Monday, December 5, 2011

25 Buck Brannaman Truths & More

If you have not yet seen the Buck Brannaman movie, certainly do so! I highly recommend it and while it is not a how-to manual by any means (it is rather a documentary of Buck's life), it offers a lot of insight and great words of wisdom to always keep in mind - about life in general and about horses in particular.

If you would like to see the movie on-line before purchasing it, you can go here:

Buck documentary

Wait 5 seconds and click 'Continue as Free User' in the row titled 'Method of Access', then click the Play button (NOT the 'High' or 'Low' or 'Play Now' or 'Download' button, whichever appears for you - those buttons take you to a website where you have to sign up for an account (albeit for free) for access). It's simple, easy, and uncomplicated - no account necessary or anything.

Then buy it online! Amazon is where I purchased my copy.

A friend recently attended the Buck Brannaman clinic in November when he came to Canada, and was gracious enough to allow me to post her 'notes' or 'secrets' from the session, so I thought I would share (my own added notes in italics):

1. Spend more time doing less.

2. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Of course this applies to people as well, but as it pertains to your horse, be precise, accurate, and assertive in what and how you ask.

It is your job to provide safety and comfort to the horse.
Fail to do so and your horse will take the responsibility into his own... hooves.

The horse is surrounded by exit doors that are all open. It is your job to close them. You and your horse will never live long enough to expose him to everything that might be scary so just close the doors.
This is about being a proper leader to your horse.
As my friend put it: "it is about developing trust so that he is only concerned about what you are going to ask him to do and not worry about anything else. To never force him to go directly what concerns him but to do it 6 inches at a time so that he trusts you to keep him safe. If you force it it teaches him that he is stronger than you if he has to escape. Buck keeps horses in a rectangle at all times controlled by his legs and hands. The rectangle is small just encasing the horse, a little bigger for green horses."

Always offer the horse a good deal. It is about give and take. When they start to take you up on the good deal you get an eagerness from the horse to give and figure it; otherwise they dread it and find a way to put up with people and just get by.

Do less than what it takes to get the job done and if that doesn't work do what it takes to get the job done.

7. Be particular, not picky.

Don't nag, horses that are dull to the leg will eventually blow and are more dangerous than the broncy ones. Some horses that are considered gentle have really just checked out.

Never grip a horse with your knees as you will squeeze yourself right off!

You are in a dance with your horse. Always be conscious as to when their feet leave the ground or you throw them off balance when moving the front or the rear.

Ride them like they are your feet.

Don't over-manage your horse.

Always make a winner out of your horse. Too often people want the horse to make a winner out them. Make a winner out of them and they will more than make a winner out of you.

You need to recognize when a horse is troubled and help him, don't start on a bad note. If you start to ride them when they are troubled they will think they should always be troubled at the start. Horses need to be soft and quiet.

If a horse is always troubled at the start, work him around with a lead rope to break up the pattern in his mind.

To change the equipment used on a horse because you think it failed is a regression not a progression as it should be... as in snaffle to spade bit. Buck goes from snaffle to hackamore to eventually a spade bit. He doesn't use draw reins, running martingales, tie downs, spurs or crops. He only uses his hands and his legs.

It is convenient for people to say that their horse is lazy but that is an anthropomorphism ... horses are a reflection of how they are ridden.
If I had a dime...

The soft feel, when developed, is called collection, the harmony between hands and leg.

Learn what your horse is capable of both mentally and physically by working on the mechanical. It doesn't become art until you have the mechanics sound along with the ability to put your soul into it.

Keep as many plates spinning at one time. Put as much variety in the training as possible, don't drill on the horse.

The way you ask is an art, be consistent and don't cheat him.

If a horse is quiet it doesn't mean he is dull. He doesn't need to be on edge to be active.

It is impossible for a horse to be light to the hand and dull to the leg. Equally impossible to be light to the hand if scared of the leg. He can be light to the hands if he is responsive and lively off the leg.

The legs are more than a gas pedal.

The horse operates first with the mind then the body. Reward a look, release the thought. Don't kill the try.

The following is part of an interview between Director Cindy Meehl and Buck Brannaman, by Sheila Roberts, about the movie Buck. I have copied and pasted the more pertinent horse-related parts of the interview below in case it ever disappears (click on the 'interview' link for the rest):

The Horse Whisperer may be the stuff of Hollywood legend but the charismatic horseman who inspired the novel and the film is very real. For Buck Brannaman – a true cowboy who is also part guru and part philosopher – horses are a mirror of the human soul.

Buck is a richly textured and visually stunning documentary that follows Brannaman from his abusive childhood to his unusual approach to horse-training. By teaching people to communicate with horses through instinct, not punishment, we see him dramatically transform horses – and people – with his understanding, compassion and respect. The film is a truly American story about an unsung hero: an ordinary man who has made an extraordinary life despite tremendous odds. Hit the jump to check out our interview with Brannaman and director Cindy Meehl.

We sat down this week at a roundtable interview with Buck Brannaman and first-time director Cindy Meehl to talk about their remarkable film which won a Sundance audience award this year. They told us what inspired their talented collaboration, how they managed to capture some very challenging scenes on film, and why Buck has been so successful at helping horses with people problems by inspiring trust in both the horse and rider. They also talked about their upcoming projects including a feature film Buck is in negotiations to make based on his novel, The Faraway Horses.

Interviewer: Buck, how did it feel to be the focal point of this film and see your life and what you do for a living on the big screen?

Buck Brannaman: Well I guess I really haven’t thought about it all that much other than the fact that it gives us the opportunity to put this out there to people that aren’t necessarily horse owners, and that was something we’d talked about early on, that if it was just going to be something that appealed to horse people, there wasn’t a lot of point in doing it. But had seen early on that there was an awful lot of people that will never come in contact with me because they don’t have a horse and they’re not from that world, but she thought they’d enjoy and get something out of seeing this and realize that there are a lot of things that you can learn about horses that really does cross over to relationships with each other, especially with kids.

Cindy, what was the compelling thing about Buck that made you want to make this documentary?

Cindy Meehl: For me, because I’m a horse owner and I had grown up riding English, which is very different from Western or so I thought, and then when I discovered him, I realized he was teaching you how to speak horse, to speak and communicate with them in a way I’d never been taught. So that, for me, first and foremost, was so compelling that I thought everyone should know this that owns a horse. But I knew immediately too from being around him and the people that are around him that all of his lessons about the horses are really about your life and that it was such a people film as well. It would be such a great message for the world we live in today. I really feel like you almost go back in time where people communicate and they do care about the sensitivity and looking you in the eye. It’s just very real. You can cut through a lot of things that aren’t that important and you realize real quick sometimes and especially around a horse. It’s such a simple and yet complex and profound way of living just because it’s hard to get back to simple in this day and age, don’t you think. I mean, we’re so wrapped up in our technological world and everything moves at such a fast pace and you really can’t move that fast around a horse. You have to stop and take a breath and have patience.

Brannaman: Well, you know, I think too that the people that I’ve met, I mean, you’ll meet some people that’ll bring a horse there and you see how they get along with the horse or don’t get along and they’re doing everything that’s really contrary to a horse’s nature where they really don’t fit in with the horse. And it’s pretty easy to identify some things in their everyday life that gives them a bit of a hard time as well. What I’m saying is, the things that they might learn through working with a horse to where they become something really desirable to the horse, to where he accepts you and he wants to be around you and he’s even compelled to be with you, that there are some things within you that change. And then, if you’ve made those kind of changes within yourself, that horse really can’t stand to be away from you. There are things that change all through your life the way you deal with people, the way you approach problems. There have been so many times over the years where people have said “Man, I thought I was just coming to this deal to get a little handier with my horse” and I’ll say “Well, in the beginning, I thought that’s all you were coming for too. But it turns out it’s about something else, isn’t it?”

Sometimes it’s hard for people to hear the truth. What’s the range of reactions you get when you speak very straightforwardly to people like you did with that woman who had the damaged horse?

Brannaman: You sort of measure someone when they’re a student as to how you might approach them, but that’s not so different. That’s the same way you might measure a horse, you see, because there are going to be some horses that, like some people, they might be a little inclined to tune you out, kind of shut you out. Of course, that’s going to be relative to how they’ve been handled before I met them, and for those kind of horses, you might need to have your presence change in a way that you appear to be ten times your size in order to be effective. And yet you might have another horse that you know is very timid and very fragile, and it just wouldn’t take much to get him really lost and really afraid and you might have to appear to be one tenth your size. Theoretically, the human is supposed to be the smart one. Well, if we are, then we need to be able to adjust to fit the situation rather than just think “Well this is how you work with horses. I’ve done this on 500 just like you.” No, as you get acquainted with a horse, you explore what it’s going to take to get the point across and for him to understand what you’d like him to do and you’re trying to have as little trouble as possible. You’re trying to avoid conflict. You’re not trying to create it. Forty, fifty years ago, sort of the conventional wisdom is that you create conflict and you win. You conquer them. And unfortunately, that’s how some people deal with each other still. They might be critical of how the old cowboys worked with livestock a hundred years ago. Yeah, well people still deal with each other that same way. They’re just not cowboys. You can’t make something happen with a horse, but you can fix things up and let it happen. You think of setting things up in a way that eventually your idea becomes his and that’s a hard thing for some people to get through their head at first because they seem to think that the harder they push and the more they try to impose their will that that’s going to pay off. Well it doesn’t. And when they learn that about horses, that it’s not going to pay off, well then pretty soon they start to rethink how they might approach situations with other human beings as well. So it’s been an interesting thing. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this deal but it sort of picked me and now it’s all I do.

Can you talk about the challenges of capturing those great moments? Did you think you’d be able to get that horse under control?

Meehl: When that happened, because it is so unusual at his clinics, it was so traumatic for everybody that was there to be there and witness it. It was gut wrenching and I wasn’t going to use the footage. I just thought I can’t use this because I’m worried people are going to be afraid of horses. I’m worried that they’re going to take away a different message, that they’re going to think they’re going to come to a Buck clinic and this is going to happen when they come like a car race and I just thought it wasn’t what normally happened. I had seen him take that kind of horse a million times over and turn it around and the owner was riding it and everybody’s happy. We thought that’s what would happen but there was so much more to the story and the brain damage with this horse and it was so tragic. And yet that woman, I think, really loved that horse and had done the best that she knew how. That was what was in her toolbox so to speak.

Just not a very big toolbox, I guess?

Meehl: Yeah, we all have that. We all have the baggage. We all make bad choices. Who hasn’t? So I was very proud of her for letting us tell that story. Because then we realized as we were telling the story that placing it where we did people would then understand what they had learned earlier from Buck and how he was dealing with the horse. If we had put that at the beginning, you wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on with those flags.

Brannaman: The interesting thing too is, and it surprised me how few people have picked up on it, the most difficult horse you saw through the entire documentary is not that horse. It’s the sorrel horse that Bill Seaton rode for the girl named Paige. That was actually the most difficult horse of all the ones that you had the opportunity to see.

Meehl: But he wasn’t aggressive.

Brannaman: No, he wasn’t so lethal on the ground but he really wanted to buck somebody off. He thought there was absolutely no point in a human getting on his back and doing anything. And it worked out great. And, of course, Bill rode him around and just had a big time. But that was the most difficult horse. With this yellow horse, for me, the big picture was that I wanted everybody to learn through this was, whether you’re going to have horses or dogs or kids, with that comes responsibility. It’s not just a matter of putting a roof over their head and keeping them fed. You have a responsibility to be their caretaker and take care of them and teach them how to fit into the world and teach them what they need to do to survive, teach them right from wrong, and I’m happy about that, because of the fact that of the people that have seen this already, they really do get the bigger point to it. They get the big picture to that. And the other thing that was interesting to me that actually a person interviewing me the other day pointed out and I said “I’m real glad that you noticed that,” is he said “You know, I saw your foster mother in that documentary and I saw what she meant to you and what she did for you in your life.” And he said, “You know, that horse could have just as easily been you,” had I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I said “I’m real pleased that you saw that.” So, if through this, in telling this story, if that yellow horse makes people think about responsibility, how maybe they would raise their kids or how they would raise a young horse, that horse will probably get more done in his brief life than a hundred horses would that died of old age. So, for the greater good, it was a story that needed to be told. If you noticed when I was working with the horse that first day, we got quite a bit accomplished. We got him saddled and he got ridden around, but as long as I’m there to sort of run things, the margin of error on a horse like that is so paper thin, if I wasn’t there every day with that girl, it was a guarantee that she was going to get hurt or killed, or worse yet, an innocent person. Maybe someone’s child would be somewhere near the horse. As attentive as a mother can be, she could look away for a few seconds and have that kid right there with that horse. So you look at something like that and for her to make the choice to put the horse down was the best choice for her and there wasn’t anybody more sad about that than me, believe me. Because it didn’t have to happen had someone taken care with that horse early on in his life. But I think some good could really come of it.

Meehl: In the afternoon, we had people stationed around the round pen because Buck went off and did his afternoon clinic, and every person that walked by, that horse would try to come over. And if we had just all walked away and didn’t leave people posted there, some little kid could have come up to that and said “Oh Mommy, look at this pretty horse, this cute horse,” and I have no doubt he would have just taken a hand or something like that. He actually bit Dan’s hand at one point when he was trying to get him back off the fence and he came over and he got his whole hand. We didn’t have that on tape but I was standing there when it happened and I’m like “Oh my God, I almost thought he took his whole hand off.”

Brannaman: See, when you work with troubled horses, if you have any experience at all, what you accept with it is, if you noticed when he left the corral the first day, there had been a change in the horse and things were better. But when you’re working with one that first of all, mentally even, isn’t a normal horse, you have to accept that it could be hundreds of days in a row that each day when you started off with him, it would be as if you hadn’t done anything the day before, like you’re starting from zero. Maybe it would be 100 days, maybe it would be 500 days, one day if you kept doing the right thing, one day some of it would carry over from the day before where you weren’t starting from zero again each day. It’s hard telling with a horse like that how long that might be. So there could have been a way out for the horse, but the only thing is, the margin of error was so thin with that horse, I can guarantee you that she couldn’t have survived a hundred days in a row dealing with that kind of situation without making a mistake. Dan made a mistake and he has a lot of experience, not near what I do, but he has a lot of experience and that horse was so far over Dan’s head. And she’ll never be as experienced as what Dan is, so there’s a moral choice there that you just kind of go, you know what, you’re not going to survive. And it is sad, but you’d be surprised how many horses around the world really that people just don’t do the right thing by the horse and some kids too.

Was there one scene that was particularly difficult to film?

Brannaman: Well, not for me. (laughs) Really throughout this thing, and this is what’s been interesting to me, the way it started off with typically for someone who’s going to do any kind of a film, they’re already a filmmaker and then they try to find something interesting to film. And the way this worked was, she had already found something that was interesting to her that she wanted to share with everyone else, and because of her passion for this, it created a filmmaker, so it was sort of the opposite order. So it started off kind of unique and then early on I just said “Cindy, this is the deal. I’m not delusional about any of this. I remember the people that came to the dance with me when the music started to play, the people that have been loyal to me all these years and have studied and worked hard with this.” I said “I’m not going to compromise anything about my clinics and these people that have been with me all along. So I’m not gonna go stand on a mark and let you do your thing and do things over and over again and say the same thing over and over again like we’re shooting a feature film. You need to find a way to anticipate what I’m going to be doing and what you think is going to be happening, because with a horse, when something special happens, it only is going to happen once. And if you missed it, well that moment is over forever. You can’t redo it.” She had to be real clever at being able to anticipate what was going to take place in real life. There was nothing really made up and there’s no way you can script that.

Meehl: There’s 300 hours of footage.

Brannaman: Yeah, it’s a lot.

Were you always filming with one or two cameras?

Meehl: Sometimes three. Toward the end, I realized we needed two cameras on Buck because so many people wouldn’t catch what he was doing. They’d go “Oh, that horse over there is acting up.” Well, as soon as you do that, Buck would do something brilliant. I just thought “Man, I can’t keep missing these things.” It’s very difficult filming moving targets. They were always moving. With horses, you never know which way they’re going to move, especially when it gets active.


OldMorgans said...

Thanks to you & your friend for the "Buck's 25". There is not anything there I've not heard before, but the way he words it makes it stick in my mind better in some cases. And those are the ones I do tend to forget or put aside sometimes when I get stupid. I'll be printing out your post.

I've watched Buck for over a decade now & seen him change--for the better. He was always very good with horses. Now, he is getting better with humans.

Equus said...

As someone who often finds it difficult to convey in words what is in my head, I REALLY appreciated how Buck worded the things he did. Glad you also found it beneficial!

Blogger said...

You might be eligible to get a free $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.