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Amy Skinner visits with Buster McLaury
Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She
teaches at Bay Harbor Equestrian Center in Michigan, riding English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.
Read more about Amy
Read more Journals & Journeys here
By Amy Skinner
After a day’s riding with Buster McLaury, I sat with him to ask a few questions. He sat with a gold Miller can in his hand and a straw hat shading his
face from the sun. The two of us had no sooner begun talking when a small crowd appeared, clinic participants and auditors, plopping themselves down in the grass by the round pen, some cupping their ears to listen to his quiet voice with thick Texan drawl.
What I got in addition to answers were a handful of stories, maybe with a few tall tales thrown in for good measure, some good laughs, and a big load of inspiration from a humble man whose horsemanship does all the talking and says quite a bit more than any talking could ever do.
AS: If there was one thing you'd like all your clinic participants to go home with, what would it be?
BMcL: All of the above. (chuckles) One huge thing would be for everyone to learn to listen to the horse – he's the best teacher they got. When I tell someone something, it's my opinion of what the horse is saying, but what the horse says is fact. He knows exactly what's going on.
AS: What is the biggest problem you see with today's people and horses, and does it vary from coast to coast?
BMcL: The biggest problem I see is people letting horses walk on them. The horse takes over and pushes on people, their lead ropes, and their bridle reins. It's the same everywhere you go. Typically women are worse.
AS: What do you think the most important thing is to develop as a rider?
BMcL: Feel. That about covers everything. It is the essence of the relationship between horse and human.
AS: How do you define feel, and how do you get it?
BMcL: Until you experience what that is, it's just a word. Feel would be when you ask the horse to do something and he doesn't weigh anything. Ray talked about it – feel of him and let him learn to feel back to you. Feel is like a dance, but in a dancing partnership, someone has to take the lead, but only by a fraction of a second.
AS: And what do you mean by a fraction of a second?
BMcL: Take for instance, my wife Sheryl and I like to dance. But you won't see me do the Two-step and her do the Cotton-Eye Joe. I take the lead, but someone watching would never see me cue her. When you offer to dance with the horse, he doesn't know how to dance at first. But you get him to try til you're both right together doing the same thing at the same time. He doesn't weigh anything then and it feels good to both partners. That is feel. Someday when you ride your horse somebody watching couldn't see you ask.
AS: Approximately how many colts have you started?
BMcL: A bunch of 'em. I haven't really kept count.
AS: What is the best piece of advice you can give for someone starting a colt?
BMcL: Be a confident rider on an older horse. Too much of this “I don't know anything and my horse doesn't either” - that leads to getting hurt.
AS: Knowing what you know about the types of people, horses, and problems you would encounter as a clinician today, would you still have chose the same career?
BMcL: I didn't actually choose the career, it chose me. People got to asking me for help, so I started helping and word sort of got around. I was looking for a job then, and anyway, I never have found another job. If I can help you help your horse, maybe you have a friend you can help, and in that way I get to help a lot more people.
The horse has helped my family to make a living for well over 100 years, and now the Lord's given me an opportunity to give back to the horse. That's really something.
AS: What is the most important thing for a horse to develop?
BMcL: Confidence. In the human and in his job. When you get that, he'll do anything for you. He will literally give you his life. You can ride a horse to death. You can't ride a mule to death, he'll quit. You can't work your friend to death, he'll leave. But your horse, you just have to ask.
AS: What advice do you have for the up and coming horse trainers of today?
BMcL: There's a tremendous opportunity for a young person to start a colt right and work on his foundation. Get a horse easy to catch, to move around nice, to go, stop, turn around, all slow and smooth. Get him confident. Then you can go anywhere in the country and find work because the market is out there.
AS: What is the most important thing in your life?
BMcL: God, family, and then my horses.
AS: What on your path helped you to understand the horse as much as you do today?
BMcL: I had some help from good mentors, a lot of thought, and a lot of hard work. That reminds me of something Bill Dorrance once said to Bryan Neubert, who told me himself.
Bryan said to Bill, “They told me you might could teach me some things about horses,” and Bill said, “I don't think I can teach you anything, but I can show you some things you can learn if you want to work on it, but that part's up to you.”
AS: What are some things a person can do to help their horse along if they ride alone?
BMcL: Keep him busy, give him lots of jobs to do. That way he's thinking more about what you want him to do and less about other things going on.
View Reader Comments:
Buster and Sheryl McLaury demonstrate excellent horsemanship skills. They teach so much with a focus of listening to your horse and developing a good feel. While everyone knows these words, Buster and Sheryl help the rider discover their real meaning.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy:
Amy Skinner on Engaging the Core, Part I
For Happier, Healthier Horses, Drop those Rotten, Rutted Routines
The Pitfalls of Training
Amy Skinner on Micro-Managing versus Guiding
Amy Skinner interviews Jec Ballou, Part II
Amy Skinner interviews Jec Ballou
Amy Skinner’s Ah-Helmet Moment
When Education gets in the way of Education
Brent Graef, Young Horse Handling, Part IV
"My horses are my friends, not my slaves" - Dr. Reiner Klimke
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