Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Buck is back! Aintree June 2017 part 1

Buck Brannaman Clinic Aintree 2017

“ It’s a devotion and art to refine a horse "
Buck Brannaman, Aintree June 2017

Buck Brannaman needs no introduction, a true horseman of the highest calibre and possibly one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet.  I can hardly believe it has been 2 years since Buck first came to the UK to do a clinic, but due to the determination of Total Horsemanship’s Tina Griffin, Buck returned this year.  The venue again was the wonderful arena at Aintree Racecourse.

Now a lot has happened since Buck was last here and I unfortunately lost my equine partner Ada just prior to the clinic.  So having participated last time, I now found myself experiencing the clinic from a different perspective, but I guarantee that did not mean there was any less to take away.

The participants were a mix of abilities and experience, some having ridden with Buck before and many for whom, it was their first time.   On the first day the atmosphere was almost palpable with excitement and anticipation, but when Buck walked in and made everyone feel like they were amongst friends, there was a collective sigh of relief.

Buck had 2 demo horses this year, Spider (a 17hh bay ISH gelding) for the morning class and Archie (a 15.2hh grey Welsh x Irish gelding) for the afternoon class.  Both horses were unseen by Buck before the clinic and their individual progression over the 3 days was wonderful to watch.

I never get tired of watching Buck on a horse, if you pay close attention Buck teaches you on at least 2 separate levels.  The first is visually during the dance with the horse, and secondly in the parables he tells you.  These are peppered in throughout each session, and are absolute gems of wisdom and knowledge.  A particular favourite of mine this time was this:

“There is a piece of the horse, the best thing he has, that most riders will never use let alone find. But depending on the rider’s personality that piece can end up dead in the horse, and you will never get it back.  That piece that made him something special.  When it is gone, it is gone forever.  So even if you can’t find it, or use it, whatever you do don’t kill it in that horse.”

For me that sums up how high a regard Buck holds a horse. It is never a one sided conversation when he is with one. He offers them the lightest of aids, waits on them to think and then gives them the peace they seek through the release.  That’s how a horse learns without trouble, and as Buck says, “Soon what the horse does last, he will start offering first”. Now that for me is a conversation.

Another key thing from the clinic was the importance of the reins hooking down to the feet.  That you have to understand that whenever you take a hold of the reins, it is a connection to the horse's feet.  With this is mind it is also important to know where the feet are.  Buck had the afternoon group go round the arena past him, and he asked them to call out when they thought a particular foot was leaving the ground (this was quite entertaining).  Without an understanding and awareness of where your horse’s feet are, and bearing in mind that your reins should be connected to those feet, you leave yourself open (if your timing is off) to pulling your horse off balance or experiencing a brace when he physically cannot carry out what you are asking of him. He will protect himself, so you need to understand where and when those feet are so you can influence them when leaving the ground.  Something so simple in idea, is actually so pivotal when communicating with our horses.

It is not just his feel and timing with these animals which take this style of horsemanship beyond the mechanical, it is the respect he shows them, and indeed expects from them in return.  
Buck is truly alive in each moment he is with a horse, particular in every detail and really with them and there for them.

Now those demo horses I mentioned, well Archie turned out to be pretty special.  His lovely owner Angela is emigrating and I had the privilege of having a short ride on him after the last session of the weekend.  To ride a horse that Buck had ridden for 3 days literally brought me to tears.  I have never felt such softness, lightness and try from a horse before…..and I am pleased to say Archie is now mine.

There is something very special about a Buck Brannaman Clinic.  From the dedicated team who put this all together, the riders, the spectators.. It certainly attracts a wonderful kind of person.  Buck is so giving with his time and teachings, not just with the riders, but also the spectators.  Every afternoon he met with them and gave them all as much of his time as they needed.  He was patient, kind and most of all humble.  There is a real consistency and congruence with how Buck is with horses and people.  It really runs through him, free from gimmicks and ego.  You can’t help but respond to him how the horses do… you give him the best version of yourself and try to build on that.  

There are a lot of handy horsemen out there, that can get some pretty neat things done with a horse, but for me what makes a Buck clinic so different is that you aren’t just learning to get along better with your horse, this kind of horsemanship, with this man, well you go away just a little bit richer and more centred in your whole life.

Kate Street

Buck is back in 2019… see www.totalhorsemanship.com for details

Photos courtesy of Total Horsemanship.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Resilience, the art of getting back up...& it's one week to Buck!!

"I've always admitted that I'm ruled by my passions"  - Elizabeth Taylor

It just so happens that, like a lot of you who are reading this, my passions are horses and my horsemanship.  Yes at times it can be all consuming, but it is the lifeblood to who I am.  

Sadly I lost Ada recently, so when you find yourself at a crossroads where you have lost 3 equine partners in 18 months, you seriously start to question if you have it in you to start again. In fact, you start to wonder if you SHOULD start over again.  The time, money, and in particular, the heartache... maybe it is the universe's way of suggesting it's time to hang up your boots and take up knitting.

But no, my boots were made for riding and that's just what they'll do. So last Monday morning off I went to have a lesson at the local stables, in part to remind myself that I can actually still ride, and also to ENJOY it again, and enjoy it I did.  I rode Paddy the cob, who was very patient with me as I quickly realised riding 'traditionally' is now like a foreign language, so instead I tried to concentrate on the universal language of feel and we got along just fine.  All the tension I've been carrying, having ridden my willing mare, who I instinctively knew wasn't right physically and therefore riding had become loaded with second guessing and worry, well it just melted away.  I went back on Wednesday and out came the raised poles and I laughed like a 13 year old as I whizzed round the school.  I can't give this up.. anymore than I could stop drinking wine :)  

Since then I have been contemplating where to go from here.  The fates have conspired against me and sadly despite generously being offered alternative mounts, I won't be riding at the clinic this time.  Cue a moment of frustration and misery, 2 years of excitement and work down the drain.  But no, that's not the case for a few reasons, and I think this post I saw on fb by Bruce Sandifer's California bridle horse page sums it up.  

"All of our plans and preparations can change in an instant, no matter how well prepared we think we are.  Set backs and mistakes are part of the deal with horses, it's how we deal with these set backs that defines us"

Now I believe he was referring to a colt at the time, but when you read that back you will soon realise that it has a universal effect, it's not just the deal with horses, but with life.  

A wise man once said - 
Horsemanship and life it's all the same
 (no prizes for guessing who)

 I choose to remember a few things at this point.  It was a true privilege to ride with Buck in 2015.  What I learned in those 3 days permeated my way of being, not just in the saddle but in how I am day to day, and for that I am very grateful.  My learning was solidified and I will never stop chasing how my horse felt during the clinic and the months afterwards.  Now I'm still just scratching the surface of all this.  Buck gave me the tools to offer the best I can in the horses that have subsequently touched my life.  I will always strive to do better for them and be better for them.  

Additionally I may not be riding, but you can guarantee I'll still be learning and soaking up as much as I can from Buck and the participants.  The fat lady hasn't sung for me yet, hopefully I'll get to ride another day.

Finally, and most importantly I am completely and totally beyond excited for YOU!

Those of you who are spectating or riding for the first time, hang onto your hats because it's just going to be fabulous.  Now without sounding like a complete nutter I am excited that you get the opportunity to learn from Buck.  Leave your ego at the door, go in with an open heart and mind and I guarantee you a great clinic.  Try, try and try. 

 It's not just the slightest try in a horse Buck sees.

Oh and Tina, you legend, THANK YOU from I'm sure, all of us, for convincing Buck to come back and for organising what I am sure will be a wonderful experience for everyone.

So I will see you all at Aintree.  YAAAAAYYYYYYY!!

#roadtobuck is never ending my friends.

See you on the flipside xx

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

It's a long way to Tipperary (or Aintree)


Hello everyone, apologies for the hiatus with my blogs, I've been on the bench so to speak and with it came a hefty dose of writer's block... which has lasted 4 months.

So, this time 2 years ago I was a gal with a plan, a horse that I could depend on and all was ok with the world.  Roll 2 years on and things are rather different.  Lame (new-ish) pony, lame owner and with it, a case of what on earth am I thinking?   I've taken the last 4 months, and more recently the last 3 weeks to really reflect why I feel I have an almighty road block in my horsemanship, and the short answer is my grief and my horsemanship are intrinsically linked.... I won't bore you with the details, but my brother was the person who drove me to my lessons as an 11 year old.. so you can join the dots.  So how have I dealt with this over the last few months?  Well, I have basically shut down and avoided the issue, which means Ada's hock arthritis, my fluctuating health, have been convenient distractions from dealing with the issue that whenever I interact with my horse, all my feelings of loss, regret, and the ugliest of all, guilt, raise their heads and stop me dead.

Now Buck has mentioned a few times, that when you live in the past its not going to work out too well for you.  With a horse who has had a bad deal, you can not just feel sorry for it, you acknowledge what the animal has gone through of course, but you can't dole pity upon it and remain stagnant.  No, you carve out a path and say ok, this is how it is going to be, I know you have had a rough deal but I offer you this consistency when we are together and do you know what, we are going to make it.  With a horse I find this relatively easy to comprehend... to extend the same courtesy to myself?  Hell no.  Until a horse made me see the wall I have put up, and I when I was forced to face it, well that sucker hit me from the ground up.  Equine therapy is something I have long admired, but not experienced, so when a friend of mine shared details of a local 'Women's Day' to find out what this wonderful place had to offer, (a local equine therapy facility) I was compelled to go.   When we were invited to meet the horses and walk across to the field (in silence), my comedic brain hit default and tried to check out.. until I felt this horse before I saw him, and it was like hitting a brick wall with my face.  Now a feel can mean different things to different people, but I felt this horse clear across the concrete yard and field, and his head shot up as out energies clashed.  We were then invited to approach the fence line to meet the herd, and this horse told me in no uncertain terms not to move forward, but I did (as I didn't want to look foolish) and I just broke down.  Great big sobs of grief, pain, relief... like the lid of two years of loss was popped off and out poured my innards.   Now it was hard to feel and accept this pain, but cathartic and I feel.. well, better.  Not mended, but lighter.  Sometimes there are lessons we need to learn, and the horses are the only way we are going to learn them.

The Japanese mend pottery which is broken with lacquer mixed with powdered gold.  As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something to disguise.  So I like to think the horses have performed their own 'Kintsugi' upon me, and I am now ready to saddle up and wear my laquered gold with pride.  So I will be at Aintree, come hell or high water, because my horse deserves for me to be the best I can be for her, and do you know what? I deserve to allow myself to enjoy the journey.  The Road to Buck is a long one, and different for us all, but we all deserve to be there and to learn how to give the very best deal for our horses.

See you on the flip side xx

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Do you have a flag? A short and sweet rant from a short and sweet lady :)

Now, whether you are familiar with the comedy of Eddie Izzard or not, I can't help be mentally drawn back to this clip every time I am asked about my flag...and the recurring question after "Why do you use it?" is always a frivolous, "Can you show me some of the things you do with it?"  In a wave it around to desensitise as that is the only conceivable use for it, kinda thing.

When I try to explain that the exercises I am doing can be taught without the flag, and that those exercises are the aim of me working my horse on a lead rope, I get the look of puzzlement...

Now what Eddie illustrates above is the fixation with the tool, not actually the situation or task surrounding it...be it claiming new territories or working with a horse, and I find it as irritating as hell.  Sorry, I'm usually a happy go lucky and helpful individual, but I find it so belittling it makes me burn.

It's not about the flag...it's not a parlour trick, it's not me lunging a horse to brain death, it is an extension of my arm.  Wouldn't matter what it was, tennis racket, whip, or rope that I am going to hang myself with if someone asks me again... it doesn't matter.  What does matter is the intend behind it, devoid of emotion and simply being used as an extension of what it.  Sure it gets moved around, but that moving is with a purpose.  Whether it is to get my horse used to commotion, or to help move a shoulder across or shape up when on a circle, it has a specific purposeful job.

If you want a tool with no purpose, go to any local tack store and find some side reins.

Now on a nice note, welcome to my new readers and newbie participants signed up for Buck's clinic in 2017.  I look forward to getting to know you all.  Here's a picture to prove I smile hehe  x

I'm off for a medicinal drink..

See you on the flip side x

Saturday, 19 November 2016

On The Road Again

"Whether it's horses or whatever you do, it doesn't become an art until your soul goes into what you do
 - Buck Brannaman

Before I said goodbye to Maite, I'd seen a horse for sale fairly local to me that I decided to go and view.  HBK Vanilla Fudge aka Ada, is a 15hh bay QH mare by Shiny Little Spark, and I instantly felt a connection.  In that moment I decided I was ready to have another QH and expand my herd to 2.  Following viewing Ada and before her arriving, I lost Maite.  

Now I have to admit, at that point I was ready to give up altogether. Horses, this journey, felt all too much.  

The last year in particular, has been filled with worry and loss. Twice.  My husband has always been supportive, and was obviously upset that we lost Maite, but I thought he would be thrilled when I announced that I was done.  Instead he looked at me with a worried look in his eye and said nothing.   Of course I took time to reflect, and realised that maybe this little mare had found me at exactly the right time.  A soothing balm to help heal my wounds, and to teach me more about her kind, and life if I let her.  

It was incredibly bittersweet the day she arrived.  You can't help but think about the life you have just lost, and feel disloyal that you have let another stand at the gateway to your heart.  Could I let Ada in, even if I desired it? Would she want to come in, or would she judge me lacking to be her guardian?  The first few days were filled with routine and the tasks that accompany looking after a horse.  I decided I was not going to approach Ada with any of my own baggage.  That I would get to know her without comparison, expectation or fear and see how we got on.  There was still the expectation when working with her on the ground that she should try, and I gave her a purpose in the little things we would do together.  When clearing the droppings from the arena for example, I'd set her back and to the side as if we were tying off imaginary cows (in reality me with a tub trug), seeing how particular and accurate we could be, could I get to those feet?  Ada is particularly bothered by the flag, but we are gaining each time we work and I am overwhelmed by her try.  The one thing however that I didn't expect is HER desire to connect. To hook onto me, at first physically and now more mentally.  She wants to be with me...I'd kinda forgotten I had anything of value to offer her, but apparently she can see what I failed to, and do you know what?  It feels lovely.  When we work with our horses, we always want them to feel like winners.  The ethos of 'you go, I go and then we go together'.  I discovered it may be me leading the dance, but it seems my horse is the one who asked me onto the floor....

I did go back and ask my husband why he said nothing to me after my declaration of, "No more horses!"  He answered, "Well Kate, your 2 favourite things after our family are horses and wine, I'm not sure who you'd be if you didn't have a horse in your life, it's who you are".

Seems my soul is in it for the long haul, so back to honing my craft I go....

Thank you Maite for everything you have taught me. Run free with Tuff.  I wouldn't be the horsewoman I am without having met you both x

See you on the flip side x

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Making the Call

Saying goodbye is never easy.  It is hard enough kissing our loved ones off in the morning, hoping that if the day goes well that we will see them again at dinner time.   Saying goodbye forever is a different ball game altogether, and sadly over the course of the last year and a half, I've had to do it 4 times.  In all incidences I have been involved in the individuals care and treatment plan, and I have had the responsibility, alongside professionals and family, in making that call.  The call that signifies the beginning of the end.  In the case of my Dad and brother, devastatingly nothing else medically could be offered and it was a slow, agonising (for us) period of days watching them reach peace.  With Tuff in January, and sadly this week Maite, the responsibility has been solely laid upon my shoulders, and quite frankly the enormity is soul destroying.

I feel like the Harbinger of Death.

Making the tough choices I know is part of being a steward of our animals lives, but the self doubt, the questioning, the bargaining for an alternative is desperate and paralysing.  No different to any loss I know, but with an animal there is no opportunity to ask them what is wrong, we find ourselves interpreting symptoms, behaviour, test results, and professional advice... and amidst the chaos of information overload, there are our own emotions.  The love we have for these living breathing partners with a soul.  A soul so giving they forge a partnership with us in the first place, and you question yourself even when the inevitable decision has been made, right up to the final moment ... and then your brain just crashes... and in your head there are silent screams of 'NO!' as you comfort your friend into the next stage of life......death...and are hopeful that with that transition, they are finally free.

For us however, that is when the pain begins.  Relief accompanies it, knowing we did the best we could and knowing that our loved ones, be they equine or human, knew love.

Peace? Well that's what they now have, and we can be hopeful we might have some too.


Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pushing treacle up a hill....

The clue is in the title.  That's pretty much how I've been feeling this last month with everything.

That the amount of effort required to ultimately be no further forward than when I began is exhausting.

But as I sit here writing I realise that's not exactly true.  There has been remarkable progress with Maite (including but not limited to: crazy hack with lots of bullocks, solo hacking and some fab pole work) however, my enjoyment of anything has been completely marred by the devastating loss of my beloved big brother.  Sudden, unexpected and horrific.  Grief, again, has permeated my being and is caustic.  I have lost my Dad and brother within a year of each other (May is now not a month I like very much).

Now understandably at this time family is priority and I am going through the motions of day to day things, and I thought I was as fine as could be expected.  But I actually think that the lights are on but no-one is in.. my desire to ride or function beyond a basic level has disappeared.  The only benefit is that I'm more self aware (and that is down to the horses).  I learned a long time ago that you have to be true to how you feel and process what's going on.  So I am.  I am physically very tired, and I was walking the knife edge of eating my feelings (put the donut down Kate) but I am so very grateful for having my brother in my life and I'm trying to be kind to myself.

It has also reminded me not to sweat the small stuff.  We are here for such a short time, and the more I learn as we travel on this journey is that the everyday stuff is really the big stuff in life.  Those moments with the people and animals that we love, the moments that make us happy, and the ones that make us sad.  THAT'S what makes a life.  In honour of my brother (as it's his fault I started riding!) this week I will be saddling up and enjoying the ride.

So my friends, hug the ones you love, say yes to things that you might normally reject, open your heart and mind to how truly special being here is, and go live the heck out of it.

As for Maite... well, this is something our horses already know and try to teach us everyday.  Now, in this moment, is what is important.  So make it a good one.

See you on the flip side x