On most college and university campuses nation-wide, when first-year students want to travel home on a weekend, the explanation is usually homesickness. Not so for Albion first-year Emily Love when she traveled home to Petoskey, Michigan over the weekend of September 17 and 18. She was presented with the opportunity to ride in a clinic with famous horse whisperer Buck Brannaman and had no intention of missing it!
“It was an experience I will never forget,” Love said when it was over.
While her own horse Ordained remained at the Albion College Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center for the weekend, Love borrowed Tamarisk, a 24 year old Trakhener mare belonging to a friend for the clinic, which was held at the Bay Harbor Equestrian Club in Harbor Springs, Michigan. The theme of the clinic was general horsemanship skills both on the ground and in the saddle – which on Saturday meant that Love and the other clinic participants first worked with their horses in an unmounted session, desensitizing them to ropes and flags and getting the horses to move away from the slightest pressure of the handler.
Brannaman consistently stressed to his students that their horses needed to fully understand what was being asked of them at all times. Love reported that he led by example with his own horse, a young gray mare with only a total of 25 rides on her prior to her arrival in Michigan.
“You wouldn’t guess that if you had seen the way she behaved,” Love said. “She watched Buck every time he moved a hand, leg, and head or even slightly turned his body.”
Brannaman and the clinics he gives nation-wide are currently riding a wave of popularity following the Sundance Film Festival premiere of the documentary of his life and work entitled Buck. After enduring an abusive upbringing at the hands of his father, who forced Buck and his brother to perform on the rodeo circuit as pint-sized trick ropers, Brannaman was put into foster care in high school and eventually found his way to master horseman Ray Hunt, who became his mentor. With Hunt’s help, he learned how to communicate with horses in a way that instills trust instead of fear. As his reputation as a horseman grew, he later became the inspiration for the main character in Nicholas Evans' novel The Horse Whisperer and was Robert Redford's technical advisor during the making of the film of the same name.
Today, Brannaman spends 40 weeks per year on the road teaching horsemanship clinics like the one at Bay Harbor, which is an annual event. Love said that he also treated the assembled audience to a few rope tricks, though he didn’t perform for too long, telling everyone, “I better stop soon before I mess up - I’m a little rusty.”
By the time she returned to campus following the clinic, Love reported that she had acquired several new horse handling skills and a different approach to communicating with not only her own horse, but with horses in general.
What's more, she is also a newly-minted Buck Brannaman fan.
“I will definitely try to ride with him again!” she said.
For more pictures and a Love’s first-person account, visit the Albion College Equestrian student blog at http://acequestrian.wordpress.com/.