Since I have been remiss in making daily blog posts, and since some folks reading this blog may not know much of my history with Ariel, I figured I would dig out this really old clinic report from 1999. I will come back to this post and add an addendum to it once I review my old writing a bit more. This has been edited very little from what I originally wrote back then.
Buck Brannaman Clinic Report
Cedar Downs Equestrian Center, Maple Valley, WA
Memorial Day weekend, 1999
This is a long message and has a lot of info that I think many can benefit from.
As you may (or may not) know, I took part in a Buck Brannaman clinic over memorial day weekend. Clinics are great therapy and soul-searching experiences for me, as well a character builders. As with almost every clinic I have participated in over the last 4-5 years, there were emotional highs (smiles) and lows (tears). The highs come from accomplishing things that I had never thought of trying and getting incredible changes in both my horse and myself. The lows, well, the facing the truth about where I am in my horsemanship skills by either just staying on through the rough spots or by realizing that I have not prepared us properly for the things that I am asking.
Before the clinic started, I was very upbeat and positive about the things I had been working on and I thought that this would be our best clinic to date. In many ways, it was. I have been working on the basics for the last 4+ years after all. Well, I soon came to realize that I was not being specific enough in my requests, as well as being pitifully off in my timing. In these situations, one can’t be too hard on oneself because every year is better than the last...but, we always are.
Within the first few minutes of entering the arena the first day, I soon felt that something was different. Ariel (my horse which many of you may know) almost immediately was not focused on me. There were many strange faces and horses and noises in the indoor arena setting. Granted, we had been in this particular spot before (our very first clinic experience), but we have MUCH more of a foundation now than we did then. It didn’t take too long to get some feel back from her and her focus more back on me. Break the hindquarters over here and there a bit. Get a few lead-bys under our belts. Finally, a little better and a somewhat calm horse on the end of my lead rope. Soon I had on the hackamore (bosal) that we had been working in for the last 5 months or so. And I was mounted and doing some more bending and disengaging exercises. We then attempted to walk calmly around the arena to warm up a bit before Buck lined us up and started chatting about what we would be covering over the next 3 days. Standing at first was a real chore, but after a few minutes, Ariel was standing quietly on a loose rein.
After Buck was done addressing the group and answering questions, we started of working on one-rein stops and bending. So far so good, but then things changed. When we were asked to walk around the arena, I soon had a beast underneath me who decided that her pace would be whatever and wherever she would like, especially if it was contradictory to what I wanted. That meant that I spent the next few hours throughout the rest of that class, doing more one-rein stops and circles and serpentines than anyone else. But, that was what we needed, so that was what we did.
The second day, I spent a good hour or two, outside in the warm-up arena doing more groundwork and exercises hoping that it would have a beneficial effect when we entered the indoor arena later that afternoon. Things were improved to an extent, but did eventually get to a point similar to the day before. Granted, this time we were in the snaffle for the first time in months, but I had considerably better lateral control than the previous day. I still hated the fact that I felt like I was really having to put so much pressure on her mouth, but she was definitely attempting to run through the bit, too. Going back to the snaffle exposed many of the gaps that were still there.
Buck asked me more about her history and suggested that I probably shouldn’t do any competition for the next year, if ever. The day before he asked me some of the history about her and how much I have worked with her. By now, this of course is the second time that I have gotten teary this weekend. He can see gaps where you never thought there were any, and he can see what is coming down the road if you don’t deal with things now (or ever)... The first day I had put my plans of doing endurance on hold for a month, but now I was putting my plans for endurance, at least with Ariel, on hold indefinitely if not forever. If this seems like heady stuff, it is. I got involved with this kind of horsemanship/partnership with horses before I knew about endurance, but the endurance thing is beckoning to me very strongly.
Buck mentioned a woman he used to have coming to his clinics years ago who was a barrel racer. She had what every normal person would call a problem horse (and some people will probably call a normal horse). Well Buck worked with her and she soon came to realize that in order to do the barrel racing things successfully, she would have to perfect her other areas of horsemanship. After 2 years of not barrel racing, she took that same horse back to the racing scene and cleaned up. And the horse would walk calmly out of the arena after running her pattern on a loose rein. And she was winning! That’s what I want to say that I have done in endurance. So, if it takes me 2 years or 10 years, I guess that’s what I will have to do.
By the end of the second day we were loping circles (in smaller groups) and then doing lead changes over poles. Not totally on a loose rein, but we were making progress. Occasionally, Ariel would still have an episode but they continued to get shorter in duration.
The third day, we did our warm-up in the outside warm-up arena yet again; much better than the day before. And when we moved into the indoor arena, things were better than the previous day as well. Still a few reversions, but not as many and they were further apart. We would participate with the class exercises when we were in a good spot, and when we weren’t we worked on the basics.
We worked on serpentines, two-tracking, lead changes and more. At one point Buck asked me about the crupper on the saddle, so we removed it (thinking it may make her more comfortable). I knew my saddle was not made for a balanced/centered ride and it is NOT at all made for riding a green horse such as she was during this experience (a new saddle is on my list).
At the very end of the day, we progressed to lead changes over a single pole instead of double poles. This is where I almost met the same fate as last year (in the dirt at least once). My timing was off while going over the pole and I caused a zig-zag during the transition and I was all-of-a-sudden everywhere but in the saddle. I did manage to recover, but I do remember hearing a lot of gasping in the audience. A few other times in the previous 2 days I recall hearing that same sound while I was working on recovering some saneness. Buck calmly talks each person through situations like this and never makes a person feel inadequate or embarrassed about having lost control of a situation (although we always do feel embarrassed anyway).
My list of things to work on is ever growing, but the list of things I want to accomplish is as well. So, I think that about puts the whole story together in a nutshell. Any comments or questions are welcomed.
Liz (& Ariel, the trooper) P.S. - I left out one thing. At the end of the second day, a gentleman came up and asked me if I was interesting in selling Ariel. He didn’t mention a price or what he was planning on using her for. I was so shocked that I didn’t ask, either. I just gave him 4 (or more) reasons why I wasn’t interested. First, her previous owner has first buyback opportunity. Second, I don’t think she’s safe for just anyone, especially for someone I don’t know. Third, I am too attached to her. And finally fourth, I am not giving up on her, or myself. I saw the gentleman on the third day, but still didn’t ask him those questions.