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Brent Graef, Young Horse Handling, Part IV

Published: 5/4/2016
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She  runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.

In this new multi-part article, Skinner discusses a visit to Texas to work with Graef.

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

On the fourth day of class, our goal was to begin tying and trailering preparation, as well as some first saddlings.  We had a big day ahead of us. Under the big Texas sky, the colts stirred about in their pen.

As we caught each of our colts up, I noticed they seemed eager to find us and were less touchy than before.  Two were getting downright snuggly. Mine remained a little scared. 
While we practiced our leading and circling, Brent warned us to make sure we kept them at a good distance and didn’t teach them to lean in on us. 

“Watch out for a pushy shoulder,” he said. “If they’re pushy with their shoulder, they’ll be pushy with their butt.  If they’re pushy with their butt, they will kick.” 

I found it interesting that none of the colts offered to drop their shoulder into any of us.  It seemed to me, then, that crowding was very much a learned and human-inspired behavior, because these little guys fresh off the range had no desire to crowd us.

Brent hooked up the trailer and backed it up to the corral for us to start practicing loading them in the trailer.  They’d been in it loose on their way to his place just a few short days ago, but I was eager to see how they loaded after their educations. 

“If you set it up right, everything is just the next thing,” Brent repeated.  I was so enthralled to watch each colt step right up into the trailer, just willingly following the lead rope as if the trailer weren’t even there. 

They calmly led forward and turned to walk off.  Brent asked each of us to step up smoothly into the trailer. He told us to lean forward as we stepped up into the trailer so our heads didn't suddenly pop up, like a jack-in-the box, and to manage our tools smoothly so the rope didn’t wobble.  This, he said, would discourage a willing horse to come forward because the wobble interrupted the flow, and could inadvertently stop him. 

After everyone was loaded, Brent stepped into the trailer and unhaltered everyone as his wife Kris closed the trailer door behind him, leaving the colts loose.  He did not want to tie them in the trailer as they did not yet know how to tie.

We trailered them out to a nearby canyon for a little “trail walk.”  It was sunny and gorgeous and we were eager to get the young horses out to explore a little in the canyon.  We practiced leading them around cactus, scrub, water, trees, up and down hills, and other various types of footing. 

I was amazed at how sure footed they were and how unperturbed they were by the scenery.  It only made sense, as they were raised in it.  We practiced walking them away from each other, just enough at a time to keep them from getting upset, and they did wonderfully.
After our walk, Brent lead us to an arena with a good, strong fence, and explained how he wanted to teach the young horses to tie.  He demonstrated one horse at a time, looping the lead rope at about arms’ length around the post of the fence (not tied) and with Kris behind the horse holding a flag.  If the horse got into trouble, he could easily be released, and Kris would help the horse find the meaning in the lead rope and give himself a release while he was tied. 

Brent explained that the horse was to learn to move his hindquarters over and step forward every time he felt the slack coming out of the rope, or needed to move while tied.  He stressed that the horses should always end this exercise on a forward step so as not to learn to pull back.  Pulling back is never an option, he said. 

When releasing the horse from the exercise, he asked us not to walk right up to the horses face, but to come from the side.  He said walking right up to them could cause them to pull back away from us, and this was something he never wanted them to learn.

We then loaded the horses back onto the trailer and took them back to home where we began working on getting saddle pads on them. Brent worked with them one by one to put a saddle on them.  He worked them on the lead after roping their bellies and flanks to make sure they were comfortable with this feeling.  I asked him why he didn’t turn them loose at their first saddling, and he said he would rather teach them to look to him for support than let them loose and scared. 
I thought back to a lot of the horses I’d let loose with a saddle on for the first time, and how they ran and bucked.  I wish I’d had offered them support and taught them some meaning in carrying the saddle, rather than just “getting used to it.”  It seemed to me that Brent’s way of teaching them to carry a saddle helped them relax sooner.

After all the horses had made it through their first saddling without too much incident, we put them up for the day.  We talked a bit about some points that came up through the day. He told us to act confident but smooth around our horses; not to sneak around them but to be careful. 

“When people and horses get upset, they both go back to their foundation,” he said.  He cautioned us to develop a correct foundation in our horse, because layering over a bad one would never produce the same results as one started correctly.

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5/16/2016 Lauren
Hello, Thanks Maddy and Amy. I had just signed up for a last-minute open spot in Brent's YHH clinic, and saw this series. It really helped me focus and I thought of it while I was there. I'm a part-time horse person, and had only audited clinics before this, but I knew Brent and felt he and Kris would guide us well and make sure the horses got a good experience. Making that commitment and seeing and feeling the trust build in the horses is one of the most precious things I've experienced. The re-balancing effect on my energy and finding a centered place to offer a good feel from is amazing. I liked that even I could feel it, in my own way at my current level of horsemanship. I'm now home with the horse I love, and I'm relived that I've been able to retain the new sensitivity in my handling and he is more responsive and connected, it is helping release some of the resistance I've inadvertently created over the years.

"While there are many things you can fake in life, pretending that you know horses when you don't isn't one of them" - Cooky McClung