To ask what it was like to have the opportunity to bring Tiva to her first off-site clinic – and a Buck Brannaman clinic at that – the simplest answer I could give you is that it was great.
Sometimes, language fails.

Tiva was as at home in the strange corral of Ellensburg’s rodeo arena as she was in her paddock back at SAFE. Glancing over at any given moment saw her standing comfortably, napping in the sunshine, or moving off the pressure of Esme’s ask (these two roommates at home also shared a pen during clinic).

This was both of our first Buck clinic, and though I had been to audit in the past, setting foot in that rodeo ground with a horse in hand is a very different experience than observing from the stands. But any nerves I might have had were squelched when we stepped out onto the sands of the arena, and Tiva felt just as with me as she does back at SAFE.

It was a glimmer of what Buck talked about in that same class. He and his horse — Beef — stood before one another, both of them relaxed and perfectly at ease in front of the crowd. Well, I can’t speak to Buck’s internal landscape, but I can say for a fact that his horse looked about as content and mellow as I’ve ever seen one. Buck had been on the road since January, but spoke about how that fact made no difference to his horse, for Beef’s home was not tied to a physical address, but rather the peace he received from Buck.

It was this same sort of peace I hoped to instill in Tiva, and for the most part I felt successful. There were a very few moments of uncertainty when the environment became something that drew her focus away from me, but I was able to bring her back quickly, and once we worked through it, it was over.

It was a tremendous three days of learning, working to adjust myself in the effort to better communicate with Tiva. I worked a lot on my timing, attempting to make our groundwork more of a dance. I admit, I am not always the most talented of dance partners, but in making a concerted effort to time up my feet with Tiva’s, it did feel as though we were able to establish more of a flow. I was also working her in the snaffle, a change from the halter, and therefore had to be even more conscious of my releases in order not to hang on her mouth.

Watching the intentionality with which Buck worked his own horse made me really slow down and think about my own movements and asks. He really is a master at his craft, and it was inspiring to watch how little he does to get the result he asked for.

Horsemanship is a practice that has no true end, and one in which the progress is not always linear. I do believe that the lessons we learned and the experiences we shared at Buck made Tiva and I better, individually and as a pair. But what I am most proud of is how tremendously well this Yakima mare did in the face of it all — trailering, traveling, foreign environments, sights, sounds. She took it all in stride. On the last day as we loaded up, one of the gusts of wind that Ellensburg is famous for came and slammed the door of the trailer behind her as she was standing waiting to be tied. I think I jumped more than she did, which is a true testament to how much this horsemanship has worked for her. Even a few weeks ago, such a startle would have sent her skittering backwards, but at this sudden disturbance she hardly blinked.

I am so very grateful for the tutelage of Joel Conner and my horsemanship volunteer peers at SAFE, who helped make the clinic feel wholly accessible. Though there were some new exercises — and as always a feeling of needing to hone my skills — nothing we did felt out of my depth because of my existing knowledge. Buck does break it down into bite-sized pieces to make it digestible, but I am so grateful to have had so much time to practice at SAFE with people who can lend me guidance when I am feeling stuck. Both my and Tiva’s experience at Buck was all the better for it, and I am so thankful, as always, to have the opportunity to work with this very special mare.