I was importing horses from Europe (Germany in particular), training and breeding Hanoverians in California at St. George’s Farm (Moorpark) at the time, now a thoroughbred breeding farm.
My father had sent me an extraordinarily well bred 3-year-old Hanoverian gelding as a gift (Maat dressage lines). As I started him in traditional European fashion we hit a severe roadblock. Any time a surcingle was shortened (not tight – at all) the flight reflex kicked in and he was gone (mentally and physically). He jumped out of round pens, out of stalls, through Dutch doors and away until he got rid of the offending tack. As soon as the surcingle was gone, he was manageable and perfectly normal again. He showed no issues with bridling, lunging or any other tack… ONLY something wrapping around his belly.
After a time I was at my wits-end because force is never an option, and patience and consistency in the Germanic sense got me nowhere. A friend of mine mentioned that she knew a cowboy who came to the area periodically who might be able to help. European conventional methods were not going to work with this horse. My German Training is not the be all and end all… learning and evolution of your methods is much more effective.
I had not been in the country long and was just starting my career in the United States, so money was an issue. A horse that was fully expected to bring me into the “game” was eating all of my funding resources and I was out of options. I struck a deal with my friend that if she paid for the clinic and it was successful she could have the horse. I wanted to go along as an auditor and see what this “cowboy” was all about!We attended his clinic at a private facility in Malibu, CA where in about an hour, Mr. Buck Branaman rocked my world. His way with horses, reading their body language and reading their expressions was uncanny. On Day 1, in less than an hour, the horse was standing there, not tied, with a rope halter and lead rope, put a saddle on him, cinched up (which was always the problem), sent him around again with the saddle on in both directions maybe another 5 minutes and then he got on him, sat on him and rode him – no bridle – simply directing him with his lariat and signaling with his legs.
On Day 2, there was no ground work. Buck haltered the horse, saddled him and rode him about 45 minutes, using lariat and leg cues, moving the horse’s quarters and shoulders individually and as a group laterally, backed him up and moved forward in all three gaits.
On Day 3, Buck again went straight into under saddle work and added the bridle. He rode the horse again, using leg cues and hand signals, and teaching him how to correlate the hand signals with
the reins. No resistance from the horse, no “issue” with the cinch.
After the three-day clinic the horse went home with my friend (as promised) and ended up a wonderful amateur horse! Later that same year the “mystery” of the horse’s original issue was solved. My father investigated the horse’s history after I told him my story. The horse was a Hanoverian raised in the Marsh Land in Germany. The pastures there do not have fences, they have deep ditches instead. The footing was soft and marshy near the ditches so the horses would not venture into them. However, on rare occasion a horse could roll and slide down or over into a ditch. As an 18-month old colt, this is precisely what happened. The breeder found him before he drowned and used a tractor and chains wrapped around his belly to pull him out (a technique frequently employed with cattle in the marshes – but you don’t ride cattle). Saved his life, but clearly the horse was lastingly traumatized by the event. (An argument for doing a complete history on a horse when you buy them… as this information would likely have made a significant difference in original approach.)
The whole event and Buck’s process got me intrigued in the horse communication process, body language reading, the way a horse thinks, responds and reacts to stimuli, movement of the ears, expression in the eye, movement of the lips and the tongue. A whole new world, concepts and thought process opened my eyes and expanded my knowledge unequivocally. I learned so much from Buck personally, and then from Tom Dorrance, and Ray Hunt by reading and video. When I lived on West Coast I attended Buck’s clinics quite often.Today I live in the Southeast and have settled into a more sedate lifestyle in general (happens as you age). I am less inclined to start the young horses myself and have utilized Gary Townsend and his son, Gary when a youngster has come along. Both avid followers of Ray Hunt, they have an immense respect and admiration for Buck. I may miss Buck’s clinics but I’m delighted to have met such down-to-earth humble horsemen as little Gary and big Gary (my new “Buck” a-roos). I believe no horseman ever stops learning and diversity in your learning only increases your knowledge base.
In closing… “Thank you, Buck,” for opening my eyes and enabling me to become a more effective trainer and horseman.