Buck Brannaman in Dublin, Ireland – 2014 report.

By , August 11, 2014 4:05 pm

BUCK clinic notes, RDS Dublin 2014

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Watching Buck in Dublin was a privilege. I am sure I have got some things wrong below, so please forgive me 🙂 If you want to discuss more, visit our Irish community on facebook. Buck worked with a good few showjumpers & some western riders over 5 days, for about 1.5-2 hours daily, so here is an overview of the exercises he mainly used during the visit.


For all of these exercises to work – or at least the ones involving the feet! – you have to direct the horse as the specific foot is just leaving the ground. Get it at the wrong time and you can trip a horse. One way to figure this out is to get someone to watch you. As you ride, shout ‘now’ when you think a specific foot is just leaving. Then get your human helper to shout ‘now’ at the correct time & see if its the same.


Walk a circle, you’re looking for softness through the body and the correct flexion. If you’re horse is looking out of the arena you are doing it wrong! Ask for a HQ yield so the horse is facing you, then a FQ yield so the horse is now back on the circle in the opposite direction. In HQ yield the back feet should cross over, one in front of the other. Going from halt to walk, Buck outstreched his arm to the side with slack still in the rope. If the horse didn’t move Buck did not pull. Instead he drove the horse using the stick & flag. Big lesson here – do not pull on the rope. To ask for a halt / HQ yield, it should be also with a flat open palm in the end result.


This is the second exercise Buck does. Soft feel, then he is looking for an untroubled backup. Do not pull your horses back.


Sit in saddle. Very gently pick up reins. If horse yields a fraction, release. Note – release = VERY loose reins! Make it obvious for the horse. If horse does not yield or leans, just hold gently, do not increase the pressure. Give the horse a little time to figure it out. After this gets better, pick up a soft feel and release when the horse begins to move backwards. Buck was also keen on rocking the horse back a step or two each time they got to halt.


Do very slow walks. Bucks slow walk was incredible. Literally the horse had 1 foot up in the air and was waiting for the instruction on where to put it! Then very slow trots. Then slow canter at pace of a walk. Buck reckoned if you really work on the slow walk, this is the foundation for a very collected canter. Sounds fab.


Do serpentines with the reins connected to the feet. Slow it down and you’ll have a foot in the air.


A teardrop is a long skinny figure of 8. (Apologies I’m not certain I got this next bit 100% correct)

1. Teardrop with loose/no reins, so your legs directing the mvt – in walk and trot
2. Teardrop with soft feel – just ask for 1 step first and build it up – in walk and trot
3. Teardrop with leg yield – in walk and trot
4. Add change of flexion half way through (ready for canter departs)
5. Lope to half way point of teardrop, back to trot, canter off again.
6. Canter all of it with flying changes.

This is a great exercise to fix shoulders that are falling in around bends.


Walk, trot, canter and gallop with a loose rein. You are only allowed to start to collect your horse AFTER you can do this!


Problems with right canter lead, do backups to the left a lot, head to left, hips to right.
Right lead problem = left back circle issue and hq to right and fq to left will also have problems.


In backup, the pair that’s longer is the canter lead. In walk & trot, the pair that stretch forward more are the lead. You can adjust these if you need to.


If canter to halt is bouncy, instead practise from trot to halt, sliding on each back leg. Thus you’ve got to know your footfall.


Do 2 steps of FQ yield with the front leg crossing behind, and then step #3 with the front leg crossing in front.


Backup in circles. To the right means the horses head is tipped to the right and the HQ go to the left.


If your horse is operating from trouble stress or self preservation, you’re horse won’t remember work from one day to the next. BUCK

Buck also referenced his dislike of gadgets, martingales, tiedowns, gimmicks, spurring horses a lot, etc. I won’t repeat this as I know the readers here are educated beyond that 🙂


Buck was riding a showjumper (young I think) he had borrowed. The change in that horse from day 1 (braced, jammed, green as) to day 5 (totally different horse, soft, comfortable, happy, doing magic stuff with Buck) was a masterclass in itself.


For me the most beautiful moment was on the last day. 3 riders came into the arena, but only 2 on horseback. The rider of the last horse was afraid to do this & so walked in with her horse, on foot. Buck spent the whole lesson with her horse. At the start he was terrified.. Buck began by asking him to walk in a circle quickly and yield both ends. Instead the horse reared up, shook his head like he was about to strike Buck, tried to run Buck over, Went backwards, was stiff as a plank and galloped about in a panic.

In about 5 minutes of Buck doing magical stuff you still had a lot of physical stiffness but you could already see the horses mind had changed.

In 10 minutes the whole body looked different and the pulling back and rearing had about gone.

In 15 minutes this horse was totally different – mentally this was a different horse, she looked comfortable and happy, with beautiful bend, a relaxed walk, yields in front & behind, and was now ignoring the huge tarp flapping on the grandstand – something that 10 mins previously had caused it to go from halt to canter in terror.

At one stage, Buck remarked that this is the hard part of his job. This horse knows now that she has a friend. And tomorrow, she will probably look for that friend. But Buck will be gone.

Buck did such a beautiful job, it was an honor to be present. As the horse was circling him beautifully in walk Buck said – ‘This horse can’t believe I’ve offering her such a nice deal’. She was a very sensitive horse he explained. I swear at that stage I had a tear in my eye.

It got even better…

Buck then asked the rider to sit up on the horse & be a passenger. Buck still had the lead rope. So the girl did. Buck asked the horse again to circle and do a HQ and then a FQ. The girl experienced this, and then Buck explained how she could ride like this… for the HQ, put her inside leg back a bit, and then to move the FQ, put her outside leg forward a bit.

And the next magic bit… Buck asked the girl to pick up a soft feel. So she gently picked up the reins and with a contact, but still with visible slack in the reins, Buck asked her just to wait as she was, until the horse softened. And he did – in just a second or two. Then she was asked to release properly. Not just a token release.

Plus – (as I think of it) never wallop your horses neck. Rub them instead.

Then they did the soft feel at halt a few more times. Magic. Then the BIG one… asking for a step of backup from an untroubled horse.

The girl picked up the reins gently. Buck asked her to stay like that until the horse went a fraction backwards. The first time there was a thought, and they gave a release. Very soon, and beautifully done, there was a 2-3 inch step backwards with the front foot. Buck said – ‘This 3 inch step might not look like much to a lot of you. But this was a 3 inch step backwards from an UNTROUBLED horse’.

Love love love. What a great clinic. Huge thanks to Fiona S & the Dublin Show for persuading Buck to come & show us how things should be done. Please come back next year Buck!

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