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Back in the saddle, thanks to Terry McClare

Published: 3/1/2010
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Footloose and Buck Free!

By Maddy B. Gray

When I adopted Brooke, a 13-year old mare who suffered years of neglect before being rescued several years ago, I knew I’d be challenged.
No regrets. I’ve learned a lot in the process – about my own skills (or lack thereof) and about the need for assertiveness, especially around assertive horses like Brooke.
There were kinks in our rapport. Never was that more apparent than at Chris Lombard’s recent Cabin Fever Clinic.
We had an uneventful morning of ground work and an hour of walking, trotting, backing, confronting 'scary' obstacles, and so on. Then, when I asked her to canter, she tossed me.
[Click here to check out the Cabin Fever Clinic page and video]

I wanted to address our issues right away and the right way.
I called Terry McClare, hooked up the trailer, and headed to Footloose Farm in Brownfield, Maine.

McClare grew up riding. She did just about everything, from 4H and gaming, to dressage and jumping.
In 1990, at the age of 28, she attended her first Buck Brannaman clinic. She’s been to one or more of his clinics every year since then and has traveled to Brannaman’s Wyoming ranch to start colts.

“It makes sense to me because it makes sense to the horse,” said McClare of Brannaman’s methods.
Footloose Farm is home to about 30 horses. McClare trains, teaches lessons, and hold clinics about once a month.
[Click here to visit her site]

I brought Brooke into McClare’s small indoor arena and handed the lead line to Terry.
Right away, she noticed Brooke’s braciness. She was flexing laterally alright, but her feet were still planted. I began to understand that what I’d been asking Brooke to do was more mechanical than through feel. She might have been yielding her head, but the rest of the body wasn’t into it. In essence, she was getting away with poor form because I didn’t know any better.
Terry got to work. She showed me several exercises to help Brooke understand how to move her feet without coming unglued. She showed me how to ask for a true bend, not a cagey one.
Groundwork is really helpful for a horse like Brooke, she told me. We can ask her to bend, remind her how to move her feet, and work through transitions on the ground and set ourselves up for better in-saddle work.
Repeated trot to canter transitions on the ground were especially helpful. And Terry taught me how to ask for them without nagging. (Apparently, I can be a nag!)
Being away from her buddies, scary tarps and tractors, high energy environments – these are all issues for Brooke.
“When something bothers her, put her to work,” said Terry. “Then she’ll settle.”
She showed me how to be pro-active (again, without nagging) in the saddle, too.
The best advice involved our dreaded trot to canter transition – the source of bucks and my own injury-induced anxiety.
Terry taught me to approach it from a more relaxed and patient position. I learned that for now, we could approach a canter almost by accident, to trot, trot, trot until moving to a canter becomes the easy alternative.
After Brooke’s two weeks at Footloose Farm and my three trips there to work with her, I loaded up the trailer with a smile on my face.
We hadn’t smoothed things out entirely, but we had a great new start.

“Coming out of this, you will have more tools to show her that she can get out of trouble or scary situations,” said McClare, as we assessed the progress.
We talked about moving forward to new challenges.
“Sometimes you have to stay this side of trouble. Sometimes you have to go to the other side and work through it. Otherwise, it’ll be worse the next time.”

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3/3/2010 Julie
That's awesome Maddy! Sounds like you are on the right track with Brooke now and I bet that Brooke is much happier, knowing exactly what you want from her.
3/3/2010 Leisha
Isn't it funny how we forget the "rules" when dealing with horses. I often forget what is best for my horse when I am anxious to "squeeze in" a ride during my schedule, not thinking of hers. When an issue arises, I sometimes just get past it in order to finish the trip rather than dealing with it right away properly.
3/5/2010 cindy
I keew you were going to be a happy camper when you brought Brooke home! Congrats, can't wait to see the improvements.

"An owner of a Tennessee Walking Horse once said that his horse reminded him of a lightning rod, for, as he rode, all the sorrows of his heart flowed down through the splendid muscles of his horse and were grounded in the earth." - Marguerite Henry