No, I did not watch Charlotte's Web and the Buck Brannaman clinic at the same time. That would be weird.
A couple night's ago my daughter chose the live-action film of Charlotte's Web as our Friday evening movie. It was very true to the first movie and the book - both of which were favorites of mine. It reminds me again that I want the rest of EJ's childhood to be being raised on a farm. Or at least a small piece of land with more gardens and livestock.
But it didn't endear me to spiders as I assume was supposed to be the case. The commuter animated Charlotte was super creepy and seemed like it belonged in Arachnophobia (although apparently they only used real spiders in that). Which to segue reminds me of a story I saw on Hollywood animal wranglers about getting Jeff Daniels to agree to have spiders walk on him. The wrangler said it's all in how you present the animal. It works a lot better if you introduce the spider as "Charlie will be crawling across your shoulder, please be careful with him, he's delicate," as opposed to, "This is Death Rides a White Horse. He's going to crawl on you." (I paraphrase because I saw that show 18 years ago)
Friday during the day I went with Miss T. from work to the Buck Brannaman clinic in Spanaway. I was looking forward to hopefully learning a little something but I also was looking forward to seeing a friend from Chehalis ride in the clinic. Unfortunately, Miss T. had a bad cold and I had a headache-bordering-on-migraine-level-pain so we went a little late and left a little early. I saw his assistant, Nathan out and about a couple times and thought about saying hi after we had such a good talk last year at the Cle Elum clinic, but he didn't initially recognize me and I just didn't have a lot of energy and didn't feel like doing much except hunching up under my two jackets and talking to Miss T.
This clinic had a much smaller spectator base and the arena was smaller so we were closer to the riders and Buck which was nice because we could actually hear some of the questions the riders asked. Buck usually paraphrases the question in the answer but it was still nice to be able to hear all of it. And, as a happy surprise to me, the audience was open to asking questions. So, I got to ask him a question I've wondered about since the last clinic.
I almost didn't ask it though because just down the bleachers from us a strange little woman with fashionable blond hair and a beautiful, expensive winter jacket asked, "When doing the piaffe in dressage how do you ..." then some sort of "WTF did she just say question?" I said to Miss T. "That question was over my head," to which she agreed. Buck looked a little perplexed at the question too and answered in a way that made sense to me although I can't remember what it was - in a nutshell a horse can't do those moves until they're strong enough and understand impulsion. Then she asked something about the passage and should a horse really do such and such during a passage and how do you get them to do such and such correctly. I can't remember exactly what she said but I realized "She doesn't know what she's talking about and just wants to sound impressive. She asked about one more dressage move and Buck looked perplexed and answered again with standard Buck-theory (which is the same as Classical theory) that a horse needs strength and impulsion and it's not as simple as moving just one leg, etc. Then she said, "What about the Levade?" and I accidentally let out a snort of derision (which luckily neither she nor Buck heard) and Miss T. asked, "What's a Levade?" and I said, "It's an Airs Above Ground move and it's rarely taught because very few horses truly have the natural physical ability to do it well and without hurting themselves." I loved Buck's answer which was, "You know, I'm not really interested in that. I mean, when am I going to use that when I'm out on the range with my cattle?" then he followed up with, "And that's not something all horses can do," and the woman actually said, "Really? Because I've seen your horses on video and they look like they could ..." That's when I swear I felt a giant word bubble appear above the heads of all the spectators that said, "Shut the hell up, Lady! Let's just go on with the clinic!" (I asked Miss T. if she felt that too and she said "Oh yes,").
I can't remember what got her to shut up (possibly her companions asking her to) but I had that moment of "Now I don't want to ask my question because everyone will wish all the questions were just over!" But Buck asked, "Anymore questions?" and my hand flew up and I asked, "You look so light and balanced when you ride, what do you suggest for those of us who struggle with balance and a light seat?" (I didn't want to say "suggest for the people I know or students I may have in the future with unbalanced and heavy seats but I'm fine" which would sound pompous). First, he looked right at me to answer me which surprisingly made me feel a little starstruck and flustered. I had expected him to tell me exercises like he has for suppling and helping horses move but instead he said he has chosen not to talk about equitation because he wants people to learn their own balance and way of being on a horse. He said "When your horse looks good, you will look good," and I said, "I'm not worried about looking good, I'm worried about hurting the horse," and he looked right at me and Miss T. and said, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that if I were you." Then went on to tell a Ray Hunt story that I liked about being yourself. If we had been alone or in a small group and talking and not at a clinic I would've said "It's not me I'm worried about," since he was looking at me who weighs 150 pounds and he correctly assumes is riding at least a 1,000 pound horse and Miss T. who is quite a bit skinnier than me - no we're not probably going to hurt our full size horses much. But I was thinking about riders who are 200+ lbs who are riding really unbalanced and heavy and I've seen the effects on horses who are not working cow horses with super strong toplines. But a clinic is not the place to discuss that and suggest he add that to his repertoire of light hands, light aids never pull on their face with the reins, etc. Still, one thing he said was very helpful to "stay out of the horse's way and don't limit their movement". I decided that was a really good phrase to use with my students when explaining why I wanted them to find good balance. Not only was it for their own good to say on the horse but also to help the horse by not restricting movement.
Yesterday was back to my full day of work complete with 13 Girl Scouts in the late afternoon for a pony party. It was an exceptionally fun day actually and although my weird-bad-headache was still trying to linger. The kids just continue to entertain me and inspire me. My friend who I've known for years who used to work there stopped by and asked how it was going working there and I couldn't really explain to her how much more at home I felt there than any of my previous jobs. I said, "I think it's my calling," but that just sounded hollow and cheesy compared to how I feel.