Buck Brannaman demo yesterday - "herd bound" horse

Jane&Ziggy

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Apr 30, 2010
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Prompted by Skib and others I attended Buck Brannaman's evening demo at Merrist Wood college yesterday.

This is a huge arena, 90m long and 30m wide. It's really hard to see all of it however centrally you sit so I was glad I got there early and found seats at the front!

Before the demo started a young man was working on the ground with a Western-tacked horse, a big, handsome black, in the way described by Skib; yielding the quarters and shoulders repeatedly on a very tight circle, using a rope halter and flag to achieve the turns. This exercise looked both quite difficult to achieve and exactly what I needed to do with Ziggy. Also in the arena was a big quiet bay horse of show cob type, English tacked with rider up.

There was a chair in the middle of the arena, facing the spectators, and to my surprise Buck came out and sat it in. He looked tired and old and I felt initial disappointment. He explained that he had been unsure what to do at the demo until this beautiful horse (the black) had been brought to his clinic as a non-participant even though it was not booked in, because it was so attached to some of the other horses who came that it could not be left behind because it would colic or do itself an injury in its distress. Buck explained that horses like this, which he called herd bound or indeed barn sour (@XxRideForLifexX take note!), were pretty useless to their riders and astonishingly common.

Buck described the usual approach to this, which is to force the horse to leave. He explained that this is difficult and creates a lot of resistance in the horse, which can be dangerous if it expresses itself in bucking, rearing, spinning, throwing self to the ground and other ways in which horses evince displeasure. He said that in his experience many riders give up at the wrong moment and thereby instil exactly the opposite message from their intention.

His preferred method is to get the horse to experience more comfort/peace from obliging its rider and being with its rider than from being with its friends. He said he would show us in the demonstration how to get the horse to find out for itself that exploring and being away from its companions is all right, and that it can gain comfort and reassurance from its rider as well as from other horses. The target for the demo was to get the horse to choose voluntarily to stand in the corner of the arena furthest away from its equine companion.

Buck's rider, who I think was called Nathan, fastened the reins (rope reins) to the saddle horn. He was instructed to give the horse no direction at all with legs, reins or seat - the horse should always choose where it wanted to go. The only thing that Nathan would do was control the speed of the horse.

This was a very simple demo in many ways. When the horse was near its companion (the bay cob, who was simply bait for these purposes) its rider kept it in a brisk trot or even canter. When it chose for itself to leave its companion, the rider took the pressure off and allowed it to slow down or even stop. Gradually, the zone where the horse could find peace was moved further and further away from the bait horse.

This sounds obvious, and indeed when I got home and my OH said, "How was that?" I said, "I watched a man ride a horse in circles for an hour and 15 minutes". But it was absolutely full of interest and, for me, reinforcement of the same lessons that I gained from the Rashid workshop.

At the start the horse was extremely restive and anxious. It whirled, spun, and kicked out a few times as it travelled at a brisk trot in a very small circle around its friend. Buck said the anxiety probably stemmed from the many occasions on which its rider had insisted that it leave its companions. Now Nathan was only asking for trot, never asking for the horse to leave.

The horse had a very strong preference for one rein, which it showed by trotting on that rein for 20 out of the 25 minutes in which it stayed in a circle around its friend. Buck said that a voluntary change of rein would indicate that the horse was starting to break its thoughtless pattern of trotting in circles. He sounded as if he disapproves of lunging, as he said, "He's been lunged, he's been taught that trotting in brainless circles is what you do." (I should say at this point that the horse's owner was one of the demo organisers). As the horse went round and round and round it was possible to see how shut down it was. No ear movement, its eye wide and worried but not looking around - just stuck in the groove like the needle on a record.

After 25 minutes of trotting and cantering in circles the horse began to make very small gestures towards leaving its friend. There were a couple of jumps nearby which seemed to have become the boundary to the horse's "safe zone" - he would not go beyond them. Every time he turned his head to look beyond the "safe zone", the rider took off the forward pressure and stroked him on the side of the neck that didn't block his movement away (this is just like Mark Rashid's "finding the try").

The horse's ear and eye movements increased, he was becoming curious about the rest of the arena. He finally moved beyond the jumps, whereupon the rider allowed him to slow to a walk and even to rest for a moment. When he hurried back to the bait horse, he was asked to trot again.

At this point the horse began to get a bit tired: Buck said he was asking, "Mind if I stop trotting now?" This motivated him to look for comfort somehow else, as the presence of his friend wasn't doing him much good. He began to explore further and further into the arena.

It was noticeable both that the horse constantly returned to the bait horse for reassurance, and that his exploration went in cycles. He would make an improvement, then "relapse" to his previous behaviour for a little while, then go a bit further. To begin with he would go back to the bait horse for a check in and circle him several times at trot and canter before leaving to explore again; towards the end he still returned to check in, but would not circle his friend even once before leaving again.

At no stage did the rider do anything other than to ask with his legs for forward movement when the horse was near the bait horse, and take off the pressure and reassure him with petting and scratches when he moved away from the bait horse.

Eventually, after 1 hour and 15 minutes, as promised, the horse who at the start of the session would violently refuse to go more than 3 metres from his friend was taking himself voluntarily to the furthest point of the arena and resting there. At this point the rider dismounted, unsaddled, and led the horse quietly away from his friend, out of the arena to a waiting bucket of feed (Buck's final suggestion to reinforce the horse's new behaviour).

Buck warned us not to start this unless we have the time to complete it; nothing worse than to stop the work before the horse has chosen to break its own pattern. He also recommended the exercise as a tool for developing one's own feel as a rider and the horse's sensitivity to our requests: "Drop a glove somewhere in your arena and let the horse find its way to it by this method." It's just like Hot And Cold - using your legs means "getting colder" and slackening off means "getting warmer." Jumping off and unsaddling the horse means "You've got it!" Buck said that a skilled horse and rider will take you to the spot very quickly.

I have to say that I would be very tired by 1 hour and 15 mins of trotting! But I loved watching the demo and would definitely use the technique if I had the need.
 

KP nut

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Dec 22, 2008
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That's fascinating. And something I'd love to try! I just need to find a barn our buddy sour horse to play with!
 

Skib

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Thank you Jane for that report.
Can you please explain a little why you think you should do the yielding of the quarters with Ziggy? What would it be for?
 

Jane&Ziggy

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Because he is a stubborn chap when it suits him, and I want to make sure I can move any foot whenever I want. My RI asked me to walk home (on a hack) one step at a time on Friday, and it was impossible.
 

Harrieth Stewart

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This also work for gate sourness. Another thing that I found to work as mounted is to gently wiggle the bit at the "hot" point. On ground work I would "drive" the horse at the hot points
 

newforest

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Parelli calls it a passenger lessons it's simila. You decide the gait they choose the direction. I have done it to stop myself micromanaging and fiddling whenever came off the tracks to turnback.
Some would say I let her come off the rail by ditching my reins, but I changed her mind about coming off in the first place. She created more for herself by coming off.
She was only confident in a quarter of the school. Even loose she wouldnt venture further than to B and E. So I tied up my reins and rode that way, she kept doing a little circle by E and heading back towards home. I think we did that 15 times before she changed the rein! But once she made that change and headed off for B I rewarded by doing nothing so she walked. I don't think it took that long but it was about half hour of trotting before she changed direction.
I think from memory I had a sweet spot in the centre which was x as well that's because we kept making teardrop turns back to the gate and x was a pleasant place to stand :)
 
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newforest

Keep it simple
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I only yield if I need to and not as an exercise anymore. Its hard on the joints and it needs to be a step under and not just across.
When I lead in and out of a gate I yield.
When I move her over to pick up feet I yield.
When I line her up to mount I yield.
It's amazing how often you do it anyway without doing it.
I prefer unwind from a bind as an exercise now or quarter turn on the forehand etc. Not the get it wrong get kicked in the face move.
 
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I may try this. * Yesterday I did something a bit like this actually! And it worked. When I would ride out in my front yard. My drive through is a concrete Circle and it has a line of concrete going to the front door. I think Lucius wanted to go on the concrete to go out on the road or something. But if I trotted or cantered on the line of grass that was against the concrete circle. He would really fight to get on the concrete. So when he would fight, I let him go on the circle, but instead I would make him trot around the circle twice, then I would go to the frontyard where the grass is then I would let him walk, I kept doing that until he finally even let me canter along the grass by the circle. :) ) I Will try this around my other horse Jedi, And around my barn. Thanks Jane!
 

Karen Grimm

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Tried this technique this morning, first with buddy near by (although he has caught onto that game) and then by himself in the neighbor's beef pen next to my yard (buddy is somewhere over that fence right?). Much more relaxing way to ask horse to move out and away. My timing needs improvement on the "good boy" when he even looks towards going away but we did end it on walking away in the opposite direction. Think we will be doing it a few times, moving further away. There was far less quivering in the bottom lip today which is what I try to shoot for. Small steps! He does however anticipate the moving faster and just starts on his own "Oh, you mean I do this to get to the gate.....?"
 
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KP nut

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This thread has had over 10,000 views!! Who from? Who are all these viewers??? Join in, don;t be shy!!!
 
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Julie Keys

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Parelli calls it a passenger lessons it's simila. You decide the gait they choose the direction. I have done it to stop myself micromanaging and fiddling whenever came off the tracks to turnback.
Some would say I let her come off the rail by ditching my reins, but I changed her mind about coming off in the first place. She created more for herself by coming off.
She was only confident in a quarter of the school. Even loose she wouldnt venture further than to B and E. So I tied up my reins and rode that way, she kept doing a little circle by E and heading back towards home. I think we did that 15 times before she changed the rein! But once she made that change and headed off for B I rewarded by doing nothing so she walked. I don't think it took that long but it was about half hour of trotting before she changed direction.
I think from memory I had a sweet spot in the centre which was x as well that's because we kept making teardrop turns back to the gate and x was a pleasant place to stand :)
 

Julie Keys

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Thank you for your explanation. It's exactly what I have struggled with for years with the exact problem, he wouldn't go right down the school, and would whip round if it got too much. Used to be very unconfident. He also would change ends, if I got him used to the far end he didn't want to come back to the gate end. It's still something I work on but what you said I found very heartening. Having seen Buck's problem horse too I now have the confidence to do this properly with my boy. Onwards and upwards (or onwards to the end of the school).
 

Karen Grimm

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Bahaaaa.....two herd bound horses out in the field (one at a time).....verrrry minor issues (compared to the last few weeks). No jigging, no jogging, no quivering lips. Relaxed! Now gonna haul one to work in the morning as see what we can do. Someone warned me that I was teaching my guys just to run back to the gate but not one of them did. Of course they gave it some consideration (lots) but they gave me very little grief when asked to change their minds. Impressed!
 
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Skib

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The number of views could be due to the Brannaman organisation trawling for mentions? I am never quite sure what goes on now that many commercial companies use social media and operate via Facebook and Twitter.
But respect to Jane whose description f the clinic is so clear - beautifully observed and well written.
It is also by the way an example of how curiosity about horse behaviour and horse learning (sometimes loosely termed NH on the Forum) can provide alternative solutions to some quite common problems. And these solutions can be applied to horses in general. By owners and non-professionals as well as the horsemen who demonstrate them.
 

Karen Grimm

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Success at the Dairy! Horse was hard to handle last year with his "NOOOOOO....... I can't do that or go there..." behaviour, but this morning he did very well. No problems riding him past the dairy cattle, a few problems past the calves and some equipment but did not have to jump off at all for safety reasons. Out in the alfalfa field last year he would jig, fight, run away, jump around,snort, huff and puff and all around just not fun to ride. Spent more time walking on foot last year due to that kind of behaviour. Out in the alfalfa field this morning, he was a much happier horse. The time spent at home using this method translated into him not even bothering to challenge which direction (much.....it was a very quiet request on his behalf instead of hollering at me) and he got back on track with a simple request instead of me having to holler at him. I jumped off and walked back home with him as a reward today instead of out of desperation.