Last Sunday my daughter and I had the chance of participating to Buck Brannaman’s clinic in Koln. For those who don’t know him he is the guy who trained the horses in the movie “the horse whisperer” and advised Robert Redford.
We arrived to the clinic at 9 o’clock and when I saw everybody around me in their skiing outfit and blankets I realized we were going to have a hard time the rest of the day. But the charisma and the presence of Buck and our motivation to learn along with the Turkish flag made us forget the chill!
It was already the third day and he started with an exercise which I had never seen before. Unfortunately filming and taking pictures was forbidden so I will try to describe the exercise.
Bending the neck at the halt till my horse touches my boot is something I do every time I ride to loosen her up. But what he did I had never seen before.
He bends the horse to one side (to a large degree) takes one steps forward and bends the horse to the other direction continuously on a figure of eight or a serpentine. He continues this exercise until the horse gets even on each side of his body. This exercise makes the horse supple in his body, neck, mentally and learns to give in. As a result he softens in the mouth.
He emphasized on the importance of a SOFT FEEL.
Because when things don’t go as we wish we have tendency to change the bit. The thing is that the more we change the bit the more the horse gets used to the new bit until we use the strongest bit. When you realize you ride with too many kilos in each hand it is already too late!
This is why it is important for amateur riders to ride trained horses who have a good mouth so that they know how a soft feel should be. Because many riders are used to ride with heavy hands and have no reference point to what really a good mouth or soft feel is. They think it is normal to ride like that or to have horses that pull or hard in the mouth.
This is one of the reasons why I don’t want my daughter ride her friends horses because she will be frustrated of the feel in the mouth of these horses and won’t be able to help the horse in a short period of time.
He demonstrated this bending exercise many times before passing on to transitions with a soft feel. Transitions from a normal walk to slow walk back to normal walk again! Transitions from halt to trot trot to halt by using body weight. You must look for the soft feel after every time you do an exercise.
He backs up with flexion to the opposite side of the bend on a circle. Let’s say he bends the horse to the right and backs up towards the left. He finishes a whole circle backing up and then he does it on the other hand. If you teach a horse backing up you must release every time the horse takes a step back. While backing up the horse must move his feet at the same time on the diagonal he must not back up like a caterpillar J
As a show jumping rider I am a fan of George Morris and luckily I had the opportunity to ride with him years ago. In flat work for jumping we want our horses back up on a straight line with a straight neck whereas Michel Robert whom I admire a lot once had suggested backing up with a bend in the neck for horses that have difficulty in backing up.
Actually as the masters of two disciplines (western and show jumping) Buck and George has a lot in common.Both emphasizes on mobilizing and activating the haunches which is the key to a supple horse and a good mouth. Buck said he won’t carry a crop but wears spurs. He says spurs must be worn as jewels and rarely used as a last resort. On the other hand George in his clinics wants everyone to have a crop. I also prefer to have a crop as I use it only as the prolongation of my arm.
Buck talks about a soft feel whereas George will say “if the horse carries his head high keep your hands at the same level (high) and wait till he accepts the bit.” Accepting the bit means the moment you get a soft feel! The following link shows George riding a mare who wouldn’t accept the bit.
Responsiveness of your horse is very important no matter what discipline you are doing because if your horse is behind the bit he is behind the leg.
He said “Don’t touch to the mouth if the horse is not responsive to the legs” and I think this is the whole thing! Zig zagging the mouth of your horse will only ruin him if your horse is not in front of your legs and if you don’t know why you are doing what you are doing!
For horses that pull he said “you never got to move his hind legs, pulling is something that humans teaches to horses I never bother teaching them.”
On the ground work “I move your feet but you never move mine!”
We also had a lot of fun watching “The cow and cowboy game” which I will explain in a future article. Anyway I had fun comparing the two masters as the important thing is to have a happy horse with a good mouth who is responsive, attentive, straight, forward, etc.