Buck Clinic - Really disappointed

I wanted to share my thoughts on a Buck Branamann clinic I attended, to hopefully save some other people from the same disappointment and waste of money.

I’ve never really been into “natural horsemanship” but I think there are some fundamentals that can help no matter what discipline you’re in. I saw the documentary, “Buck”, and really liked some of what I saw, so I signed up for a 3 day clinic nearby.

Day 1 - Buck comes in the arena without saying a word and starts working a horse for 30-45 minutes without explaining anything. We are all watching, and I’m seeing some of his corrections, the “good deal, bad deal” or “plan A, plan B” that you see in the documentary. Ok, fine. Then he stops and says, “Any questions?” For a really green rider, what they just watched wouldn’t mean much. You had to know a lot to see what he was doing. So there’s almost an hour of time that isn’t used in the most efficient way. Next we moved on to walking circles for two hours. Yes, there were things he told us to work on, but with 35 people in the clinic, there was barely any personal instruction.

Day 2 - Same thing at the beginning. Buck comes in and works a horse again without saying anything. “Any questions?” So we stand around for another 30 minutes with people asking questions, then it’s back to circles for another 2 hours, again with barely any instruction. We trotted for 10 minutes at the end working on “soft feel”. Basically get your horse to collect/frame up/round his back (whatever you want to call it) for a few steps, then release. My horse is broke to death. That’s not hard, but the more advanced riders weren’t given another task to do, so day 2 was another waste.

Day 3 - Same freaking thing again with Buck working the same horse from day 1. Today we only spent an hour on walking circles, then moved on to trotting with the soft feel, and finally trotting, leg yield to the rail, then pick up a canter. That was it.

Did I pick up a few nuggets of info? Sure. Was it worth the $750 I paid? Absolutely not.

Besides that, I found him to be downright offensive at times. He was trash talking people who had attended the clinic the week prior, putting down other disciplines (anyone who shows a horse is basically an idiot because all of the maneuvers are overdone for the judges). He barely had a complementary word to say about anyone or anything except Ray Hunt and riding on a working ranch.

Most of the people there were women who were genuinely afraid of their horses, afraid to trot or canter their horse, genuinely fearful. They’re not working on a dang ranch!! The reason he does so much stuff at the walk is because it gives these women something to do where they can feel like they’re successful with their horse without actually having to ride.

He talks about all this foot control and body control. That’s all well and good, but when you’re working cattle, you don’t have time to place each foot. You need your horse to sidepass 10 feet to the left, it just needs to go. I don’t care which foot moves first as long as all 4 feet get there in a timely manner.

I’m sure some Buck devotes will get on here and tell me I’m a POS and an idiot because I don’t “get it”. Fine. Then I don’t get it. I had a super nice, broke horse that I took to a clinic and instead of learning anything, he was putting people and other disciplines down. I don’t need to pay good money to listen to an insecure person try to prove their worth.

If you really are considering riding in a clinic, please go audit one first. I think you’ll find the reality to be very disappointing.

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I am a proponent of good horsemanship no matter what your discipline! I’ve attended many NH, reining and dressage clinics over the decades. Some by well known Americans as well as Europeans.

I liked the Buck documentary, read his books and have watched many videos of his clinics on YouTube. My feeling is Buck has become cynical and disheartened by all the “bad” he’s seen over the years. Maybe like a cop who’s seen mostly the bad side of society. It’s hard to be upbeat and cheerful when you’re constantly asked to help abused horses or teach people who don’t have a clue that they’re causing their horse’s problems.

I know Buck is a supremely skilled horseman, but maybe he should back off his teaching schedule if it no longer brings him joy. I would hope that his decades of teaching have earned him enough that he doesn’t have to work so much? I’d be burned out.

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Wow, that sounds very frustrating.

Is there any chance that there was microphone issues at the beginning when he was riding and not talking at all? It just seems weird that they would just ride like you were all not there.

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Lusoluv, I completely agree with you. Good horsemanship applies to all disciplines. That’s why I had an open mind about it. And you’re absolutely right, he is a fantastic horseman. No question or doubt about that. I was just really disappointed in the clinic because his teaching, IMO, fell short of expectations - for whatever the reason.

I do think you’re right about him possibly being burned out, and maybe the crowd that started attending clinics after he became more “main stream” kind of ruined it for him. Who knows.

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Trubandloki, I kind of thought the same thing, but nope. He wasn’t saying a word. Just working his horse. He turned on the mic after and asked “Any questions?”.

I understand there’s a lot that can be learned from watching a great horseman ride. I think that’s what he was trying to do? Like in the documentary where he talked about watching Ray Hunt ride when he was first starting in all this. To a green rider (which this was geared toward), it seems like it might have been a waste because they wouldn’t know what they were seeing without him explaining it. If he talked his way through the ride, I think there would have been a ton more value. When you’re paying $750 for 3 days, and 3 hours per day, that’s $83.33 per hour PER PERSON. No one got their money’s worth out of watching him work his horse with no explanation about what or why he was doing, especially people who are more inexperienced.

Honestly, the trash talking annoyed me the most. He was talking crud about people who rode the previous week or in previous clinics. They’re literally the ones paying your bills. Maybe try not to bite the hand that feeds you… and also, how does that make people in this clinic feel wondering if next week you’re going to be talking smack about us to others. I just found it to be really unnecessary considering how great of a horseman he truly is.

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35 people in one session? That’s way too many.

One horsemanship person I follow does not allow people to sign up for clinics unless they are subscribers to the online videos and are actually practicing. They felt like otherwise, they spent the whole clinic explaining the getting started steps instead of really helping people progress.

Disparaging previous clinic participants is right out and I totally agree with you.

I will not knock the spending an hour walking in circles though. :wink:

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I dont follow Buck closely but as an educator myself yes, teacher burnout is a real thing with complex sources. If you have physical pain, emotional or fatigue stuff unrelated to the class, or if you are starting to feel like you are talking to a brick wall and your students don’t listen or learn. This of course leads to a mutually reinforcing downward spiral.

Yes NH clinics tend to attract beginner riders who really need say 3 months daily mentoring on the absolute basics of horse handling and aren’t yet able to have the feel to really school anything. People who prefer liberty to longe work because they can’t hold a longe line without getting tangled up.

They don’t need a Buck clinic. They need frequent lessons from someone close by and affordable and cheery and common sense. I know a couple of small time coaches that have carved out a niche of saving adult beginners from themselves and its a real need.

I could imagine a skilled NH clinician hitting a wall where he can’t stand another fearful adult beginner lacking proprioception and horse sense.

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Too bad but even the best burnout after decades of people not listening or following through. Thanks for letting us know to stick to recommending his older videos, not current, overpriced clinics.

He just turned 60, probably time to step back.

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35 people in a clinic, most of whom were fearful of their horses or trotting/cantering them? That sounds like a recipe for disaster and/or disappointment to me. Sort of like, asking a teacher to teach a class full of students, who are all terrified of the textbook.

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Agree with Scribbler and 4Frogs. Not to sound cynical, but this is such a sign of the times. Why spend years putting in slow, hard work with a local trainer when you could take a Buck Brannaman clinic and magically dispel your fear in 3 days?! No wonder he’s frustrated.

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I did a clinic with Ray Hunt nearly 20 years ago. There were probably a good 20, 25 horses there? @alabama maybe you recall better than I do? It was a bit of organized chaos, lots of riders not paying much attention (IIRC the organizer, a lovely woman, pulled in a ton of friends/fox hunters/polo riders (ammies with money) to fill the clinic to get him to Memphis), not a ton of structured instruction, I mean it was fun and a great weekend but when I think of him mentoring Buck, I can see where he got the approach.

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At least they could ride.

oh for sure, but that’s on the organizer, not Buck. If the clinic in question was this weekend, it’s Horsemanship 1: For the green horse and rider already comfortable in the snaffle bit along with aged horses needing continued work. This is the first stage of progressing into the bridle with all basic movements introduced. All levels of riders – no matter what discipline – will benefit. The class features strictly dry work – no cattle. All maneuvers stress the vaquero style of riding and are appropriate for horses from first level snaffle to experienced bridle horses. Hackamore horses welcome.

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I audited one of his clinics that a friend was riding in about 4 years ago.

I was underwhelmed.

I don’t hold anything against the guy or doubt his horsemanship. But that clinic left me scratching my head as to why people pay that kind of money.

For the record, I have audited other natural horsemanship clinics that have been life changing for me. I’m certainly open and receptive to teachers, I just was having the darnedest time trying to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be learning watching people walk around in circles.

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I’ve seen Buck in clinics where he was amazing and I’ve seen him phone it in or send in his assistant while he works on his own horse in the corner. The last “phoned in” clinic I was at with him was probably close to 20 years ago so he’s had this side for a while. I can usually see the difference in the type of riders he has in the class but honestly sometimes he just seems like someone peed in his Cheerios on day one. I wouldn’t like it if I paid for amazing Buck and got the assistant. I know those guys get burned out and there are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes but I sure understand feeling ripped off. I’ve heard them disparage the newbies that are afraid of their horses and it’s unfortunate that ends up being so much their clientele when it’s really not their jam. I think if I were going to ride in a clinic, and not audit as I prefer, I’d ask ahead about who else is in the class and try to aim for a small one with experienced, open-minded riders and try to get a bead on where he stands with the sponsor. Buck is a horse guy, not a people guy, and he can be a crusty old fart but when he’s good, he’s really really good. You shouldn’t have to gamble on what you get on any given day though, I can sure understand that.

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Djones, I did do a Horsemanship 1 clinic. According to the info on his website, you aren’t able to do any higher level than that without having ridden in his clinic before and being allowed to move on. I read the description and thought, ok, even though my horse is not green, it sounds like I’ll still get a lot out of it. I did take away some nuggets, but the majority felt so remedial for where I was and what I was hoping to gain.

So for context… I’ve been riding since I was 6 years old. I grew up riding back east starting in hunters, then did all the big eq stuff as a junior, qualified for the Maclay Finals when it was still at the Garden (I’m that old). After I aged out as a junior, I went on to gallop racehorses at one racetrack in the midwest/south, and two others on the west coast for a combined 8 years. I’ve competed in hunters and eq as an adult, and in the past 5-6 years I’ve gotten more into western stuff. I have family who runs cows on 300,000 acres (mostly leased) in Montana and I go out and help them with all aspects of ranch work, and have day worked (going out and helping with sorting, gathering, branding, etc) when ranches in this area need help for a day or two. I consider myself a fairly decent and experienced rider.

The horse I was on at the clinic was an AQHA year end high point reining champion as a 5 year old (not with me, before I bought him). He’s now almost 8 years old and in training with a reined cow trainer. He will still plus his spins and stops and lopes pretty circles with good speed control. He can watch and track a cow, and in a pinch he can be a pretty handy heel horse and breakaway horse because of his stops. We’ve also dabbled in ranch riding with decent success because he’s just that fancy broke.

I’m not a cowboy and don’t make a living cowboying, but for almost 10 years I did make a living at the racetrack and do get paid by the day for cowboy work (I ride a different horse for that, not the one I took to the clinic). I genuinely wanted to learn from someone I consider to be a master horseman. Help me get better. Help me find the holes in my riding or my horse. With 35 people, that was impossible. That’s on the organizer. It was also on Buck for not doing more to lead the group. Separate out the newest/greenest riders or those on the greenest horses and work with them. Offer more challenging exercises for those who have already mastered what you’re teaching the green beans. If you’re advertising a class for all levels, find a way to teach all levels.

Then I’m asking myself, why do I care so much that I’m here on an online forum complaining about it? I think more than anything I was SO excited to have the opportunity to ride with a really great horseman, be a sponge, soak up all this incredible knowledge… and what I ended up with was really disappointing - both in terms of the clinic itself and the trash talking.

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findeight, maybe that’s all this was? Maybe he’s just tired of dealing with it. He did make a comment about how he wasn’t enjoying the colt starting clinics because the people in it weren’t good enough to be starting colts and it took the joy away seeing them make mistakes with the horses. The problem is, you’ve put yourself out there as a clinician, a teacher. If you don’t want to teach certain people, that’s fine, but then don’t take their money. I really should have audited one first. That was my mistake. Then I would have seen it wasn’t worth the time or money.

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I fully understand your disappointment!

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I know lots of folks with your background who do indeed have huge holes in their groundwork skills, because they just muscle through problems. Not saying you do of course. But someone in your position even if they have holes isn’t going to be well served by a clinic full of nervous beginner riders. I feel like you’d need something like “basic groundwork principles for experienced riders” which would be totally different.

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Scribbler, I totally agree with you! I went there with the idea that he’d help me find the holes. I want to be better. That’s why I was paying that kind of money to ride with a really great horseman. It was just impossible given how green and fearful most people were. I’m sure that had to be frustrating as a teacher because you can’t fix that, especially in a clinic situation with that many people. It was also frustrating for me because it wasn’t what I signed up for… and paid a lot of money for.

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