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Advanced Horsemanship Clinic at Clearview Farms


By Leigh Ballard

Clearview Farms in Shelbyville, TN was the host for a Jack Brainard Advanced Horsemanship Clinic on April 18-21. Jack Brainard is a noted horse trainer, breeder, and judge for many disciplines and breed associations. He was instrumental to the AQHA in its early days, organizing various regional associations. He was a founding director of the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), and was inducted into the NRHA Hall of Fame of Fame in 2010. Primarily, though, Jack has been a lifelong student of the horse, especially the horse’s movement. He most recently has been involved in the development Cowboy or Western Dressage as a new discipline.

Brainard’s training methods focus on “controlling all the parts,” primarily the head and neck, the shoulders, the rib cage and the hindquarters. Brainard says that when you have excellent control of the parts, you can achieve beautifully sophisticated movements without visible cues. Brainerd’s 4-day clinic covered many high level schooling exercises. For example on day one, in only six hours time, many moves, all with purpose, were introduced and practiced. Included in the first day’s work were four ways to achieve collection, lateral flexion, front end control, turn on the hindquarters, turn on the forehand, turn on the forehand in motion, reverse arc, haunches in, shoulder in, canter departures, half pass, and walk, trot, canter transitions. Jack said his training program at home incorporates all of this and more on a daily basis, but in short practice times. His riders sometimes ride the horses twice a day. In a grand understatement, Jack said, “It does take some time to school your horse.” He also noted, “Many of you think you can’t do some of these things with your horse. That is 100% wrong. If you will pay the price -hard work and persistence - you can do these things. There is nothing in the world that gives you more sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, pleasure, success, and pure enjoyment as when you turn out a nice horse.”

Many of the clinic exercises are easily practiced at home without a coach. The “square” is practice for control of the shoulders, and then control of the hindquarters. A square about 25’ x 25’ is drawn on the ground. The horse must walk straight along the edge, stopping when his front feet are past the corner. Then the rider must push his hindquarters around so that he is faced to walk forward along the next edge of the square. Each swing of the back end creates a turn on the forehand. After doing this on all four corners, the horse travels the square again. Now the horse stops when his back feet are past the corner. The rider then directs his front end around to where he will follow the side of the square again, thus completing a turn on the hindquarters.

Jack is known as the “master of lead changes.” He directed the students to canter their horses in a line the length of the arena, telling which leg to use on the horse and when to use it. Some were riders directed to trot between the lead change, but then most horses were able to eliminate the trot altogether. With Jack’s coaching, several of the horses accomplished smooth flying lead changes by the second day. For several others, Jack said, “You’ll have that horse changing before we’re done.”  He praised horses that were trying even if they were cross cantering sometimes. “Get the change behind. Any of them can change in front; it’s the hind that’s the trouble.”

Another balance and control exercise was counter cantering in circles and figure eights. The technique was to start the horse in the center of a figure eight and then direct him the “wrong” direction. The riders had to keep a strong leg on to hold the lead they wanted, but even then, some of the horses insisted on flying changes to get back into the “correct” lead for the direction they were travelling! Jack said, “It takes a broke horse to do this. This is not an easy trick, this is very hard.” Eventually some of the horses were executing counter canter figure eights with flying changes at center.  
Brainard gave a sit-down lecture on Bitting. He called it a “pretty controversial subject” because most people don’t know or understand what happens with bit action. He gave a brief history of bits, describing many that have been used throughout history. He said there’s really nothing new in a bit; they’ve been around in some form since 5000 B.C. 

Bits started as sticks of wood through the horse’s mouth. The first metal in a horse’s mouth was in the Bronze Age, and there were “terrible, horrendous bits” used by the knights. Humans learned they could control a horse with something in his mouth. Then they could raid and plunder their neighbors, expand their territories, build their influence and power.

Brainard made drawings and used a horse skull to explain the pressure points all over the horse’s head and sensitive areas in the mouth that can be affected by a bit. He talked about the difference between the action of a snaffle and a curb bit. A snaffle has 1 to 1 pressure.  If one pound of pressure is applied by the hands, one pound of pressure is received on the mouth. A curb however, because of the lever action of the shank, multiplies the pressure on the mouth by 4 times or more. Additionally, the action of a snaffle is on the corners of the mouth, whereas curb action is on the tongue and the curb groove under the lower jaw. When a horse is changed from a snaffle to a curb bit, it is a major transition, both in action and intensity, that many riders are unaware of. This change can cause serious bitting problems for several reasons, but especially if a rider is heavy handed.

He showed many examples of “good” and “bad” bits, including a spade bit, “a horrendous thing” and a Tennessee Walker bit with straight shanks about 10” long, “Terrible! terrible!” Brainard’s favorite bit style for sensitivity, finesse, and graceful riding has a short, swept-back swivel shank and a low, wide port. While many riders and trainers talk about the merits and secrets of success of various bits, Brainard reminded his audience, “It’s not the bit; it’s the hands that use it. A good reinsman can put a stick of wood in their mouth and do a good job.”

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