A Special Find and Some Reminiscing on My Horsey Skills

Buck Brannaman

Buck Brannaman (Photo credit: PunkToad)

(First published on my Goodreads Blog on September 16, 2012, edited slightly)
A special find hits close to home because it truly involves the horses. And I must confess I watched it at least fifteen times. I am still grateful to know there’s someone out there to confirm the things I said in my book.
As anyone connected with horses knows there are individuals out there taking the “break” out horse handling. In this documentary the third generation western rider to do this has his story told. Buck Brannaman had a history no one would want for themselves or their child. If child abuse interests you then watch this for that purpose.
Much is said by him about how our horses mirror our souls. I have always believed this.
I had a student whose grandpa gave her a horse, but would only let me keep the horse for her after I confirmed I knew who Ray Hunt was. Ray taught Buck, and Buck has something to say about it that will touch your heart.
When you watched Buck show others how to “lead” their horse on a circle know it isn’t as easy as it looks. I used it, sometimes getting close in with a difficult horse to punch him in the ribs with the butt of dressage whip handle (to get their attention). I never thought to use a “flag” which appears to serve a good purpose. But its Buck’s handling of really difficult horses which holds the magic.
I had a trainer call me about a horse with a physical problem from an accident. She said she called because I had a reputation for handling difficult horses. Someone must have told her about my last gelding, but nearly every horse I owned started out with problems. I did a lot of things similar to Buck and the old world teachers I’d studied and rode under, but it mostly came from instinct. I tell about some of it through the characters in my book. It’s always nice to find someone like Buck to validate what you believe and can do as if from foreknowledge even when some won’t listen to you. I quite training other people’s horses because I got tired of fixing the horses but the people problems remained. Some of my handling of horses led to interesting experiences.
I had a pony for my kids. I was in the hospital from a surgery when I saw the newspaper ad. I could picture him in my imagination. I called and said I’d call again when I could get out to see him if he hadn’t been sold. When I saw him I had to buy him. It was meant to be. He looked exactly like I’d pictured him
He was never trained to follow the commands of his rider, but only follow behind another horse carrying a  small child. In his training I had to be firm. I had to spank him on his belly when he exposed it to me, rearing up and coming at me. He was never mean. He just didn’t understand and was “protecting” himself. I had a child watching who said he was going to report my abuse.  What Buck suffered was abuse, but he does with horses in really a kindness. I asked this child if he wanted to work with the pony while he wasn’t safe and could hurt someone. I explained what I was doing and why. He finally understood the difference.
Cocoa always had trouble listening to his rider because it’s difficult for an adult to train a pony to be ridden. My eight year student, whom I have pictures of on my website, won numerous ribbons on him simply by following my direction in managing him. It’s always hurt my heart to know, if what I heard was true, how his new owners beat him. If you read my book you will meet Bonnie and Cocoa, without problems or being beaten.
I bought another pony years later at the insistence of a friend who wanted him, but couldn’t afford him. I couldn’t afford him either, but to save him from the killers I bought him. He had a little problem and we discovered he was still a stallion. When the vet cut him we discovered he’d been kicked and was ruptured. The poor boy must have been in horrible pain. That must have been why he kicked me.
I’d never been bitten, bucked off or kicked up till then. I’ve been thrown off when a horse jumped out from under me or stopped short at a fence, refusing to go over, often landing on my feet and sometimes on the other side of the fence. And I was kicked one other time.
My Viking mare was a little hard to handle at first. I was told to ride her in deep mud or sand and she’d calm down. I laughed. Contacting the previous owner for her papers he told me to be careful with her. She could hurt me. I had her until she was nineteen and had to be put down because her cancer had spread into her spine. Once she began to show signs of pain I knew I had to let her go. She was very special, giving me little love nips and putting her head against my chest. She loved it when I rubbed and pulled on her ears. She was sassy, and loved to run. She pulled a freaky jump out from under me once and I fell off. We’d worked and were having a quiet walk. She squealed and I hit dirt.
I allowed a trainer to use her for lessons until I learned she used a tranquilizer on her. I gave lessons without it and taught my student how to get an extended trot out of an Appendix Quarter Horse.
It was obvious to me she’d been treated roughly. When she hadn’t won a race they tried to breed her but she never got pregnant. I allowed someone to show her his stallion once, and only once. She tried to kill him. She didn’t like the guys, and probably for good reason. She tried to steal a foal, but never had one of her own. She’s Lady in my story with a little Dulcinea mixed in.
Dulcinea was a little mare of suspect QH lineage. She was as pretty as the Viking mare I bought later, and similar in many ways, except I could trust her with a beginner. That is, after she bucked once with my son, who immediately lost interest in riding.  She was carded as a Large Pony for showing. She had a big scar from a wire cut. She was chased by a stallion when small and tried to jump a fence. I found her in an old horse trader’s junk yard. It was a wonder she didn’t acquire more scars. She lived a long life in at pasture after some showing with a small child and the trainer’s daughter, and raising a foal. It was that trainer who called me later. They had many compliments on sweet sugar’s dressage training.
I bought a colt much like the little bucking chestnut another young lady in Buck’s story said she rushed to saddle too soon. My little bay was six months old, in a herd of chestnut yearlings twice his size. None of them had been touched, but were brought in from the range where they were born and ran free. He wasn’t a mustang, but he could’ve been by the way he acted. The owners had a farm hand who roped him and put a big halter on him with a lead attached dragging the ground. They stuck him in a stall for me in a barn across a highway from their personal horse barn—usually where they put cattle and a few work horses when roping was done. He spent a lot of time alone.
I hadn’t witnessed how he was handled in the process, but I saw the poor little guy cower in that stall. It take a while, days, just leaning on the pipe fence of the stall and talking to him until he was quiet enough I could reach in for that lead rope. He kicked a lot. He was afraid and protecting himself, but he was also lonesome. Once I could get him turned toward me and not face those back hooves, I began to make progress.
Billy Bad Boy was his name, back when bad meant good. He couldn’t be kept in a stall all the time so I eventually turned him out. At first it was in the long cattle run to the corrals. The need to escape to protect himself started again and I’d never seen a horse get down on their knees to crawl under a fence until then. Eventually he calmed so I could take him into the barn rather than let him run in and out.
Once I could touch him, brush him and generally handle him, picking up his hooves, we moved him to the main barn. He was a changed little horse. I soon moved him closer to home, to a friend’s barn, but they had a stallion so I had Billy cut. That also helped. He was still small. I thought it was because he was kept in a stall so much, only being turned out daily. He was so compliant I had him broken before he was two years old. I had a light weight western saddle and a pony bridle. I put my kids on him in the stall while we groomed and fussed over him. He was a sweetheart. I felt too big riding him so I used my English saddle. We walked and trotted out in the fields (no fence) and I vividly remember the first day I cantered him. I was careful because he was young and small. I hoped he still had some growth in him.
I had to sell him when he was three. The guy who came to try him put a big heavy championship roping saddle on him. I always thought Billy would be a good roping horse so I’d handled him with that in mind, getting him used to a rope around his legs. This guy was big, so Billy bucked for the first time. He settled quickly because it was just the new weight he wasn’t used to since I’d stayed off his back, but this guy sat down on him. When he paid me he said something like, “I know you really want the money.” My only answer was, “I’d really rather have the horse.” It was hard to let him go, but I knew he was going to a good home. Next time I saw him he was bigger than I ever thought he’d be. He was filled out with the great look of a good Quarter Horse and ridden by a four year old. He won a lot of ribbons for his new family at the horse shows. He had a good home forever. His Zippo Pine Bars lineage became real popular. And my successful breaking and training of him proved it could be done when you understand the nature of a horse.
I knew a rancher family who bred Quarter Horses. Visiting I saw a stallion very much like the palomino Buck called the closest thing to a predator. Raised as an orphan in much the same way as that golden horse, his prized race horse lineage was the only reason they wanted to keep and breed him. He was just as aggressive. He didn’t suffer lack of oxygen at birth, but he lost his sight. Being blind didn’t make him any different than the one in Buck’s story and both had to be put down. They were too dangerous and would suffer at lesser hands, or hurt someone. As Buck says, people let them down, just as parents often do their children when they don’t teach respect. A military saying states an officer either demands respect or commands respect. I’ll let you guess which is more effective.
If you want to see the true action of a horse attaching a man, watch the video when this palomino strikes. I’ve seen near misses like it in real life but it still shocked me to watch it recorded.
I was told stories about my first horse, Jody. I bought him as a six year old gelding, but he’d been an aggressive stallion until a few months prior. The owner had died so I got him at a bargain price, a grandson of Sugar Bars. I had him until he was sixteen. Losing him was very traumatic. I couldn’t say the word “horse” for over two years.
One of those speaking on this documentary said to handle horses you had to be a sensitive person, to the point of being a tortured soul. Bad experiences with people made me empathic with the horse and its plight just as it did Buck. He’s certainly the epitome of that type person, and I understand the hurt he carries. Mine was never physical, but as his was when his father shot his pet calf when Buck was only six. Watch the special features and deleted scenes. They go further and are just as important even if they couldn’t be included. They wouldn’t be part of the program if it wasn’t true.
Watching the show you’ll learn how Buck became a stand-in for the Whisperer parts of the movie Redford made (based on a book where the character was based on Buck). His horse even stole a scene from a Hollywood “trick” horse/actor. Redford speaks about it.
So, if you want to know if my HORSES book is worth reading, realize I do know a lot of what Buck knows, though I will never claim to be as good at it as he is. With scoliosis and a crooked pelvis I was at a disadvantage. It caused one leg to be a quarter inch shorter than the other so my stirrup length was always a problem. I rode best without them.
After my years without a horse I was determined to start again. I bought a big six year old horse used for lessons at a university riding center. The trainer/teacher was his owner and had raised him. He was a grandson of Bold Ruler and out of some idiot wild Quarter Horse mare no one could ride. He looked very much like the bay horse Buck rides. Hunter/Jumper riders thought he was Irish Hunter or half Hanoverian. A trainer said if he couldn’t go over the fence he’d have no trouble going through it. He went over them just fine, some across country with hills and ditches.
His name was Tonka, but I called him Abe, as in Abrams, after the Army tank, but he became Honest Abe. He must have had a lot of timid students handle him because he sure tested me at first. He still turned out to be the best horse I ever owned.
He charged me when I would lunge him, and kicked out at me. When I touched his back hoof in the air he backed off. Something about that stopped his kicking, but he still reared and charged. He was the first to get my whip across his belly. It wasn’t meant to hurt, but make him aware of his tender parts being vulnerable. When a 1200 pound, 16 hand horse towers over you as you duck in and out to whip his belly under flying hooves you don’t think about hurting him, just letting him learn something new you could do to him. He proved how smart he was and learned quick. Gary was happy the horse was with me. It was hard for him to let the horse go.
I rode him for six years before his anatomy worked against him. He had hoof problems and a hip that wouldn’t work well. It was an invisible gimp when first purchased, but it got worse. The Vet College took him and I never saw him again. It was another hard blow.
I had a unique personal experience with my last horse and a witness to what I did. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t afraid.
Yankee-boy, a hot headed Thoroughbred, got loose to run along a private road, saddled up with side reins and dragging a lunge line. He took off the moment he realized I didn’t have contact with the line. I never needed a death grip and dropped the line. Yes, Buck, they are sensitive to “feel”.
My 16.1 gelding went into the neighbor’s drive and was chased back out by their dog. Thankfully he turned back toward me, headed his way. If he’d gone the other way he would have come to a busy highway.
I heard a car approaching behind me from over the rise, so rushed back to stop it so there wouldn’t be a chance of a car/horse collision. There sat my witness watching as my horse approached. Dark bay Yankee-boy tried to by-pass me along the grassy easement. I stood still and concentrated as he got near creating a strange sense of awareness I can’t explain to this day. As he passed I took one giant step to reach up and grabbed the side reins to trot alongside him until he stopped.
If it weren’t for that strange sense I would have felt lucky, but I was aware and saw each move made in a kind of slow motion. It’s not a sense I can recreate, but I think it is part of that oneness with the horse all true horsemen and women develop, what both Buck and the old world teachers say looks like one mind and one body working together.
Buck adds, “If you get a taste it, of what I’m talking about, you couldn’t get enough of it. You’d rather do it (ride/handle horses) than eat. You may spend your whole life chasing that, and that’s possible, but it’s a good thing to chase.”
I know it’s true because if I ever have a chance to get back on a horse I’ll never want to get off. I would feel stronger and my lower back wouldn’t hurt so much, but it’s the connection there that’s important. It touches a part of your soul deeper than any other relationship can. And it makes you who you want to become.
I think this could be said about writing good literature, also. I’ve put the same passion into my writing I’ve always felt for the horses. I’m getting over my losses. For it to have taken so many years is evidence of how deeply the connection was felt. I loved my horses and I put it now into my love of writing.
Thank you for your attention to a small part of my life and my special discoveries. Let me know if you see them and what you think.
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