Buck Brannaman

Buck Brannaman Clinic – August 2015

buck pontificates

Kiowa Colorado, is a small rural town just west of Castle Rock, and was originally a stage stop on the way to Denver. It boasts a population of less than 1,000 people and has a long history of rivalry between the ranchers and the farmers. It is said that during one period in the late 1800’s when the town was literally split down the middle, each group commanded their respective side of the main street, with separate banks, mercantiles, and blacksmith shops.

Then and now, one thing either side would probably agree on, is the important role that horses play for both. So it was somewhat poetic that Kiowa host a Buck Brannaman Horsemanship clinic.

A horse friend and I decided to head down that way in August 2015 and take in Day One of the clinic and check it out. Both of us are Buck “fans” so it wasn’t suprising we ended up attending all 4 days, never arriving late or leaving early. In horse language, we were “hooked on”.

A Buck clinic, has nothing to do with training a horse. In his words “I don’t train horses. I just ride ’em around to try and get them with me and be real creative about it. You get him operating his legs like their your legs and you don’t have to train him”. His delivery has everything to do with a string of idioms, many delivered in the vernacular, each one carefully threaded in and around the one before and the one after. As with most sound bites, many sound simple on the surface, but there is a deep meaning imbedded that if pondered for a few moments or a few years, will alter your perception of the human-horse bond.

Furiously juggling between my camera and my notebook, I wrote as many down as I could. I made drawings of the exercises he put the riders through. And I took 800 photos.

Since returning, I’ve been asked by a number of people to share what I saw and learned. So I went through all my notes and offer Buck’s quotes, and of course, lots of photos. Buck refers to a lot of his teachers. All the quotes below are Buck’s unless he gave credit.
Buck Ace2


“Send ’em then bend ’em.”

“Horses don’t ‘anticipate’. They respond light.”

Buck bucking1

“Gotta get to the feet. Draw that foot to your hand.”

“To leave a horse emotionally upset or afraid when you have the ability to take care of that – that’s abuse.” 

“Do it till you get a change.”

“Don’t take the ‘think’ away from your horse.”

“Think. Remember you’re working with a mind. A lot of people think it’s just a horse, but there’s a mind operating that horse.” ~Ray HuntBuck 4

Buck & host

“Offer a ‘good deal’ first”

“Have a plan A but be ready with plan B. You have to set it up to where the horse has choices.”

“Did he respond to the good deal (Plan A) or did you have to do more (Plan B)? Keep practicing till the good deal comes through.” 

“If plan B was what you ended up on, then you go on to something else you are cheating the horse. You lose ground. People quit at all the wrong places.”

buck on dull

“When you really hurry a horse or a cow, you just get to the wrong place faster.” ~Seth Woods

“You get out of a horse what you put in, the way you put it in.” ~Ray Hunt

“How do you know your horse is going ‘forward’? Well, the fence posts will be going past.”

“The ‘troubled’ western horses show the trouble more openly. The English horses who are troubled hide it to the extreme. They are much more subtle in their trouble signals.”

“There is no “Ask, Tell, Demand”. There is only ask and demand. “Tell” is the middle and makes a horse dull. You are justified after “Ask”, to DEMAND.”

“If you have low expectations, it probably doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there.”

“A dull horse is hard to keep straight. If you can send them and they are willing, they will go straight.”

“A horse will drift to whatever is drawing him. Something else is influencing his feet. That I cannot have. If there is something influencing his movement other than me – either moving him away or drawing him – then I make sure I prevail.”

“If your horse refuses jumps – well you taught him – you’re a dink. You help the horse discover that they can refuse to go. Why would you ever do that? The horse learns ‘I can quit him if I want to’.”

“There’s a sacred agreement between you and your horse – and that’s “life”. But when that life comes up, you better be able to take it somewhere.” 

Buck & bay1

“Too often ground work is just a place where a person can deal with resentment through revenge.”

“If he’s operating through self-preservation, then you better not get on.”

“If your horse has only one speed, well that’s not much of a transmission.”

“Horses have to be punctual. Life in a horse isn’t speed. It’s being punctual and light. Sticking a spur through them isn’t life.”

Buck 3

“Do you give your horse peace when he does it? Easing up is not a ‘release’ (peace). It’s just being less annoying. You give a little peace and he’ll try his guts out for you.”

“Best place is the middle of a rectangle – peace – he will hunt for it, he will want to be there. If you don’t provide that, the ‘safe place’ will be outside the arena.”

“Too much hand, they get dull to the leg. Too much leg and they get dull to the hand.”

“Use the subtleties or pretty soon, they won’t be available.”

Buck day 2 Arc

“All you people do more later and you need to do less sooner.”

“Pay attention – don’t contradict yourself. If your horse sued you for it, he’d get all your stuff.”

“Your going to have to liven up – and drag your ass – when I tell you.”

“When I set the air brakes, there better be some drag marks.”

“I won’t be mad at you if you don’t do it right, but I’m going to make it pretty difficult to do it wrong.”

“Once you can ride a horse on a loose rein, it’s time to put both hands on the reins”

buck rope2

“There’s a difference between ‘real gentle’ and ‘in a coma’. You are gonna ‘get alive’ and I’m taking no prisoners.”

“If you want the horse to be precise in doing something, you better be precise in asking him.”

“When the horse is ‘checked out’, you are in danger and you aren’t getting anything done. You think your horse can’t trot circles and check out on you? He can.”

“The horse is ALWAYS aware – the slightest startle is life or death. They are keenly suspicious of ‘strange’. If you can’t deal with that, then ride the one at Walmart because they are predictable.”

troubled horse


“Keep track of the horse every second. ‘You with me partner?’. Lift the rein, if he’s not with you, get him with your spur. I want him relaxed but aware. Test that. ‘Are you ready if I need you?'”

“If you ask him to ‘go’ and he doesn’t, then you put the hammer down. My legs are open just a little and that means ‘the kick is right behind this’.”

“If he doesn’t go, you let him know there’s going to be a little kickin’ party and he’s the guest of honour. There will always be justice in how I offer the ‘good deal'”

buck on life

“Pressure with a purpose or no pressure at all. Never put pressure on, if you have no purpose.”

“Let it soak when he does it great. Don’t be busier than a cat buryin’ crap. It’s all about the peace.”

“Tom Dorrance was happy if you went nowhere so long as your horse was never troubled. Bill Dorrance was more interested in getting results. He believed you had to trouble them a little to get things done.”

“The horse needs to wait on YOU.”

Buck rope8

(when a plastic bag blew into the arena and the rider was attempting to get her scared horse to go to it) If that horse is worried, then maybe when I get a chance I’ll get me a bag. I wouldn’t use this uncontrollable opportunity because in about 10 seconds he’ll be shittin’ and gittin’. Get out of there. Don’t just sit there wondering how this is going to end.”

“There’s nothing wrong with trouble so long as YOU are chasing IT.”

“You eventually want the horse to leave with his hind quarters first. But it’s a German style to hold back and push forward to get the hind legs to go first. That’s catastrophic too early in training. You need to be able to control the front end and back end independently. The horse will understand ‘you want me to come alive back here first’. Pretty soon, you’ll have engagement.” 

Buck & Arc2


“If you ride like a Nazi, you will build pressure in that horse. You better know how to get out of there and give him some reward.”

“Don’t ride through something good to arrive at something bad.”

“There should not be one ounce more pressure on the reins to stop. Reins are there to prepare for the stop and there if he doesn’t stop.”

Buck & Arc1


“I don’t talk horses outside of clinics. People talk to ME about horses and I have to use my internal editor not to knock them off their chair. Sometimes it’s pretty friggin’ lonely. The stuff I want to teach is rattlin’ around in my head. I still haven’t had a clinic where I taught what I wanted. Aways teach what I have to. You have to go where the horse is.” 







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