Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I am A Sponge

Buck Brannaman

When I was in college, I had to write a paper for a psychology class about my philosophy of Psychology. "A sort of zeitgeist, if you will," my professor declared (Zeitgeist: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.) As I work towards my my goal of becoming a horsewoman, I realize that I am constantly developing my beliefs about horse behavior, horsemanship, equipment, and philosophy.

My cousin B, who has recently started horseback riding lessons for the first time, asked me at the clinic this weekend how long I had taken lessons. I kind of chuckled then told her of my limited lessons in horseback riding. I took beginner lessons when I was around 11 years old, and then again in my early twenties for 6 months, when I rode hunter/jumpers. Yep, that's it. Everything I know is self-taught, from the trial and error of riding my ponies and horses, reading a lot, observing, talking about horses, and asking questions. And mostly, just through trial and error.

In my job, I am supported via funds for professional development. Even though I have been in the classroom for over 11 years, which is truly the best field experience one can receive, it is through opportunities such as meeting with other colleagues, learning the latest research, learning new techniques, and having intellectual discussions, that my passion for what I do is renewed and enhanced.

Many early childhood education institutions label themselves with a particular philosophy; for example, Montessori. Others claim they are "best practice;" meaning, they borrow from a variety of approaches, using ways that are best known for children to learn, based on research. In regards to horsemanship, I find that I am still trying to figure out my "best practice." Right now, I feel as if I am heading towards an eclectic approach to horses.

I compare myself to a sponge. I am in the stage of continually soaking up information, exploring philosophies and techniques. I want to become a good horseman someday. I know I need miles in the saddle and time in my chinks before I am even worthy of the title horseman. I may never be. But I believe I can work towards the goal of being the best rider I can be for my horse, and the best person I can be for myself.

I attended and thoroughly enjoyed a Buck Brannaman clinic last weekend. I felt engaged by this man, it was nearly impossible to not be pulled into the lull of his cowboy voice for every story he told or everything he said about horses, people, life, and riding. There is something about his approach to handling and riding horses that just made sense. And to watch him ride a horse is just plain mesmerizing. He just has it, whatever it is. Very few horse people do or ever will. They think they do. They call themselves horse trainers. Buck said horses hate horse trainers. But they like horseman. And when you see a horseman work with a horse, it becomes crystal clear what the difference is. It's feel and timing. Some of us will work a lifetime trying to get just a penny's worth of that feel.

I may never be a horseman at the level I dream to be. I'm okay with that. Regardless, I want to be a lifelong student of horsemanship, continuing my education, if you will. I want to be inspired, empowered, and for my skills to grow. It can be challenging at times. It can be hard to go out there and apply what you learn, to not get frustrated, to find support, and to hear encouragement and criticism. The horse world can be a lonely place for those of us that can't travel to all of the clinics or shows, or board at stables with people with similar goals and interests. I know that everything I do with my horse and his improvement is connected to how I am working with him. It's all up to me. If we fail, it is my fault, not his. Buck says that you have to love it, to want it, to make the time, or there is no point.

More on Buck in my next post, the book tag, which I'm finally getting around to!

Note: My blogger friend Liz over at Cowgirl Up was also at the clinic, unfortunately unbeknownst to me before I left town! However, I am sure she will be posting about her 4 days of riding in the clinic on her blog in the next few days, so be sure to check it out!


  1. Oh so much fun!! I wish we had clinics down here. I am like a sponge too!! I love to learn more ways to do things and new ways and old ways, and fun ways!! OH I can't wait to hear more!!

  2. PG~ Good for you! Going and learning and listening are the most important things a horseman can do. I consider myself a horseman, I've been riding all my life and I guess I've forgotten a lot more than somepeople ever learn- BUT I haven't stopped learning, and listening. I am no where near being the most expert horseman I'd like to be. Everyone can always learn more. It is a lifelong quest- and from my point of view a damn good way to spend a life. Happy trails!

  3. What a great experience and for you to be such a sponge is wonderful. I visit trainwreck's blog and I found you there...and when I saw the spots appear before my eyes I was over joyed! I love Appaloosa horses and that was my horse of choice as a young adult. I love your boy and I had a "hard to catch mare once, but she was a stubborn red dun". I just can't imagine an Appie being anything but a doll. :) My family raises and breeds Paint horses but if I were going to raise them myself I am sure it would still be Appaloosa's. I want a black leopard and yes I still like the sparse tails and manes...but quarter rules dosen't it? I so enjoyed reading your blog and it is so much fun, you are young and I am in my hum....older's but we have the same horse ideas!

  4. Great stuff, PG. One of my goals during this period when I am without horse (or sans horse, I guess we could say!) is to study natural horsemanship; even here in AK there are proponents! It's such a better way than what I learned growing up in you know, like 30-40 years ago, and makes so much sense! I once knew a cowboy, that when he just took my young horse by the leadrope, had such instant connection with the horse....so noticeable! Can we learn that? Not sure...but there is a lot we can learn, if only to better think through our own reactions to be in greater harmony. You've inspired me to get started!
    Yr. Cowgirl Pal in AK...

  5. I am all giddy sitting here. I love nothing more than being the part of “converting” another “Buckette” as some of us have called ourselves at times over the years.

    I promise I will try to post my clinic report soon. In the meantime, go check out my blog for old posts from my week long trip to Buck’s last year. There’s even an appy in those posts for you spot-lovers. ;)

  6. Great post.

    One of your statements really resonated with me....

    "The horse world can be a lonely place for those of us that can't travel to all of the clinics or shows, or board at stables with people with similar goals and interests."

    It sounds like I grew up much the same as you did, picking up new techniques were I could and not able to take lessons or have a parent hauling me around to shows as some other kids did. Now in my 20s, I am able to do more lessons and audit some clinics but for the most part I am alone at this thing. I don't belong to a club or a discipline specific barn nor do I go to practises every week or have any real social involvement in the "horse world" (beyond these blogs really!) It does make for a slower process, IMHO, because we pick up so much from out peers but while I do envy those people some times, I am happy that I am able to give more of myself to my horse and not have my actions or techniques influenced by their judgement. Some people ride with winning a show as their goal but I have horses for the bond I get from them and I think the horsemanship I choose is a reflection of that.

  7. Nice post. I envy you our opportunities to have a horse to work with so often and to attend the clinics. It's not something I've done, but I know I would enjoy immensely. Good luck to you on your journey.

  8. If you're going to be a sponge, I think Buck is one of the best horsemen today from whom to soak up knowledge. I've been able to ride in two of his clinics and to this day still go back to the notes I scribbled down, practicing what he taught me. So will the book tag be Faraway Horses or Believe? The last time I rode with him, he said there was a movie in the works based on Faraway Horses, in which he would play himself. Did he say anything about it?

  9. Good for you and great post! Actually, I found it quite affirming, since I tend to operate so much in a vacuum myself. I totally concur -- I just want to be BETTER. That's my goal every day: to just be a little better than last time.

  10. Sounds like a really interesting clinic. We don't get the big names up here very often...

    Your sponge concept is totally where I am at as well. I didn't have much training as a kid, I just hopped on my horse or pony and made the best of it. Your post summed all of that up very eloquently. Maybe I'll use some of it to explain to the hubby why I keep buying training books and videos! lol

  11. Great post and look forward to more...

    At 50, I'm still struggling to learn; it's a never ending process. I have to admit though that it's harder as I get older to change 44 years of self taught stuff. It takes me a lot longer to "get it"...but it's always worth it in the long run.

  12. I agree with everyone else that Buck is a truly gifted horseman, and I totally agree with his comment about the differences between horse trainers and horsemen.

    I also like to take a rather eclectic approach to horsemanship, especially because I have primarily ridden and showed Arabians.

    Have you ever noticed that a lot of the so-called natural horseman do not perform their magic on the hotter breeds?? I wonder why that is (insert sarcasm)?

    Anyway...this being said, I always appreciate the ones that do (work with the hotter breeds)!!!

    I am glad that you got to go, and a little bit jealous too...lol!!! Can't wait to read more! :0

  13. What a great thing to have this so close to you. I say always go and soak it up and come home and use what you can and go on!

  14. What fun you had!


  15. Amen my little grasshopper!! And a sponge you should be - now you have seen a true horseman. I think it always feels like I'm witnessing something magical watching someone who has "it" like you said. Next time, if you can, take your spotted pill. It is sooo much fun riding under the "eye" of one of the masters. Amazing fun!!! I'm happy that you got to go! And please, if you ever get the chance - even just to audit - go see Ray Hunt, he's getting quite old and hasn't ridden the last 2 times I've been to a clinic, but he is superb!! Not real patient with people, but a master indeed. Another true horseman is a Montana mule trainer named Brad Cameron - excellent!! And at the risk of offending some - in my humble opinion - steer clear of a "trainer" named Ricky Quinn - a cocky young buck who needs to ride in some clinics and learn more before he "trains". Just my opinion...but, I like you love, love, love to learn - and there's always more to learn. I look forward to hearing more of your experience - you are quite good at relaying information. Go girl!!

  16. C-ingspots,

    Sorry to hear you didn’t have a good experience with Ricky. If it was a while ago (a couple of years), I think you might want to give him a second chance. He’s made some pretty nice changes in himself the last couple of years. He’s a good hand and has a lot to offer. And he spends a lot of time learning from Buck. But I completely understand if you are turned off by him. He’s young and still has more to learn (like all of us).

    And speaking of Ricky, I will be having him here to my place (or town) next September. Anyone who is interested in watching or riding should let me know and I will keep you personally posted on the details. elizabeth(dot)a(dot)clark(at)comcast(dot)net to get on my mailing list.

  17. For some reasons I thought you had years of experience and training. You sure seem like it anyway. Maybe it seems that way because you are such a conscientious horse person who always has their horse's best interest at heart...always trying to learn the best ways to do things...for your horse and situation.

    I think you're doing a terrific job and I love to check in and see what activities you are up to with My Boy.
    I look forward to reading more about the BB clinic. I bet that attending clinics is alot of fun. Wouldn't it be even more fun to take your own horse so he could critique your riding and skills.
    What a great way to learn, eh?

    Hey PG, I've been wondering about that Book Tag. I can't wait to see what you've been reading. Thanks for participating :)


  18. I wondered if that was the clinician.

    It sounds like you had a good time and learned things too.

    I have The Faraway Horses and throughly enjoyed it.

  19. Lisa~ Well at least I somewhat sound like I know what I'm doing, half the time, LOL! ;) But really, my biggest issue is confidence. I just need more time in the saddle. I have to remind myself that up until two years ago, when I got back into horses, it'd been nearly 17 years since I'd really ridden like I did as a youth. I was rusty and I'm still getting back into "horsemanship shape!"

  20. I think you're well on your way, if not already there! You know so much. I learn something new each time I check in on you.


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

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