There can only be a limited number of riders in a Buck Brannaman clinic, but thousands will audit his classes. Here’s how to get the most from watching one of the nation’s premier horsemen.

Written by Mary Beth Jackson, and appeared in our Sept./Oct. 2016 issue

Buck Brannaman visits the east coast every other year. Virginia is not one of his stops, but Virginia equestrians can catch him in Walkertown, N.C. or Lewisburg, West Va.

Each clinic’s classes have reached capacity for participant riders, but organizers say you don’t have to spend $700 and bring a trailer to learn something valuable from the events.   

Gary Ford has been sponsoring the Lewisburg clinic for more than 20 years. He is frustrated by people who will call about rider spots, then decline to audit if the classes are full. He perceives these folks to be more interested in saying they’ve ridden with Brannaman than what the horseman has to say. Ford says there’s a lot to gain from the auditing experience if you’re willing to simply be present.

“Come at least three days,” he says. “You can get a lot out of a one-day deal, but you can’t see the changes.” It’s easier for those newer to horses, too, he said. “You don’t have to have 10 years of experience to see change,” he said.

Ford says the clinic is a study in contrasts. The morning foundation class, which is mostly young horses, will often gain ground on the progress of the more advanced afternoon horsemanship class, which may be bringing some hang-ups.

“They’re not carrying as much baggage,” he says of the young horses. What happens in the morning influences the afternoon, and what happens on Friday has an effect on Monday. The bulk of the riding is on the first three days, while more wisdom is imparted on the final day.


Photos by Nicole Poyo of Nicole Poyo Photography in Abingdon, Va.

“Mondays always turn into a lot of talking,” he says. However, Ford says, don’t expect Branneman to be all tell and no show. One of Brannaman’s strengths is in showing how it’s done.

“He demonstrates an awful lot,” Ford says.

Susan Hopkins, who hosts the Walkertown clinic at Sullivan Farm, says what you get out of the clinics will depend upon the attitude you bring. “Watch and pay attention and ask questions,” she says, noting Buck occasionally takes questions from auditors. “Don’t talk.” In short, be a student.  “Don’t watch like a spectator,” she says. “Watch like you’re going to do it yourself.”

A secret to getting more out of the experience, say Hopkins and Ford, is to arrive before the classes and watch Brannaman work his own horses.

“Come early and stay late,” Ford encourages. “There’s a lot going on.”

CLINICS – When and where

Sept. 30 – Oct. 3, 2016

9 a.m. Colt Starting, 1:30 p.m. Horsemanship I

Sullivan Farm – 5604 Sullivantown Road, Walkertown, N.C.

Setting: Riding arena is covered but spectators will be in the open. Bring chairs and dress for the weather. Concessions available on-site during the clinic. Auditing fee: $30 per day.

Oct. 7-10, 2016

9 a.m. Foundation Horsemanship, 1:30 p.m. Horsemanship I

State Fair of West Virginia – 891 Maplewood Ave., Fairlea, West Va.

Setting: Outdoor arena with unlimited stadium seating and on-site food concessions. Auditing fee: $30 per day

More details about the classes are at Click on Clinics Schedule.

Five questions with Buck Brannaman

The renowned horseman and subject of the 2011 biopic “Buck” answers a few questions for Horse Talk ahead of his upcoming clinics.   

Q. Most of us will be auditing rather than participating as riders. How can we get the most out of the experience?

A. “Everyone who comes to my clinics are participants so those who are not riding should feel free to ask questions – just like the riders. Of course I recommend riding in the clinics as it can have such direct results for both you and your horse.

Most of all don’t be afraid to ask – a fellow told me once that the only bad question is the one that isn’t asked.”

Q. What is the mistake you see people making most often with their horses?

A. “There is no single mistake, there are many. One is having a lack of patience. Your horse is learning all the time when he is with you – so be sensitive to that. Another one would be to remember you are responsible for your horse – take care of his mind as much as you take care of his being.”

Q. What is the one thing you hope people will take from the clinic if nothing else?

A. “Riding is a relationship and relationships only work when it’s good for both parties in it. Given that, it’s also a dance and someone has to lead – and that’s you. But be aware of your partner, they are in it with you.”

Q. What is something we can do at home to improve our partnerships with our horses?

A.  “Be with your horse more. Even if you don’t have time to ride, just be around him, rub on him, work him on the ground in the halter. Daily exposure or as much as you can will help an amazing amount. It’s a relationship and it has to be worked on all the time. That means being present with your horse and focusing on him. With a horse, absence does NOT make his heart grow fonder – they are with you in the moment.”

Q. The legendary rider and trainer George Morris lamented in a December column for The Chronicle of the Horse that “the future of horsemanship is in such jeopardy” and that “The knowledge is going away — people buying made horses and medication and tricks and bits.” How do you feel about the future of American horsemanship?

A.  “I use my horses in ranch work and the majority of the people who come to my clinics – and who I work with, many of them, do the same. There are no short cuts in that work or in becoming a better horseman, one must do the work and prepare the horse – it is a disservice to the horse if we don’t. I stress the same in my clinics. Again, there is no short cut, there are no tricks – to get better at riding, one must ride with the desire to get better and that means learning all the time and helping your horse. It’s a lifelong endeavor, one I am committed to pursuing. If one wishes to help keep fine horsemanship alive one must start with themselves and their own horse.”