Co-interviewed with english journalist.
Text: Anneli Westlund
Why do people learn slower than horses?
-Well, many times people talk about how smart the horse is in comparison to a human or other things but I don’t really think like that. It is not that the horse can learn to calculate but horses are very, very sensitive to pressure, sensitive to other creatures, their posture and body language. They are a little more coherent in what is natural, nature, than people are. The more people get away from being with animals, the more we lose some of the instinctive side of us and I think that’s why a lot of people are drawn to horses to try and get it back.
What are the biggest problems between horse and rider?
-Put simply, it’s that people don’t understand where the horse comes from. Sometimes I feel almost like I’m the horse’s lawyer and that I’m mediation between man and horse. The horse has an interest in pleasing man and sometimes, probably one of the most common mistakes people make with horses is anthropomorphism.
Because of that, they don’t even look at the horse properly, and it’s common for people to add human qualities to horses and thank God they’re not that way. Horses don’t feel greed, jealousy and hatred. They don’t possess those qualities and maybe that’s why people are so attracted to horses. Because there is such purity in them and very few people possess the same qualities.
Yesterday you mentioned hands without legs and legs without hands and it came up again today. Where does it come from?
It’s not a new concept. Someone asked me a while ago about old riding masters. She asked me a question in a snobby way, I think probably because I was dressed like a cowboy. She said: Do you really know anything about classic riding? Have you read anything? And I said: Not much more than Baucher, Oliviera, Beaudant, Podhajski… other than that, not really. Then she said, “Oh… wow. “Well, what, just because I’m wearing a cowboy hat, I don’t have to be ignorant.”
And then she apologized. I’m still studying as much experience as I have. I don’t have my great teachers now that Ray and Tom are gone, but I’m still studying but I never leave the focus on what Ray and Tom were after. I will never walk away from the direction they started in me when I was a child, but I’m still trying to learn.
It is not that the horse can learn to calculate but horses are very, very sensitive to pressure, sensitive to other creatures, their posture and body language.They are a little more coherent in what is natural, nature, than people are. The more people get away from being with animals, the more we lose some of the instinctive side of us and I think that’s why a lot of people are drawn to horses to try and get it back.
From where Bill and Tom picked it up?
-Parts of it yes, but it was a book by Jean-Claude Resonay that translated some of Baucher’s work and there were some things that Baucher wrote in there that were true about horses – and I asked Tom if he ever read it, but he didn’t. But I had heard it the same way from Tom.
I thought it was horrific what a great equestrian champion a couple of hundred years ago found to be true about horses and that is still true a few hundred years later but discovered by another genius with horses. It was reassuring in a way.
Do you always practice that principle, hands without legs, legs without hands?
-Absolutely, because you do it to share the aid. If you do the simplest things with half the help, then when it comes to something complicated and you need all the help, they work optimally and that’s the idea. Nuno Oliviera talked about riding a horse in classic form on a loose rein is like tasting the most finely tuned of riding in itself. And yet we see how some people practice dressage that is aggressive, harsh and restrictive and it’s not something I’m after and not what Oliviera was looking for either.
When you showed how to move the hindquarter of the horse, lead the front leg over, outer in front and the inner hind, it looked like there was no separation between hand and legs but that both things happened at the same time.
-Yes sometimes everything happens at the same time and I want to be able to make it work as well. That’s what makes you absolutely thorough to control the horse with either your hands or the legs, or both at the same time.
For so many times, people ride with too much emphasis on their arms and hands and do not assiduc the rest of their body to communicate with the horse. The ladles may not be more than a accelerator for many riders and the horse cannot be easy on the hand if the legs are not relevant to the horse to be able to guide him.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance?
– I don’t think I can take it down to one thing. As Ray once said: ” It’s a damn shame it takes a lifetime to learn how to live a lifetime”. Because it’s a great thing you know, a knowledge throughout your life. You can’t just take a part, but everything should fit together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand parts and all those pieces of the puzzle have a special place where they should fit and in the way that many work with horses, it is the puzzle “a tree growing up through a canoe”.
All the pieces are important, but only in the right place. Good riding, nice riding is very complicated and I treat riding as it should be, a nice art. Many people don’t necessarily think of riding as an art, and it’s certainly not an art the way many riders do it, but once done, it’s an art, as legitimate as writing poetry or being a sculptor or painting with oil. It’s as much art as that, if not more!
How do you find the line between being assertive and being tough?
-Being strict and hard has negative feelings behind it. Being firm and assertive has an assurance, certainty in what you do and what you’re looking for, and what you know you’re going to get. Ray used to say there’s a difference in being assertive and being tough.
When you’re hard, you have a lack of feelings for the horse. You may have to be determined to be effective, but the feelings towards the horse are no different. Compassion for the horse does not change, whether you are firm or light.
The general opinion is, of course, about the degree of coercion to be used. How do you see it?
-It’s the caveman’s way of looking at things, and believe me, there are a lot of ignorant predators out there.
Do you think there are people today who ride like an art? Are they today’s artists?
There are a lot of younger people out there who are really interested in this and doing well, and I like the direction they’re heading towards, but we’re going to see, not everyone’s going to spend their lifetime doing it.
200 years ago, there were geniuses in horses. Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt may, in my opinion, be the only guys in the last hundred years who have this ability and knowledge. Still, there are many places in the world that I haven’t been to, so there’s probably some other Tom Dorrance somewhere. Maybe we’ll never hear about him, maybe we’ll never know him.
Did they understand their influence?
-were very humble men and I don’t think they thought about it, it would just feel narcissistic to them, I don’t think they ever spent that much time imagining how big they were.
–Did you see Bill Dorrance? Because you don’t hear about Bill as much.
– Oh, yes, yes. I knew Bill for many years. A big horseman. Ray Hunt, like Tom Dorrance, made famous, although Tom Dorrance made Ray Hunt Ray Hunt. No one had heard of Tom Dorrance until Ray Hunt began bringing this knowledge to the world and recognized him as his teacher. So Tom became more well known, but where I lived west, everyone knew who Bill was too. A great horse man and leather craftsman.
What do you think talent is?
- Ray thought a horseman was born to it, and I thought horsemen were made into it. I guess we were both right. Maybe horsemen are born to it but without working hard and harder than everyone else, they will never discover that ability. Ray was a hard worker, but he was a genius. He had amazing timing and feeling.
Tom used to say of Ray like this: ” When I developed these techniques to work with horses, I worked with Ray and taught him, and I asked Ray to do the impossible, and then he could do it.” and he said, “Then I had to rethink what I would ask others to do, to know that Ray could do it, so probably no one else could do it.” , because he could do things I didn’t think he could do.”
Tom and Ray were a perfect match, that they met and now Ray’s method of working with young horses is known all over the world. And I don’t think Ray had any idea it was that big.
What do you think about horses having talent and therearehorsesthatdon’t? Because you always hear people say they have a talented horse.
-Most riders in clinics have horses that they love but it may not be the most talented horse, but they are interested in making the horse as good as they can. And if you just sit and wait for a talented horse, you may not have enough money or time to find him.
Ray suggested that you might not be able to make a champion out of a mediocre horse, but you can go a long way. It was Ray’s way of encouraging people who wanted to get their horse to do the best he could. It was Ray’s way of saying not to get snobby on a distinctive horse because you might ruin it anyway, and the rider of the mediocre horse will be better than you.
Do you think there is a balance between the physical performance that we ask for at a high level and the mental stability of the horse? Can we really motivate them and have a good sense afterwards of what we are asking from them?
– I’m not going to do it. Undoubtedly. Is that likely? No. By that I mean people’s limitations, but if there are no limitations on human ability… Can you ride a high-level horse athletically and have it right mentally? Of course you can.
Buck Brannaman & Anneli Westlund
Buck travels throughout the United States and holds clinics nine months a year and he has written several books and produced horsemanship videos.
With his skills both with a rope and in the saddle, he teaches safe and effective horsemanship to riders of all levels. His goal with his clinics is to try to get people to understand as much about their horses as he can.