When I was in my twenties, living in Las Vegas, my "thing" was dance. I know what you're thinking, something along the lines of very scanty clothing and big feathers on my head, but no, it was more like Ballet and Jazz, and it was what kept me sort of sane in a crazy place and time. Often, in class, at the start of a new routine, I would feel like I had two left feet. Later it would all came together.
This is how I felt the first day in Dayton, Washington, at Buck Brannamans' Horsemanship I class. I felt like a total rookie, but not for long.
Martina had decided to join me in this little adventure and arrived the night before with Zip's Amerigold. The first day was hot, not a breeze anywhere in the county. We'd watched the colt starting session in the morning, and now we were in the arena, thirty of us, in a wide circle listening to Buck, telling tales of Ray Hunt and how important it is to control your horses' feet. "If you can't control your horses feet, you have no control over your horse."
We worked on controlling those back feet initially, then on to the front feet. Easier said than done, when you're trying to do it perfectly and balanced. I'd started the day with a small headache, that combined with the fact that I forgot to eat breakfast and didn't have enough to drink in the 98 degree heat, and all those little circles in the arena with twenty nine other riders and soon it was time for me to take a time out. I'd lasted about two and a half hours, but I was as limp as a wet coffee filter.
Day two was much better. We arrived after a good breakfast, armed with fruit, cheese and crackers, plenty of cold bottles of poweraide. I wrapped a wet bandana around my neck to help stay cool. Before the afternoon class began, Martina and I rode out onto the race track, practicing the intricate moves from the day before. Prestigious V seemed to say "Thank God you're getting this, because I had it all figured out yesterday!" He'd paid close attention to everything Buck had to say and it all made perfect sense to him.
For the rest of the afternoon we worked on collection, rounding the horses back, getting his rump underneath himself, and returning now and again to the pivots on the front and hind or crossing over with the outside leg. It was a good day.
Each day, and the start of each session, Buck comes out on the horse he's riding, and does a little warm up. The stands are totally silent as we watch, mesmerized by this masterful horseman working his horses. All of his horses have a look about them, it's as if they are so honored to be HIS horse, so respectful and relaxed. Watching them on Sunday I was overcome with how much I miss riding with Sheila. Her horses had that same attitude and it was a pure joy to watch her spend time with them. A silent tear rolled down my cheek. Then he went on to the colt starting. By day three the participants and their little colts were loping around the arena, some were more relaxed than others, it was serious fun watching them figure it all out.
Then it was our turn. Again, Martina and I rode our horses out onto the racetrack before the session started. Both horses were a little bit zippy, most likely because they'd been in that tiny stall and then standing still or walking tiny steps in the clinic for a few days, but we warmed up a little bit, then wandered back to the arena. The other participants started coming in little by little. I could feel Prestigious a little tight at the energy of the other horses. We walked about, trotted, and then I kissed him into a lope. Whoops! He surprised me with a few little bucks. They weren't big bucks, just a little easy rolling buck. Thank GOD I didn't hit the dirt! Once that was over, he seemed a little embarrassed at what he'd done and for the rest of the day he was pretty much perfect. That day we worked on correct leads, transitions, backing up, all on a loose rein. By the end of the day, Buck would say "slow walk" "fast walk" "turn on your back end to the right" "back up" "trot"... and so on.
When the day was over, we circled Buck one more time so he could give us our farewell talk. He's a good man, that Buck. He is a true friend of the horse to do what he does day after day. As we walked back to the trailer to unsaddle and go home, I realized that what we'd been doing in that arena that afternoon, was very much like my old dance lessons. It was a dance routine and Buck was the caller. Sheila always said that riding your horse was like a dance, and with this clinic I really got to see what she was talking about.
I'm sure that Prestigious appreciated my dance lessons, as will any other horse I'm priveledged enough to ride.