those are all the colt notes I have from 2013.

H1 notes:

Obviously I don't have as many specific notes from H1.  I didn't write down any Buck-isms from that.  I just tried to get the progressions mostly.  Let me see if I can get them in some sort of order.

The first thing is probably flexion and the elements thereof.  In proper flexion the horse's poll needs to be higher than his withers, his head at a 90 degree angle to his body, his ears level, and face perpendicular to the ground (vertical flexion).

Soft feel:  Get a soft feel at standstill, both reins, horse gives head (vertical flexion) without troubling his feet.  Do this thousands of times.  Then start getting a soft feel while moving withOUT it changing the forward.  Only after you can get it with no resistance as a response when you ask do you try to hold it.

One big exercise is the short serpentine.  This emphasizes the hands and bending and all four quarters moving the same.  It is a great calming exercise too.  One of the few exercises you are in position 1 for, and rather choked up on reins.  Outside rein must give as much as inside takes.  Horse should flex to 90 degrees, walk about a four foot (part of a) circle, then walk straight a step or two, then go the other say.  The inside leg is back, the outside leg is at girth.  It would take 10 minutes or more to get all the way around the arena doing this.  Timing should be as inside fore lifts off ground.

Subsequent to this is the open serpentine which emphasizes the legs.  On loose rein with legs to guide, do basically the same thing as the short serpentine.

There are FOUR ways to move the hindquarters: 
    1a) get lateral flexion, add leg to move hind, release hand and leg together.
     b) get lateral flexion, add leg to move hind, release leg and allow him to find stop, release hand.
    2)  center soft feel, leg to move hind, release.
    3)  leg only to move hind, use hands to block other movement.
    4)  flexion without leg and allow them to search for what you want.

Now, to use #4, you need to have it IN MIND BEFORE you do it, and go back and forth from just flexion to flexion to move the hind but ALREADY have it in mind BEFORE you ask.  This one thing will do wonders in getting the horse to try to take a feel of you to figure out what you want (says Buck).

Progression of go:  move pelvis from position 3 to position 2, add vibration to leg, the mean it!  Always offer that good deal first.

Progression of stop:  soft feel, sit on pockets (position 3), then pull if you have to.  How fast and hard you move to position 3 should tell him how fast to stop. 

Every time you stop (on ground or mounted) you should teeter back.

Progression of back up:  1)  Stop, release, back, release every step.
            2)  stop, stay in soft feel, back up, release every step back.
            3)  stop, stay in soft feel, back up, release to stop backing.

Sometimes when you back up, you should rest there and sometimes move forward, even jumping them out (a bit).

Progression to hurry back up (only after stop and back up is PERFECT at all the progressions):
        1) with reins (time a pick up with reins just before feet leave ground to hurry them up).
        2) with reins and legs at the same time.
        3) with legs only.

Progressions of 1/2 circle exercise: 
        1) on floating rein, front end reaching more than hind (time outside leg at girth asking inside fore to open up just as inside fore leaves ground).
        2) soft feel carried throughout (at first you'll get the soft feel, start the 1/2 circle, lose it some, just stay with it until it comes back soft, then release -- eventually it will carry through the whole 1/2 circle).
        3)soft feel, halfway through half circle change the bend and leg yield to the fence with shoulders leading
        4) soft feel, change bend, leg yield to fence, strike off in canter
        5) soft feel in canter, leg yield to fence pushing shoulders over, simple change of lead.
        6) flying change.

Other exercises include getting and holding soft feel while moving without changing forward, slowing body to slow pace (walk as if on eggs, then throw the slack and walk out).  Also backing circles, starting with just a little, maybe a step out every three or four steps back.

(I will note that on the first day in colts he was talking about controlling the feet and knowing where they are and placing them, a front when backing now crosses behind, now in front.  Well, in trying that in warming up that afternoon, I backed the best circles I ever had by thinking about that fore crossing "now behind".  In H1 he asked us to time up with the front foot that was opening instead of the one crossing and I had a much harder and less successful time of it.)

Always build the feel.  Always do as little as you can but always get it done.

There.  I finished these notes a week after I got back home.

Friday, August 30, 2013

dare to dance

I wrote that just about 12 years and one month ago.  I was 40.  I didn't have a horse.  I hadn't had a horse in 20 years.

Before I turned 41 I had a horse.  Duke, my gentle giant Belgian gentleman who taught me so much.  When I was about 43 I got my first training horse, Betty Sue, and didn't exactly do wonders with her and probably learned that I wasn't exactly cut out for the "put 30 days" on this horse sort of thing because when I said to her owner, "Do not try to hook her to that sled by yourself, she'll run off," and he did anyway, I was flabbergasted.  And she did. That was just something that 60 days couldn't fix (at least not with me, at least not at that time) but someone standing at her head could fix it so just have someone stand at her head while you hook her for goodness sakes.

When I was 46 I got my first horse related job since I was 20.  My mother had just died.  It was not a riding job.  I had only sporadically been on a horse for the past 20 years so I just felt lucky to be shoveling.  But I wormed my way in to riding some anyway, and always wanting more.

By the time a decade had passed, exactly a decade from writing that, I had a job that had as much riding as I could handle.  Well, maybe I can handle more.  We'll see.  I am happy with riding, that much is certain.  And I like and am good at the horse care part of it too.

During the time I had been out of horses altogether, "natural horsemanship" had come to the fore.  I basically didn't know anything about it.  I grew up on gaited horses, fell in love with jumping, believed that dressage was the basis of all horsemanship, had had the privilege of sitting on a horse that was turning a cow.  I didn't know who Ray Hunt was.  I had never heard of Buck Brannaman.

But it didn't take me long to find out.  Because it has never been someone's tack or credentials or size of their wallet or condition of their barn that impressed me (although I'm not going to hold any of that stuff against anyone either), but whether or not their horses danced with them.  So when I saw Pat Parelli, I cried, just like I used to cry as I watched Kay Meredith ride musical dressage freestyles and Ron Kohlhoff ride reining patterns.  Is it even possible to see that and not want to do it?  For me the answer is no.

So when I saw Buck The Movie, well, I wanted to see Buck the person in person.  And so, just as it had done for the previous decade, the universe stepped in.  The universe, by the way, is powered by friends.  Buck would have a clinic near a friend of mine and I could stay with her and go audit, and another friend would go with me and drive me there.  When I watched Buck and his students for four days, I couldn't help but desire to ride with him one day.  Never mind that I didn't have a horse, a trailer, a truck, or money.

And then in December Buck's schedule for this year came out.  And my husband, when he heard me say that Buck's schedule was out, asked how one would go about riding with him.  I said, "The first step would be to start calling and trying to get a spot in one of the clinics."

"And what would that entail?" he asked.

"Calling and getting a spot, which there likely aren't any, then probably sending in a non-refundable deposit in a few days."

He asked a few more questions to discern the scope of the thing, but mostly he said, "Call."

"But," I said.  Every possible obstacle.  No horse, no trailer, no truck, no money.

"Call," he said.  "Get a spot.  We'll work it out."  He makes harps.  He said, "I will go down today and pick out the wood and lay out a harp and sell it and it will pay for the clinic.  Everything else we'll work out.  And if we lose the deposit, well, we've blown more money for less important things than this.  You really want to do this.  We'll do it.  We'll figure it out."  It turns out the universe is also powered by husbands.

So I called.  And to my great surprise, I got a spot.  I sent in my deposit.  I started asking for stuff.  "Can I take your horse?"  "Can I borrow your trailer?"  And people mostly said yes, and more volunteered, and more yet cheered me on . . .

And here it is, the month I go ride for Buck.  We're still working some stuff out.

 But I am going to ride for Buck.  And I get to try to dance with horses every day.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you.  Universe and every.single.person who has helped or even thought about helping or even not thought about helping but just not gotten in my way.  I cannot explain this.  It makes no sense.  But it makes my heart sing.  Loudly.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

by hindquarter yield

Five or six weeks ago I was in a Carol Coppinger clinic for Level 3-4.  I was waaay over my head, but mostly in a good way, and when they did the finesse part, I could do that.  But how much better would my finesse work be, how much better my dressage, if I really get the loose rein stuff, the disengaging stuff, the connections with all the feet?

One of the things Carol said in the clinic that surprised me was that leg doesn't mean to go forward.  Really?  It always has -- at least two legs used together.  Hmmmm.  But she shared this story of being with Pat Parelli and him asking her (and presumably other Parelli Professionals) if they could sit on their horses with their arms crossed, reins draped, and disengage their horse's hindquarters so that the horse's head would follow a cow as the cow moved in the arena -- without the horse going forward.

My horses have all equated leg with going forward and so we've been reworking some of that. 

So anyway, there we were in the arena, a whole bunch of us, and I'd mostly done my thing and had stopped and was watching some, and in my stop put a leg on to disengage the hind and did not touch the reins.  And she moved her hind end around and did not step forward.  And it excited me.  I whooped a bit and my smart a** male boss said, "Accidents happen I guess."

I told him I was about to say something nasty to him and to channel my inner smart a** female boss at him.  And I know he's just being funny.  But those thing are always on the square too.

So today I did it again, with my arms crossed and not touching the reins at all.  What's more, everything else is improved too.  What anyone thinks doesn't matter because I can do it, and I can do it with relationship and finesse and excellence.  Or at least, I'm getting there.

The discipline of riding without reins will certainly help you ride in your body.

For those six weeks, I haven't ridden with any contact.  Today we also played dressage pony.  The contact was the steadiest ever.  Everything is improved.  By hindquarter yield.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

a poem for Bill

crimson blood red
water running for creek
and ocean
and green grass reaching
for sky so blue and so big
so clear that you can look at it
and not exist anymore
my Bill unnaturally still by our hand
and his tibia
my heart too broken