Buck Brannamn clinic Day 2

Day 2
We started off the morning with working on the serpentine but with less to now hands, the goal here is to really get your horse to respond just off of your legs and do a nice serpentine with your arms crossed. We added in drifting so we didn’t drill the horse too much on the same thing, asking for a circle with legs and not so much with the hands. 
  • work on a soft feel during these exercises
  • randomly ask for a stop and back- but only when you have a soft feel 

The Dance:

Our next exercise was the Dance that was an exercise in H2 on Day 1. Staying on the rail, do a circle, then ask the horse to move his hindquarters 180 degrees, then his front end 180 degrees to make a complete circle. This is where hands came in- (see drawing for hand positions 1, 2 and 3. 

Hand position one is a more forward elbow in front where hands normally sit, but also reaching down the reins, so to ask for a circle, use hand position one, to ask for hind quarters to move, move to hand position two, elbow to your ribs, move to hand position which is elbow behind ribs, to ask for front end to move “reaching”

Reaching is asking the front legs to move, “the horse is reaching across”. You always want the leg closest to the direction of travel to move first. IF they move the other leg, do not stop (reward) until he moves the correct leg, then stop- which is his reward. 

  1. bring his head around so your hands are at position 2- if he does this without moving his feet, continue to step two, if not, repeat later.
  2. move hands to position 3, and both hands towards the direction of travel so that the outside rein is laying on his neck (this is in preparation for more advanced spin)
  3. Using as little leg as possible, push with your forward outside leg, you don’t want him to focus on the leg, just the rein.

Side note on a horse pinning his ears/biting at other horses:
Block your horse from moving his head, and if he gets through the block spur his opposite side. Whose to say that the horse on the other side isn't a super ninja with spurs that got him, He can’t blame you as he wasn’t paying attention to you in the first place. .Don’t allow that behavior, make your horse stay in his box. Make the wrong choices hard. Back him, spin him, work him until standing calmly sounds like a good idea to him 

Backing in circles: 
Tilt the head to the outside of the planned circle and back. Pull with each step and release when he takes a step, pull, release. Start out asking for 1/4 circle. Then work your way into backing a full circle, slowly.

Side note: Always look for an opportunity to catch your horse off guard for a stop and a back. Don't let him anticipate what you want. 

Riding Tips Printable Pocket Cliff Notes

Asking for Correct Lead:
Start at a walk and practice positioning before attempting to ask for a canter. This example is asking for the left lead.
Your position:
  • Shift weight to left seat bone
  • Flex horse to the left with left rein (twist wrist until thumb is up and pinky is near withers)
  • Support with right rein, while allowing his face to be 1 inch to the inside (left)
  • Left leg on the girth to ask for canter
  • Right leg behind girth to signal right hind leg to strike off into left lead
Tip: Horses always pick up their lead using outside hind leg. Try this at a walk, then try the right lead:
  • Weight on the right seat bone
  • Right rein flexes the horse’s head one inch to the right.
  • Left rein is like a side rein that prevents too much bend in the neck.
  • Right leg on the girth.
  • Left leg behind the girth
Other Tips:
  • Keep the horse positioned to the inside as you did above
  • When you ask for the canter depart, push your inside seat bone forward toward your horse’s inside ear
  • Give a little squeeze with your inside leg on the girth to tell your horse to go “forward into the canter”
  • Use your outside leg in a windshield wiper action to signal the outside hind to strike-off into the canter

Haunches In:
Haunches-in (travers) is the most advanced way to teach your horse inside bend. For a correct haunches-in, your horse must move with his front legs and shoulders on track and his haunches off track. Break it down into steps.
Your Position:
  • Sit facing straight ahead 
  • Inside leg at the girth (calf supports the bend and keeps the horse on track)
  • Outside leg behind the girth (apply pressure with calf which asks the haunches to swing in)
  • Outside rein keeping the horse’s neck straight and inside rein asks for slight flexion to the inside
  • Keep Weight on the inside sitting bone.
Your Horse Position:
  • Your horse’s neck and shoulders should be parallel to the long side. 
  • The rest of his body should be bent to the inside.
Your horse won’t respond to the outside leg.
Solution: Horses often lean to the wall so ask for the haunches-in on the centerline or quarterline instead. He also may not understand what you are asking for. Review your basics and make sure he responds to your lateral aids.
2. You get a lot of neck bend without much haunches-in.
Solution: This is caused when a rider uses her reins in place of proper leg aids. Check your aids, make sure you are asking properly and try again. Remember to keep the neck and shoulders straight.
3.You have trouble maintaining the bend.
Solution: Start the haunches-in from a circle to create the bend and then go straight ahead in haunches-in. Go back to the circle if you lose your bend.

Buck Brannaman Clinic Day 1

With visions of horses dancing in my head, I laid there in bed after a full day of being absorbed in the first day of a clinic with Buck Brannaman. Not only was this my first Buck clinic, but it was the first clinic I had attended in decades. I attended the clinic with my rescue Smokey. Smokey is a former barrel racing horse who got a bad reputation after he tossed a few kids in the dirt as he rounded the barrel pattern. Smokey came to me, as a very nervous and jumpy horse. He often snorted when I approached him too quickly and was the first to run off when I got within a 10 foot radius. Over the months, Smokey and I had built quite a relationship, of course this was after he sent me sailing through the sky with his bronc skills as we rounded the final barrel in my small arena at home. Nevertheless, it had to happen in order for me to better understand him, and vice versa. So by the time we hit the road for this clinic, we had a pretty strong and trusting relationship  with one another, even though we had only recently celebrated our six month anniversary together.

The morning started off with Buck doing a demonstration of the exercises that we would go through during our time with him. Right then and there, I was overwhelmed. This was not a clinic for the new or timid rider. This was meant for the rider who had years of experience with horses, and was ready to refine their skills and hone in on their communication with the horse. Buck’s horse was his legs. He could manipulate each leg ever so slightly. It certainly was an amazing experience to see him in action.

The morning class had about 25 participants and another 50 or so spectators, and as Buck went through the demonstration of what we would be practicing through out the next three days in the horsemanship 1 class, we all patiently watched and tried our best to mimic dry sponges so we could absorb every last wise word that he shared. Once he was finished, he offered us the chance to ask questions, then sent us into our first exercise. 

Numero Uno:

Our first exercise was to do get lateral flexion with the horse. This means get the horse to flex his head towards your stirrups nicely so he is giving, and not being forced. From there we moved on to do doing serpentines. All though we were playing bumper cars trying to avoid one another, we, Smokey and I, were able to find a nice rhythm as we moved through the crowd with the phrase ringing as Buck had said it “look, turn, then look, turn” reminding us to always prepare our horse for our next move. “Surprises don’t get us anywhere when it comes to horses.” The goal with the serpentines was to practice offsetting your legs in proper placement, so you can begin to use less rein and more leg. All of your cues are meant to become more gentle and subtle throughout his training. 

Numero Dos:
The second exercise was drifting your horse. This means to start moving the horses hind end as we did a nice smooth circle. Your legs should be set so that your inside leg is behind the cinch, and your outside leg is at the cinch. We completed several 10 meter circles, and on occasion, take that inside leg and press his hind end out, keeping his front end going in the circle. Do this for about 2-5 steps, then get him back in line with his circle. We didn’t do this on every circle, because we don’t want the horse to anticipate our next request. But was very admin at about not allowing the horse to anticipate. In this exercise, the hind legs should cross over each other and you should only ask for the command when the inside hind leg is off the ground. Otherwise he will just trip right over his legs.

“Timing is everything”

As we went through this exercise, I realized how my arm placement affected the outcome. When asking for flexion at a 90 degree angle your arm should be in line with your body- that is how far down you will need to grab the rein. Also, the 90 degree angle is the flexion you will need to ask for the drift. When asking for a rollback, you will pull your arm farther back so that your elbow is behind your body. A rollback is him rolling his hind end around. 

Numero Tres: 
The third exercise was working on Vertical flexion. From a stop, ask the horse to give his head, and release, then ask a bit longer, etc. Then do this at a walk. This is where Smokey refused, so I rode with my muscles flexed asking him to give an entire lap around the arena. He still did not give. A few other parts of this exercise including 
  • walking, asking for them to give, once they give, ask for a stop- practicing moving your seat position to 3. Seat position 3 is on your pockets, (almost with feet in front of you for that extra nice cowboy look). Once you are stopped, get him to give his head again, and ask him to back. Now my horses all back with some some leg pressure. I got yelled at for this (ok, not yelled at, but he told me to “quiet my legs”, and I explained that he was trained to move with leg movement. Then I realized that just because we have been doing it wrong all along, doesn’t mean that we should keep doing it. So now, although it is challenging to back him without leg, we are working on it. 
  • Next, sit up on your pelvis for position 2 and ask him to walk. You want to do this until your legs are no longer needed to ask for a walk, and your reins are no longer needed to ask him to stop, just your seat.  
  • Eventually you want one fluid motion, get him to give his head, stop and back, all as one exercise. 

These exercises took us 3 hours, and we were expected to be back in the evening practicing with our horses. The goal was to get this things accomplished at a walk and a lope. This would mostly cover horsemanship 1. Once those things are mastered at faster gaits, you move to Horsemanship 2. 

During this class, I realized that I needed to work on being more obvious in my seat position 3, this is not a normal position for me. I also need to better feel where each hoof is during the different gaits, so I can be sure to ask for commands on the proper footfall. Because as Buck said, “I’m sure your horse likes you, but he isn’t willing to trip over is own feet and fall over for you.” Additionally, I need to work on being more aggressive when having to ask for a cue a second time. According to Buck, you ask once politely, and then harsh, no in between. The next time you ask, he will choose to accept the gentle cue instead of a spur roll to the side. 

Buck was adamant that we return and watch the horsemanship two class in the afternoon where I have much more extensive notes, because they were not from memory nor from atop a horse. 

Asking for a Flying Lead Change

First, lets define a lead: When the horse is loping in the right lead, the footfall pattern is left hind (beat one), right hind and left fore almost simultaneously (beat two), right fore (beat three). The right legs will be reaching the farthest forward and the horse is loping in the right lead.

To ask for a lead change, it is important to understand that the horse might pick up two leads, one with their front legs and one with their hind, if you ask incorrectly. This is called "Crossfire". If you ask the by moving their hip, they should always pick up the full and correct lead. So in order to ask for the correct lead, you need to get the horse to bend his body. So for example, to ask for the right lead, you:

- tilt the horses head to the inside (right)
-keep your inside leg on the cinch to have them lift that front shoulder
-apply pressure with outside leg behind the cinch to ask them to move that hip to the inside.

To ask for the lead change from right to left:

- you are currently applying inside inside (right) leg pressure at the shoulder
- tilt head to the left
- apply left leg pressure at the girth to ask to bend
- apply outside (right) leg pressure behind the cinch to ask them to shift their hip

When first asking for lead changes, bring the horse down to a nice controlled trot and ask for the change from there, then you can move up to flying lead changes.

Training a horse for lead changes is different:
Start with asking for a half pass as seen below

Half-pass to lope on correct lead:

Walk your horse in a large circle on the right rein.
Make sure your right leg is not in contact with your horse.
With your weight to the left (it helps to really exaggerate this at first), apply right rein pressure in a “give-and-take” in the direction of your left shoulder – a rein of opposition.
I find I need quite a short rein to do this so my hand doesn't get too high.
Apply left leg pressure and steady direct left rein pressure until your horse steps to the inside of the circle with forward sideways steps.
Your right rein will be holding your horse on the circle and your left leg will be moving his hind quarters into the circle.
Ask for only a step or two at the beginning, using your voice or bumping softly with your inside leg for forward motion. Release all aids and repeat, then repeat to the left.

Half-pass to the inside several times, releasing after your horse performs the maneuver and walking a few steps. When you want to lope from a half-pass, keep your weight on the outside seat bone, release the rein pressure and “kiss”. Repeat a few times until your horse understands. Reverse and half-pass to lope in the other direction. Don’t expect too much too soon if your horse is learning. I accept any attempt to lope, then do it again.

A training method For the beginner horse and flying lead changes:

Right to left lead change: I counter canter a large half circle to the left (right lead on left circle) on one end of the arena as in the previous exercise. I do that exercise once or twice, each time loping back to the small “comfortable” circle. When I decide to try a lead change, I position him for a counter canter as before as I leave the small circle in a straight line (in the right lead) as before to the far corner. If he is not resisting my aids asking him to stay in a counter canter (head and neck down and moving off my inside leg), I change my weight to the outside (right), taking my inside (left) leg off at the same time and keeping his head in the direction of the new circle (left). I do not change anything about his head because it is already correct for the new lead. He is now in a half-pass position (to the left) at a lope, an exercise he has already learned. At that point, I encourage forward motion with my body and I “cluck” for the change. Often, my horse changes leads and hardly knows why he did. If that happens, I sit down and allow him to walk, rewarding him with a pat and a “good boy”.

The Vaquero Way and Bridlehorses

I recently picked up an Arabian and after having my dentist chiropractor horse whisperer Loren Hardie come inspect him, I decided to see what he knew. I realized that this horse had a lot of buttons, and I had no idea how to go about riding him. I took Loren's recommendation and got on him bareback with a halter and lead rope to.

When I purchased this horse, I was told that he is very responsive and was trained by hispanics down by the Texas/Mexico border. The can mean many things, so I still wasn't sure what I had.

Now, I have ridden this horse several times under saddle (Western and English) and tried three different bits on him. He hates bits. I have to give him treats to accept the bit. This horse was good, responsive, but not nearly as responsive as he was with nothing on.

He side passed, spun around both ways for me, and could perform a dead stop, not a sliding stop. A dead stop. So I asked around and learned that I have a bridle horse on my hands. How cool is that! So now I must learn.

The goal of the Vaquero was to get a horse that worked one-handed (since they needed to rope) with the lightest of cues. The spade bit that is traditionally associated with the Vaqueros was intended not to be harsh (despite their appearance) but, rather, to communicate very subtle cues from the rider to the horse. A working bridle horse will look very similar to a Dressage horse in that it operates in a very collected manner. The difference is that a bridle horse does this with very little rein input. The cues to collect are mainly seat and legs with only a miniscule input from the reins. (the finished horse can actually be
ridden bridleless and show his refinement

The traditional Vaquero training procedure was to start a young horse (about 3 years) in the snaffle bit and start teaching it to work off a direct rein. Then, still in a snaffle, they start using more neck reining.

After the horse is going good in the snaffle (a year or more) they will switch to the bosal. This moves the cues from the cheeks to below the jaw and starts to prepare the horse for the feel of the spade bit. You also continue the change from direct rein to neck reining since you can direct rein in a bosal without mouth pressure. The hackamore is usually 3/8″ to 7/8″ in diameter.

The vast majority of horse owners use leverage bits. The leverage bits are simple to understand; pull until they stop, and if that doesn’t work, pull harder. The spade is what is known as a “signal” bit. The long tapering port, complete with spoon, cricket and copper covered braces is configured in such a way as to encourage and allow the horse to “pick up” the bit in his mouth and “carry it.”

According to Traci Davis: "The end result of a true bridle horse is called “straight up in the bridle”. This means to have a horse educated enough that he can be ridden and work in a spade bit..Although the path may change from person to person the most common sequence is snaffle bit, hackamore, two rein and then straight up.

Next they go to the two-rein where the bosal and spade bit are used simultaneously. You start out with the horse just carrying the spade and the bosal providing the cues and end up with the spade providing the cues. Finally, the spade is used by itself. Despite the apparent size of the spade it DOES NOT jab the horse in the roof of the mouth. The side of the spoon (the end of the port) presses against the roof of the mouth over a fairly large area. The other areas of pressure are the bars and the chin- just like any curb bit. The other parts of the bit like the roller (called a cricket) in the port are intended to give the horse something to play with their tongue and help keep the mouth wet. You can hear them buzzing as they play with them even when standing still. The braces (curved wires going from the hinge at the cheekpiece to the spoon are intended to help keep the horse from ever getting its tongue over the bit. It doesn’t have a pressure function.

There are "weekend cowboys and cowgirls" who ride with their hands and not their bodies, some, if you took the reins out of their hands they would fall off. The Vaquero style of riding is body and leg cues. So many riders are just passengers on their horses and are happy with just riding and not becoming refined or learning a technique. This is a choice each of us make, we can decide to stay where we are in our horsemanship or go further and learn more about ourselves and our horses with the goal of truly becoming one."

Training Technique Videos 1,2, and 3

Training Techniques 1

Training Techniques 2

Training Techniques 3


1. A mature horse that is broke and willing is required. A green colt will not work for the class. The student must have complete control over the horse, leasing a horse will not work for the class. You must be the only one riding the horse and you must be able to use our methods of training on the horse. If you lease a horse most people will not let you do any training on the horse and this is a training class not just a riding class.

2. The student must be able to ride a horse at a walk, trot and lope with a secure seat. If you cannot lope a circle without holding on, and feel in control of the horse this is not a class for you. This is a training class not just a class where you pleasure ride a horse.

3. The horse must be able to walk, trot and lope. A horse that will not walk, trot or lope cannot be used in the class.

4.The horse must be conditioned and physically in good shape. You cannot take a horse that has not been ridden, and is on a full feed of hay with a big hay belly and ask it to do the exercises. You must ride the horse ahead of time and have him in an athletic condition.

5. The rider must be in good physical and mental condition with no upcoming medical surgeries or problems that will keep them from riding. Your schedule must be arranged so you can ride at least 5 days a week. If you have something that is going to keep you from being able to ride on a regular basis you need to put off taking the class until you have the time.

6. For the Techniques of Training 2,3 and 4 you must use the same horse you used in the previous class. If a situation arises where you have to change horses the new horse must be at the same level of training as the original horse and you must have the approval of the instructors to change horses. This may sound strict, but we have found out that when most people change horses the new horse is so far behind in the exercises that the student is not able to pass the class.

7. The student cannot use a riding instructor to help train the horse, the student must do all of the training on their own.

Checklist for techniques 1:

Conduct Soundness exam
Saddle horse on a loose lead rope
Back the horse from the ground
Get the horse to move the hip around (practice with bridle instead of lead rope- bend the head a bit to get them to plant the front leg. Start with 1 step, work on it all week until you get 1 full circle)
Move the horses shoulder around (start with 1 step, work on it all week until you get 1 full circle)
Ask the horse to drop his head
Lunge the horse on a lead rope both ways
Bend the head around to each side (make a supple horse)
The the horses head around to its side with a bungee so they get used to pressure release
Put the bridle on the horse and attach bungees to D-rings, so the horse learns how to break at the poll (technically the 3rd vertebrae)
Mount the horse and ask them to bend head around (lateral flexion) while keeping the poll flexed at 180 degrees (vertical flexion/perpendicular to the ground)
Walk and trot small circles keeping the horse flexed laterally and vertically
- Keep your body (hips and shoulders turned in
- lift inside hand up towards saddle horn to get them to bend the rib,
- Use inside leg to push the rib to the outside,
- step to the outside, but don't lean,
- keep elbows bent and thumbs up.
- Bend the elbow and lift the hand up - this will open the horses shoulder. Don't drop your inside hand- instead.
Collect the horse:
Sit the trot, don't post. You need to use your legs and seat
Actively ride with hands, legs and seat
Push the horse into the bit with your seat and legs, this is not just about pulling their head back to you.
Ensure the horse is flexing at the poll - if the horse isn't responding, try a jr. Cowhorse bit.
Work on collection and keeping the horse in frame at the same time

Checklist for Techniques 2:

1. Bit-up the horse (use reins through the D-ring on the saddle) or some type of elastic reins
2. Leave the horse bitted-up and make him walk, trot and lope around the pen,
3. Get him to go around the pen by putting life in your body and then to stop by taking the life out of your body.
4. Get on and trot him around a round pen or small pen (IT MUST BE A SMALL PEN). Put life in your body to make him go and then take the life out of your body and sit down to stop him. If done correctly, with enough patience, he will stop on his own with no hands. You may have to trot him around until he gets tired and is looking for a place to stop.
5. Put draw reins on and get on and walk and trot him around in several small circles with him collected and broken at the poll (be sure and ask slowly at first and give and take). If he does not seem to want to give to the draw reins you can do like I said in the riding assignment, you can just walk along side of the horse and ask him to tuck his nose from the ground.
6. Put a set of rings or martingale on and walk and trot some circles, collected and broken at the poll.
7. Walk and trot several circles and stop several times using the 1-2-3 method.
8. Fence him straight across the pen and stop at the fence several times at a walk and a trot.
9. Stop and back up several times. Keep your hands low. Use a corner, if you need to.

Checklist for Techniques 3

1. Start off with the 5 ground exercises to get your horses mind. (do them with the bridle on)

a. move the hip- at least 2 full circles each way
b. move the shoulder- at least 2 full circles each way
c. back- at least 20 feet
d. put the head down
e. lunge on the end of the rein, both ways

2. Walk and trot several medium circles in frame and collected. Be sure your horse is collected and in-frame.

3. Do a forward lateral flexion around the round pen or just a small pen. Keep the body going straight and bend the head neck only. Go each way several times.

4. Walk and trot several large circles in a forward lateral extension and decrease the size of the circle until it is about 6 or 7 feet in diameter. The outside front leg should be crossing over in front of the inside front leg.

5. Walk a forward lateral extension around a barrel, 3 or 4 times each direction.

6. Fence your horse at a trot, stop him at least three times each way. When you stop, back up and pivot and then go to the next fence. Be sure and use the 1-2-3 method of stopping each time.

7. Trot several round circles each way. Be sure the horse flows around the circles.

The Perfect Feed Combination

Did you know that Alfalfa is an all encompassing food? If a horse had only alfalfa and water, it would be just fine. However, there are drawbacks. If you fed only alfalfa, a horse would eat himself until he weighted 1,500 pounds and was severely obese. You might hear skeptics say that alfalfa causes stones and you should not feed it, but, the people who say that typically are not getting their hay from New Mexico, Colorado, Texas area where alfalfa is very nutrient rich. If you go to New Mexico, many horses only get alfalfa because that is what grows there. A friend of mine who runs the horseback division of Customs and Border Patrol area in New Mexico only feeds her horses, and the Border Patrol horses alfalfa. The horses have never had issues with stones. East and West coast people expect crappy alfalfa, where as the mid-west has great alfalfa options. 

Did you know that Equine Senior was a revolutionary advance in horse feed because it too can be the only thing that a horse eats, and the horse can live to have a long healthy, fruitful life? A horse can live solely off of Equine Senior and water and live to be 35. I asked about switching my horses to Senior since they need to gain weight, but my vet explained that many horses don't like the taste of it, and you can find a lower priced mid-range feed that will do the same thing. According to my vet, adding one cup of canola oil to each feeding will help them put on the weight I am hoping to add, and I might not have to go all the way up to 1% of their desired body weight. Speaking of this, everything I read on the internet talks about feeding a percentage of your horses body weight. My vet clarified that it is a percentage of the horses DESIRED or IDEAL body weight, not their actual weight.

The reason I am writing about feed is because I recently had a horse colic from a dorsal torsion (twisted gut), and anybody that has dealt with a colic knows that the first thing an owner does after a scare like that is reassess their feeding regime. During my research, I found a great online feed calculator, but I decided that I needed my vets input on my specific situation of my three rescues.

Case Studies: 

  1. Gypsy - an 8 year old QH mare, she is 14.1, used for Rodeo Drill Team twice a week and long trail rides between 6 and 15 miles about once or twice a month. Moderate workload. She weighs about 950 pounds. She needs to lose a few pounds
  2. Titan - a 12 year Appendix gelding, he is 16.3, and is in training, used for trail rides mostly at a walk and trot pace, training to be a rodeo drill horse. Light to moderate workload. Recently colicked, dorsal torsion, was very dehydrated, weighs about 1,050 pounds, should weight closer to 1,200 to 1,300 pounds
  3. Sampson "Our First Affair"- a 9 year old OTTB gelding, used for light trail riding and jumping. Endurance prospect. Light workload, weighs about 900 pounds, but should weight 1,200 to 1,250. 
With these horses, there are several options, it truly depends on what is financially feasible in your area, but here are some options:  
Currently they all have access to unlimited coastal hay on a round bale. So some options would be:
- put 2 and 3 on unlimited alfalfa/coastal and water
- feed 2 and 3 five pounds of pelleted feed 2 times a day, add a cup of canola oil to each feeding, add alfalfa twice a day. 
- Combine lots of alfalfa, and less pellets with unlimited coastal to find a happy medium. 
- horse 1 should only get 2% of her ideal weight in coastal (~18 pounds), with just a handful of grain to keep her mentally happy and not too jealous of the others. She also will get alfalfa on rodeo days as a treat for the trailer ride.