“If Your Horse Could Talk” Interview
With Buck Brannaman
I’m Lisa Ross-Williams, host of the “If Your Horse Could Talk” show and I’m proud to offer this transcribed interview conducted by co-host Kenny Williams with renowned horseman, Buck Brannaman.
KENNY: I’m Kenny Williams, co-host of the “If Your Horse Could Talk” show and I’m here talking with Buck Brannaman in Chandler, Arizona. Buck, thanks for being with us today.
BUCK: You’re welcome.
KENNY: I see you’ve added a new clinic format, the Foundation Course. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
BUCK: Well, the Foundation Horsemanship is a clinic that’s sort of designed for people who maybe don’t have their horses to where they can just saddle them up, get on them and feel safe. It’s sort of like a colt class for older horses. Quite often the people who show up in these horsemanship classes don’t have their horses as comfortable as what they could be. So we try to do some groundwork in the beginning of each class to get their horses a little more prepared to be ridden.
KENNY: What are your goals for your clinics?
BUCK: Well, the goal for clinics really is to just try to get the human being to understand as much about their horse as I can help them to understand. I can’t be all things to all people. I’m trying to share with them my experience which is obviously quite a bit more than my students. I want them to understand the horse and where he’s coming from and in turn, his life in general.
KENNY: Are there some common challenges you see horse owners have with their horses?
BUCK: Well, yes. Quite often the thing that brings people to clinics is the fact they’ve already been in trouble with the horse. They’re afraid and have lost confidence. The only way to overcome fear and become more confident is to be able to learn more about the horse and where he’s coming from. Then you can kind of, although maybe not always, control your destiny. But you can do a lot more than you did when you were wallowing in ignorance, that’s for sure.
KENNY: This question is from Mary Ann in Tennessee. If your horse has gotten bracey from learning about release from pressure later in life, what do you recommend to help get him soft again?
BUCK: Start at zero. Going back and doing the groundwork from the very basic things you’d do as if it were the first time you caught the horse. Don’t take anything for granted. Go back to kindergarten…If he flunked kindergarten you wouldn’t put him into the 5th grade. You need to go back to the beginning and start over.
KENNY: Now one thing I ran into with Smokie, my mustang, is he had twelve homes in two years. It seemed like, even though I didn’t know a lot about horses at the time, it seemed like mentally he had completely shut down. Rather than look at something and deal with it, he would turn his head, look away and space out. It seemed like it took a long time for me to get through to him on an emotional level. Do you see that with horses who have had a bad past?
BUCK: Absolutely. Just like what I was saying this morning in class, the horses have to deal with a situation where the blind is leading the blind. The human is supposed to be the teacher, but a lot of times maybe the owner of the horse can’t ride a swinging gate in a windstorm. Yet, they are supposed to be this authoritative figure to the horse and it doesn’t work. A lot of times, the horse gets blamed when it’s the human that doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities. The horse is not responsible for all those kinds of things. The human is.
KENNY: So that takes me to what do you think about people that have this idea that they have a child and rather than getting a horse that has some experience, they turn around and get a young colt.
BUCK: I think its Ludicrous. For people who think they are going to get a young horse and the kid and the horse are going to grow up together, it seldom works. They might say that they want them to grow up together but a lot of times it’s because they are looking for a Blue Light Special. That Blue Light Special -you’re going to pay one way or another eventually. Probably going to be in doctor’s bills. The problem with that is once the doctor’s bills are paid, and if in fact you’re fortunate enough to have the kid heal up, you still have a horse you can’t do anything with. You’re no further ahead than you were. A real educated horse that’s safe for a child is worth every dime. It is for my child anyway.
KENNY: This question is from Kris in Wisconsin. You give credit to George Morris as being a big influence. What are some of the most important things that you’ve learned from George?
BUCK: Well, George is a master of being able to judge what a horse needs to do to get through a jump course. He can read jumps and distances like nobody I’ve seen. He’s got a great eye for that and I have a lot more to learn about judging distances and things like that. Our flatwork is very complementary in terms of the things I do to get a horse good to ride. George is very supportive of what I do and I’m very supportive of what he does. There are so many things about the jumping world that I have learned from George and that I have to learn yet. To me if you are going to learn something about basketball, would you do to Sheridan Community College or would you go to Michael Jordan’s basketball clinic? I know where I’d go. As far as the jumping world, that’s how I see George Morris.
KENNY: We know it’s important for horses to have a job or purpose for what we’re asking them to do, but there are many backyard owners who don’t have cows to work, fences to mend, or miles to cover. What advice can you give these people on giving their horses a job to do?
BUCK: A lot of it is being creative. That’s what good horsemanship is, creativity. You can give me a horse in a 12 by 24 foot pen and I could put a good ride on him and he’ll have a pleasant attitude by the time I get done because of the creativity and the different movements that are possible. Even within something that’s way more confining than what you would want it to be. It’s a matter of how creative & how interesting it is for the rider, really. So many times, if they are a boring rider, they’re going to be boring whether they have a big ranch or backyard to ride in. It makes no difference.
KENNY: So it’s a lot about being able to come up with new ideas and different things for your horse to do.
BUCK: You bet. There are plenty of obstacles you could put in your backyard, things to get them used to a challenge. Around this country there is a fence every 100 feet. Within most fences are gates but how many times do you see people riding a horse that never even think about getting the horse good enough to work a gate from horseback. They could spend time to really get good at opening and shutting gates, but they’re lazy or they don’t know and just get off and open the gate. That could be a challenge in itself that can get the horse a whole lot better. Just learn how to work a gate.
KENNY: With Smokie, my horse, he is very good on a majority of things, but I’ve been trying to teach him to come up to a gate and allow me to open it. But as soon as I start to lean over the pull the latch, he gets jittery and wants to move off.
BUCK: You fix it up and start again. You put him back to where he’d need to be for you to work the gate and then rather than lean off where you’re vulnerable to being a yard dart, you might just jiggle the gate. Get him to be able to handle the stress of that gate banging, where he could handle something that’s a little scary near the gate. Then you’ve got him a little better prepared. Anytime the horse leaves, put him back and start again. Take a fresh start until staying is easier than the horse leaving.
KENNY: So make it more difficult being away from that area than it is to be there and get the job done.
BUCK: That’s right.
KENNY: In your travels you come across a lot of different people. Do you find some people get a little defensive or emotional during your clinics?
BUCK: The way people behave in a public environment in a clinic; under the stress of having their horse out in front of everybody is a lot of times a very emotional thing for the human.
KENNY: Do you feel that the horse gives you a better idea of what that person is about, by the way the horse works with that him or her?
BUCK: After a few days of observing a horse and rider, if that person has been with that horse for a while, I know probably more about the person that they would like me to know.
KENNY: So the horse really shows the truth.
KENNY: Dennis from Washington wanted to commend you on your book, “The Faraway Horses” and asks you to talk about how your childhood helped you understand horses.
BUCK: Well, unfortunately in my childhood I was forced with the realities of pondering life and death for a fairly long period of time. Because of that, when a horse is living his life in fear, and has to live with the human because he’s captive, I have empathy for a horse living in that kind of world. I think unless you have dealt with these kinds of things in your own life, you may not understand to what extent it is important to the horse. So having had that, I have a kindred spirit with horses that are troubled and it makes me want to make things better for him.
KENNY: Is “The Faraway Horses” going to be made into a movie?
BUCK: It is. We’re in the process now of putting together the team to do the movie. The director from “Lonesome Dove” will be directing and the writer of “Lonesome Dove” will write the screenplay for it. So in the next couple years, I think it’ll be a reality.
KENNY: I noticed your horses are barefoot. It this something you follow?
BUCK: If they get real short and they get sore-footed, I shoe them but I don’t just shoe them for no reason. My horses are out in the hills at the ranch - they’re barefoot - that’s the way God made them. But when they’re working in country that’s rough rocky country and their feet get short and sore, well then, that’s cruel not to have shoes on them. So, it’s a matter of common sense. If you make your living on horseback, whether you like it or not, you’re probably going to have to shoe your horses. It’s not that it’s an enjoyable thing to do, it’s a necessary thing to be able to do your work. A lot of people who have horses in their backyard might not ever ride enough to have to shoe the horse or they live in country that has a lot of clay that won’t even wear their feet down. Maybe all they need to do is trim the horse and that might be all they need to do. But if you had horses in really rocky country, the reality of that is you better get shoes on them. They’ve been shoeing horses for thousands of years, but like anything, common sense should prevail.
KENNY: Do you think the way you work with horses by offering them a good deal and trying to understand them, will someday be the norm rather than the exception?
BUCK: Well, I hope so. Ray Hunt tells a story that he hopes someday someone might see a little kid really doing some good stuff with a horse and instead of saying, “Did you learn that from Ray Hunt or Buck Brannaman?” he’d say “Well, is there any other way?” I always thought that was a very humble thing for Ray to say. Rather than wanting it to be all the glory to Ray Hunt or Tom Dorrance, or to me, it was just considered the most meaningful and considerate way to work with the horse. You would sure hope for that, yes.
KENNY: If horses could talk, what do you think their most common request would be?
BUCK: Burn down the barn’s stalls or store your furniture in it. Tear out all the cross-fences so they have a nice big area to run in when you’re not riding them. Let them be in as natural an environment as what you can create for them. As far as hot walkers, which I’m looking at one right now, melt it down into something else. The treadmills and all the gimmicks - that probably would be a good starting place if your horse could talk. But yet, that might not be what some people want to hear. Some people in the way they work with horses should be damn glad they can’t talk.
KENNY: I would have to agree with that. Buck, we hope once we do get down to Florida that we can have you come by and conduct a clinic. We’d be proud to have you.
BUCK: Watch the weather. When it’s 40 degrees below in Wyoming that would be an ideal time to ask.
KENNY: Thanks so much for being with us today.
BUCK: You’re welcome.
The audio webcast of this interview is available at www.naturalhorsetalk.com or click the image below (requires Realplayer™)
Lisa Ross-Williams is a natural horse care and horsemanship consultant, freelance writer, and host of the “If Your Horse Could Talk” show. Along with her husband, Kenny, they share their small Arizona ranch with a menagerie of animals. Lisa has dedicated herself to extensive research, hands-on experience and attending many clinics and seminars including natural horsemanship, hoof care, dentistry, massage and stretching, homeopathy, iridology and nutrition. Their five horses, all of different breeds and ages, have been some of her best teachers. Known as one who ‘walks her talk’, Lisa has positively influenced thousands of horse owners and grateful horses by sharing this valuable information. Please visit her websites www.naturalhorsetalk.com and www.ifyourhorsecouldtalk.com for great info, articles, photos, and links on all aspects of natural horse care.