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Blog Tales from the LOPE Ranch

Horsemanship Philosophy of Buck Brannaman Interview Series: Jeannie Choate


This is the second in a series of interviews about the horsemanship of Buck Brannaman — as well as the newly released film (Buck) that focuses on his work with horses. LOPE hosted a sneak preview screening of Buck in June — Jeannie was one of our speakers at the Q&A after the event.

jeannie-choateI first rode with Jeannie at Buck’s clinic in Texas earlier this year. Jeannie has organized Buck’s clinic in Texas for many, many years. The clinic wouldn’t be possible without her hard work and dedication. As Jeannie put it to me, hosting a clinic is a true labor of love — so if you audit or ride in the Texas clinic, please be sure to thank Jeannie.

Jeannie also writes the Buckaroo Texas Blog, which chronicles her adventures in horsemanship.

What was your first experience like riding with Buck? What did you and your horse learn together?

My first experience riding with Buck was in Pearce, AZ. As I watched the morning class I got a terrible case of stage fright and a churning stomach (very unusual for me). As I watched this man and listened to him, I realized that this was the phenomenal teacher who I had hoped all my life that I could ride with and learn from.

Under Buck’s tutelage, my horse and I got a lot accomplished over the four days of the clinic. We survived riding near the loudspeaker, in a crowd of bothered horses (which in turn bothered both me and my horse). There were several horses having people problems — and Buck asked his assistant, Kip, to ride some of them. Buck called Kip to ride my horse, but then he turned to another horse and said, “No, ride that one instead.”

I guess Buck saw something in my eye that said to just let me suffer through it, and he knew my horse and I would be ok. From this clinic, I started to get the importance of having a plan when you ride, for the horse knows when you know and he knows when you don’t know — and when you don’t know, it bothers the horse. I started learning about feeling of the horse — so she could feel of me.

Buck has us observe what he did. He encouraged us to remember what we were seeing and to compare what we had going on with the horse now, at the end of the clinic, as opposed to when we started the clinic. These are things that I am still striving to get better and better about. It takes work and dedication to really get these good — but once I become aware, it doesn’t take too long to get things working for me and my horse.

With a big grin on my face and tears in my eyes, I told Buck at the end of the clinic that I had just spent the last four days in horse heaven. He broke out in a loud laugh — that he then cut short, realizing that I was serious. But the smile on my face let him know, that yes, it was funny and such a wonderful feeling to have.

What is your favorite story about Buck?

I have so many stories, it is hard to pick out a favorite. At a colt starting clinic in San Angelo, Texas, I had a little sorrel filly entered in this class. I had spent the previous six weeks halter breaking three thoroughbred colts to earn money for the class. The little filly I planned to ride hurt her right front leg before the clinic. It was touch and go for a while if she would be sound for the clinic — so I did not get to do the homework with her I had planned.

On the first day of the clinic, Kip and I were in the round pen together with our colts getting them saddled. Kip’s colt was very touchy, and my filly was so nervous that I was trying to saddle her while she moved around some. It was cold, my latigo was sticky and I was having trouble getting her cinched smoothly. Buck saw that Kip’s horse was about to explode. So, he quickly walked to me and my filly, then said, “Here, lets get that cinch tightened.” As he pulled it up smooth in a quick firm motion, he then said “Try to hang on to her,” — just as both colts exploded.

No saddles came off or slid sideways on either of the colts, which was important. It all happened so fast, I was in the wrong place to get the angle on my filly’s lead rope — and she got away. Buck said, “That’s alright we can catch her in a minute.”

The next day as we saddled our colts and turned them loose in the arena, my filly took a few steps and then burst into a rodeo bronco exhibition. Buck was standing right next to me, turned his microphone off, and said, “Jeannie, I think you could score in the 70’s on her!” And with a chuckle, I said, “That’s if I could ride her, I would score in the 70’s.”

Buck then turned and started walking toward the other colts and the stand. He turned his microphone back on and said, “Now if any of you are thinking you need some help with this first ride, you better go to asking.” Upon hearing those words, I fell in behind him at a fast walk and said, “Buck, I’m asking!”

Buster McLaury was in the stands and Buck had him come ride that first ride on my colt. By the fourth day of the clinic, I ended up riding my filly her snaffle bit, loping around the round pen and even out in the arena. I still remember the feel of that filly, confident and happy. Great start for my filly, thanks to Buck.

How has this type of horsemanship changed you as a rider and as a person?

One of the main points of horsemanship I have learned is not to impose my will on a horse or another person — but at the same time not let a person or horse impose their will on me. I have learned to be more assertive in my everyday dealings and this has helped me to not be a victim. I have learned to really trust my intuition and to develop my emotional sensitivity as I develop a bond with each horse I work with. Not all humans I am around care to make a bond with me — and that’s fine too.

Another top point that I work on is being able to change on a moment’s notice. The tough part is letting go of my fifteen or more years of riding habits before Buck. This has been a challenge, but the understanding and ongoing study of this horsemanship has helped me change and adapt in my personal life (sometimes even to the extreme, if needed).

I am the better for it, striving to be the best I and my horses can be. My ongoing study and dedication to this style of horsemanship has led me on a path of adventure I didn’t think I would ever be on. And I have made friends from the very first clinic I attended (who are still close friends) and I continue to make more really terrific friends each year. You kind of bond before you even speak. It’s a happy trail I am on ☺

What are your horsemanship goals this year for you and your horse(s)?

I don’t really set firm goals each year, other than to study and go see and ride with Buck in a clinic. I try to always observe, remember and compare with humility. I strive to just keep raising the bar, so to speak, and expecting more of myself — but sometimes I have to back up and change to make a basic thing (that I thought was working) better, so I can raise the bar.

Most of the time, raising the bar is doing less. A goal that I am always refining is to be consistent with each horse and work exactly where that horse is at the moment. And always being aware of the balance and mind of each horse before I ask anything of that horse — working, building and refining, all the time, the basics.

Hopefully I will have my older horse in the two-rein next spring and I plan on showing a few times in Ranch Horse Versatility Competition too!

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