Have you ever had an adventure that you will never forget? I've just returned from such an incredible adventure. I'm still pinching myself, yes, this really happened to me, it wasn't a dream! It was very real!
The Start of the Journey
It all started out quite innocently, when I wanted to see "Buck" the movie, which was just released, but heard that the movie wasn't going to come to Canada's theatres. I had seen the movie trailer on http://www.buckthefilm.com/ and knew that I needed to not only see the movie, but eventually I would want to meet this horse whisperer. The reason the movie spoke to me was that it's about Buck's life and his work as a horse trainer. He had a very abusive father as a child and while the deck wasn't exactly stacked in his favor, horses helped him heal. What Buck teaches riders about training horses also applies to other areas of their lives. Quoting from the film's website:“Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.” says Buck Brannaman, who travels the country helping horses with people problems. (Buck's statement transfers to my work as a riding instructor, Equine Facilitated Counselling and horse training, and that's why I felt compelled to meet him).
A little Research
I looked on the Internet and found Buck Brannaman's website http://brannaman.com/. I found out that he was holding a 4-day clinic in Montana on the weekend of Aug 5-8. There was also some interesting info at http://bettystaley.com/StaleyHomestead.html. I contacted the clinic sponsoring ranch owner, Betty Staley through her blog http://bettystaley.com/blog/ and found out that yes, I could come to audit, and not only that, they were holding a private movie screening in Buck's hometown with Buck and the movie director present. And there was a ticket available, but as you can imagine tickets were going fast. I pretty much packed up my car right there and then and left my home in Kelowna, BC, to drive to Sheridan, MT. It wasn't really close, but I knew I could do it in a couple of days.
After driving 9 hours to Missoula the first day, then 3 more hours to Sheridan the next day, I arrived at the Staley Ranch, Thu Aug 4th. I was greeted warmly by Betty Staley herself. The ranch itself is amazing, with Texas Longhorn cattle and horses and all. The vistas of the valley and mountains were expansive and breathtaking. I was shown were I could park my car and I found a beautiful, private spot amongst the sagebrush and juniper bushes. This is where I would sleep for the next 4 nights, in my car.
After my car was set up, I walked the grounds and met many of the clinic participants and their horses. Everyone was so nice. I tried to take pictures with my brand-new camera which I had just purchased the day before the trip. And then the bad realization hit, the camera was not working! I saw a lady walking around with a nicer, bigger camera, whom I approached and asked if she might be able to take a look at my camera. This was Nancy from Colorado, and it turned out that she is a long time friend of Buck and his family. My camera on the other hand, was not my friend. It was indeed faulty. Nancy was so kind and lent me her spare camera, so I could use my memory card and was happily able to take pictures after all.
I met Buck the next day as he started the clinic. There were many participants on horses in the arena. He talked about interesting concepts such as "soft feel with your hands", "balance of the horse", "repetition and work ethic" when training the horse. He talked about how to gain "control of the horse's feet", the importance of "doing less sooner, not more later" and "developing awareness of what the horse is doing". Buck also said, "Never just get by - that's like being dead, but you just don't know it yet" - he was talking about riding a horse, but I thought, wow, how fitting is that as a metaphor for life?! I also liked his explanation of "Contact when riding the horse was never meant to be a full, physical holding of the horse. Contact is more of a spiritual connection; a mental place of connecting with human and horse". Wow! I loved that.
The mornings of the clinic were about horsemanship, and the afternoons were action-packed with cow work, roping, and cutting cows. The cows with their long horns were intimidating and impressive, but Buck seemed to have no fear as he roped them in his demonstration. Buck often referred to Ray Hunt, whom he trained with for a long time. Ray Hunt was "the master of communication" and it seems his legacy lives on through Buck. More info on Ray at this website: http://www.rayhunt.com/ The first two days of the clinic went by very fast.
The Movie Screening
On the second day, Saturday evening was the movie screening held in Virginia City, a small, quaint historical town just a few miles up the road. I caught a ride with a nice couple who were also headed that way, and quite by accident ended up at a private dinner held for the movie cast/participants, friends and family of Buck! I was welcomed to stay at this special event and to be there with everyone was quite amazing. We all drove to the movie screening later, held at the Elk's Hall, next to the court house. This same court house had significance to Buck as I later learned. The hall was packed full. The tickets had sold out, and I couldn't believe my luck as I held one in my hand. And then, the movie, which started my impromptu adventure finally started. I enjoyed it tremendously. I laughed, I cried, I was on the edge of my seat. Every minute of it was breathtaking, from the scenery shots to the action shots, including the unfolding story of Buck's troubled childhood to his current life. After the movie, Buck, his wife and daughter, movie director Cindy Meehl and the editor, stood up and said a few words. Buck got emotional as he thanked all his friends, family, his foster mom, and the sheriff who saved him and his brother from the abusive father, on the steps of the aforementioned court house. I, unbeknown-st to me, had just witnessed history in its own birthplace. What an amazing synchronicity to be right there.
I temporarily overcame my shyness and nervously stood up to express what an honor it was to be present at this event. And, I asked about the movie coming to Canada? Cindy Meehl, the movie director said that unfortunately, it's true that it won't be, and later we chatted privately about the reasons why. Apparently, the movie rights were not picked up by a Canadian distributor. However, I mentioned to Cindy that I will research getting the movie to Kelowna. She gave me her business card. That night was so magical. It was hard going to sleep after feeling this "high on life" and I definitely felt alive, filled with inspiration and blessed with good fortune!
Methaphors and Lessons
Sunday I continued watching the clinic with a spectacular event of the bull jumping the fence right in front of me! He was supposed to stay in a separate pen but he decided he wanted to get back to his cows. As the day went on, I admired all the riders' roping skills and Buck's never-wavering ability to explain, teach, and demonstrate what seemed to be super-human, superb riding and roping skills. It was wonderful to see a live demo of how much "dressage" and "cow work" have in common. Being able to apply dressage moves as the horse works a cow, having complete control over your horse's feet and continue to have a soft feel, would blow any dressage rider's mind. All that dressage simply means is "training" the horse anyway. This was clearly demonstrated by the agility, skill, and teamwork of the horses. I enjoyed watching Betty Staley on her horse, as she was the only rider with a dressage saddle and a bosal, doing the most beautiful moves as she herded cattle! (Betty also loves Tennessee Walking Horses, and she has competed in dressage tests with her Walkers! She is a great role model for me. For the Tennessee Walking horse lovers, I will be writing more about this in another blog entry. Take a look at Betty's horses here http://bettystaley.com/horsecatalog.html)
Finishing my Journey
On Monday morning my adventure sadly had to come to its close. The ice in my cooler had melted, all my food was eaten, and my back was starting to tell me that I needed to exchange sleeping in my car with sleeping in a soft bed again. I said good-bye to my many new friends, thanking Betty and Craig for their hospitality, and Nancy for lending me her camera. I wished I could have stayed to watch another week or month. Now my challenge was to get home and I knew my own horses needed some attention too! It was a long 13-hour drive home, which unbelievably, I completed all in one day. It's amazing what one can do and accomplish when you're determined to get something done... oh, was that one of Buck's metaphors? 😉
Insights from my Horse Journey
When I look back, it sometimes seems incredible the journey horses have led me to. This journey proves that once again, follow the horse, and you will be surprised where you find yourself. I bet it's not always where you thought you'd be, but it's often where you need to be right now.
Enjoy your Horse Journey,