Ask a Horseman – More Questions Answered By Buck Brannaman

This article originally appeared in issue No.110

Rolling the hindquarters will help with taking the correct lead.

My horse has trouble picking up the left lead, how would you fix that?

On a real green horse if he was having trouble picking up the left lead I’d just go stop him with my right rein a few times. Roll his hindquarters around to the left, maybe not stop him all the time. Just roll the hindquarters around to the left, walk on, roll, walk on until he got a little more even. 

Then of course it is going to be important that you get to where you can know what lead that horse is on when you are trotting so that you don’t ask at the wrong time. That’s a totally new concept for some people, or some people act like it’s a totally new concept. It carries to the walk too. You need to know what lead he’s walking on before you lope him. That’s why people miss leads… because they didn’t know how their horse was arranged before they asked. So, through all these different movements when you ride, you’ll keep comparing sides and noticing, “ah… that’s part of my left lead problem.” It’s not just one thing; it’s probably a few things.


My horse is upset and distracted at the clinic, what should I do?

There is a lot to take in here at the clinic and he might not travel a lot. There are lots of new things in the environment. Things sound different, they look different. That will get less and less as he settles in and you just go to work. But if he’s distracted, I’ll do something about it. 

You’ve heard me talk about having my horses in a rectangle? (EH #7) This horse that I’m on is very green, and I’m aware that he’s taking everything in. My horse might look over at something across the arena, but then he came back to me. But if he dwelled over there?  If he got distracted? Then maybe I’d wiggle my right foot and say, “Hey, look over to the right instead.” I wouldn’t have to do it with my foot. On a real green one, my rein might need to come in and say, “Don’t look over there, look here.” On a loose rein. There will be no action to these reins unless he leaves the center line with his neck. Some might think that you’re picking at him, but you’re not, you are telling him the rules; stay between the reins. It’s that simple. 

In the clinics I’ll be talking to someone and their horse is just looking one way and the next and they are oblivious. The horse is asking a question.He’s saying, “Is that OK ?” Not being aware is like telling the horse “Yeah… that’s fine, no problem.” Pretty soon the horse might just wander over to visit another horse because you didn’t notice his attention shifting. He might not have ever acted on that impulse if you had just said, “Hey, this is the only place you need to be right now.” 

My colt that is real green, he’s not been ridden enough to where I can just expect him to be with me for an indefinite period of time. So, if he starts to get lost mentally the dance begins. I’m going to make the dance as elaborate as far as the movement with his feet that he is capable of. If he’s really green, that might just be walking short serpentines, circles, and rolling hind around. That might be all the tools we have in the toolbox. But the more movements I can do with him, the more I will use when I’m losing him mentally. The sooner I can make that dance elaborate the better. The sooner the better. And then I’ll just work a little while then there will be a point to where he feels like he’s asking me, “Could we just stand still and be real quiet?” Maybe I’ll be like “No, you got me in the mood to ride, I like to ride. I’ll give you a chance in a little while, but now I’m all spooled up and feel like doing something.” Awhile later he might feel like he wants to sit still and I’ll say OK. 

But there is a rub. If you’re going to ride, you don’t wait around until it comes unraveled like a Walmart sweater. The horseman is going to figure out about how long that green horse can be content, and when he’s still a winner, then you’re going to be like, “You did really good there. I kind of feel like riding again.” So I’m going to leave before it falls apart. I’m going to leave when the horse is aware. I might do a bunch of different things with him; back up and set his right front leg here, go forward and then stop; set the left front over there, go straight back. Do all kinds of things: circles, serpentines, figure-eights. In a little while, he’ll be like “Hey, remember when we were just chilling out there?” and I’ll replay “Yeah, OK. If you insist, I’ll let you take a little break.” But I’m going to leave before it falls apart. A rider that is not super-attentive he’s not going to leave in time and the horse is going to come unraveled. Well, if you missed your timing then get busy. You screwed it up because you were too late and you didn’t read your horse, but nevertheless, if he gets busy, go to work, do something positive and direct those feet till pretty soon he’s thinking he can be content. You might not miss it the next time.

That’s what’s going on when you see me get busy on a young horse. In a morning class you’ll see me put about 10 or 12 rides on him. I might get him going good and step off, get back on, go for another ride, check things out. I’ll do a lot in little short bursts, and gradually he’ll get more and more content. What happens is people get frustrated when the horse is a little antsy, well then he feels that. He feels you get frustrated, and then he’s more frustrated then you feed of each other and it’s a mess. You should be happy when life wants to come out in a horse and just do something with it, because Lord knows all these things you’re trying to do you need to do them over and over, so don’t be aggravated with it; just use it. You can see my horse he’s pretty good with me, but he takes in things. He’ll see movements, well, that’s what horses do. They are supposed to be really aware. That’s how this species has survived. But at the same rate, I’m aware of things around me too. I don’t dwell on them though. I’m telling my horse, “You might notice it, but being here with me better be the priority.” 

Is it ever the horse’s fault?

No. He didn’t ask for you. If he got to ask for his owner, I’m thinking he wouldn’t have chosen any of you. He would have done a little shopping. He’d have chosen a horseman so he could enjoy every day of his life. But he doesn’t get to make that call. So, I’m the mediator; you’re in couples therapy for a few days here at my clinic. You just have to think about what it’s going to take to get the horse to understand you. Every horse is different. Some are really sensitive and it doesn’t take too much to get a change. Others you might have to be more persistent. They vary and it’s the horseman that will have the ability to adjust to fit the horse. If you are just looking for one horse that is going to fit you… you are going to buy a bunch and not find one that fits you. It’s like looking for a unicorn trying to find the one horse that will fit you as you are and you don’t have to get any better. Good luck. So you better just figure out how to fit the one you have and get something out of him. By the time you learn to fit him, you’ll learn some things that will fit quite a few others too. 


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