Brannaman a Natural at Rose Bowl

By March 2, 2012
Buck Brannaman instructs a young student and her horse at his clinic.

Brannaman and Rose Bowl rider Katie Kelman. (Photo by Caroline Craven)

The Buck Brannaman Clinic at the Rose Bowl Riders in Pasadena was the event of the season, drawing stars from all walks of the animal-lovers kingdom ―from Olympic gold medalist Will Simpson to ‘Dog Whisperer’ Cesar Millan―to the four-day event, Feb. 17-20.

Brannaman offered two basic classes per day, “Foundation Horsemanship” and “Horsemanship I,” selling out the 200 student slots and amassing more than 1,000 auditors over the course of the event.

“I learned more in four days than I have in 20 years,” said Simpson, who commuted daily from the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, CA, where his Hidden Hills-based Simpson Show Jumping set up camp for six weeks, competing in grand prix and coaching students in the West Coast’s largest hunter-jumper show.

“Buck has three- to four-generations of great horsemanship in his brain, and the real good stuff. It was a luxury for me to be able to ride with him, and a privilege. The fact that he is willing to crisscross the country to help so many riders is really great,” Simpson added.

Brannaman thinks like a horse.  His instinctive behavior, born and worked into him, is refreshing to see.  Not since the likes of Ray Hunt, Jimmy Williams, Clyde Kennedy and Don Dodge, to name just a few, have horse people found such basic, logical horsemanship that works magic because it is all about communicating in a language that both horse and rider can understand.

Creating a very laid-back environment with his simple, almost surfer-type way of looking at life, Brannaman spoke candidly, his style a combination of wit and wisdom. He had a calming effect on horses and people thus encouraging the ability to absorb what was being said and taught. As the session progressed it was apparent that the riders listening became more relaxed and cooperative.

“Let the horse train you,” Brannaman instructed at one of the afternoon sessions. “Let him teach you to slow down.” The remark was about communication between horse and rider as to when and how one moves forward or slows down, and by whose choice.

Talking through his thought processes as to why he asks his horse to do certain things, Brannaman elucidated the horse’s reactions, creating an easy to follow audio/visual presentation for riders and auditors.

Will Simpson in an English jumping saddle astride his chestnut mare.

Show jumper Will Simpson on Acorina, a grand prix mount. (Photo by Caroline Craven)

“Buck looks like a cowboy, and for decades that’s been a bad word on the English circuit, but the horsemanship he teaches is useful for any kind of riding, including high level dressage and jumpers,” Simpson said, adding that he wished he had time to attend the morning as well as afternoon sessions. Simpson participated on two horses on behalf of client Monarch International, mainly focusing on a student’s horse.

On the last day, he rode Acorina, a 10-year-old mare he thinks might be an Olympic hopeful.  While he rode Acorina, Brannaman’s assistant, Isaac, continued to work the other mount.

“Life changing for me and the horse,” participant Jean Schanburger, a Burbank rider, said about the clinic. Guests received a surprise on day four when Cesar Millan showed up.  Casually chatting with Brannaman outside his bus, the two trainers wound up addressing the crowd in a freewheeling open forum.  The only thing missing was the campfire!

A summary of Brannaman’s philosophy would sound like the following: Animals are basic, logical creatures that want to respond in the correct way if given the opportunity ― something their humans often get in the way of. Their personalities are counter to the emotion-driven energy that so often drives their owners. Animals (like children) don’t start out with baggage.

The morning’s “Foundation Horsemanship” class focused on groundwork, using flags and halters. After lunch, clinicians trickled into the arena and warmed up their mounts as focus moved to under saddle for “Horsemanship I.”

Brannaman’s style is to promote the rider’s ability to relax in the saddle. His technique: ask the horse to walk on a nice long rein. “Go forward straight and tall,” he urged. “Walk, trot and lope on a loose rein. You don’t need to worry about collection. You have nothing to collect.” Offer your horse a loose rein and if he says, “Nope, I’m going to lope!,” then shut him down with the one rein stop, as practiced, and start the exercise over again.

Buck Brannaman, Cesar Milan and a dog sit outside Brannaman's tour bus.

Horse Whisperer meets Dog Whisperer: Brannaman (left) with Cesar Milan. (Photo by Caroline Craven)

One rider mentioned her nerves. “I don’t want to make a fool of myself or look bad!”  Well, who would want to?

And when one is in front of a genius like Brannaman, the natural feeling is to get nervous. But this wasn’t about judgment. It was about learning a new language ― one able to communicate more efficiently than the one previously used. By introducing the horse and rider to this new language one also learns a new way of looking at life. Can it be done in four days? It seems so, as the Brannaman following grows with every introduction.

For more information about Brannaman and his clinics for 2012 please visit For more information about Caroline Craven and to view her photography portfolio, visit

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