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Buck Brannaman's introduction to Bill Dorrance

This was written by Buck Brannaman and is the introduction to Bill Dorrance's new book, True Horsemanship Through Feel:

"I'd heard of Bill Dorrance from a friend of mine who'd bragged for years about his horsemanship, and Bill's skill with a bridle horse and the way he handled a rope was legendary. I was about as desperate as I could possibly be. I'd been working with a real nice roan horse and I had him turning around pretty good, or that's what I thought anyway. But it seemed that if I asked him to put any effort into it, maybe enough effort to turn a cow in a hurry or do a job, he seemed to be going as fast as he could possibly go. And it wasn't very fast. I got so frustrated trying to train this horse I was just to the point of tears. I couldn't seem to make any headway. Nothing meant more to me than being a good horseman. "Well," I thought, "it's worth a shot. I'll call Bill Dorrance."

I knew Bill lived around Salinas and with a little bit of investigation I found his number and called him up. I said," Bill, you don't know who I am, but I need some help with my horse. A friend of mine told me what a great horseman you are and I've admired the things that you've shown him. My horse turns pretty good, but I can't seem to get him to put any effort into it." And at that point I was so frustrated that I guess I was hoping that Bill would just tell me to take the tail end of my mecate and whack him across the shoulder, or maybe turn my toe out and use a spur to put some effort into it. Of course I didn't want to hurt the horse--I've always liked horses, and I really liked this horse. But Bill acted like he'd never heard a word I said.

He said, "You know Buck, if you can move the hindquarters right or left on a horse you can get him arranged to do a lot of things that you didn't think he could do." and I thought, "Well how sad. Poor old Bill has gotten so much age on him that he didn't hear what I asked him." So I asked him again, in a different way, how I could get my horse to turn around a little sharper so I could get him to work a cow a little better. Again he said, "You know, a fella can get a horse reaching backwards a little bit, that will help you, but really it's amazing how much the hindquarters have to do with all of these things a fella does with a horse." And I thought, "There he goes again, talking about the hindquarters of a horse. It's just like he doesn't hear a word I ask."

One more time I asked him what I should do about my problem with the front quarters--of course, that's where I thought my problem was--and again we ended up talking about the hindquarters. I decided that no matter how I asked Bill about this problem I was having, he was not going to understand me. I gave up on it for that day. I just thought we'd had a nice conversation. At least I'd gotten a chance to talk to the legendary Bill Dorrance on the phone and that really meant a lot to me. So I left it alone. I realized later that Bill had understood me just fine. I realized then what had been so obvious to Bill. But the next day, when I went out to see the horse I felt sorry for him. I was down on myself about the way I'd been with him--I'd been really riding him hard for a few days, just trying to get this. So I made myself a promise that I would just take a ride on the horse and that day we would just enjoy each other.

We'd just take a ride out through the hills and I wouldn't ask him to do anything difficult or anything that I didn't think we could do. I was really down on myself. I even got to thinking that maybe I would rekindle my trick roping career because I'd been pretty successful at that. I was starting to think that maybe this horse thing was something that I was not going to be able to do very well. All through the ride I just tried to leave the horse alone. On the way back to the barn I thought, you know, maybe I'll just ought to see if I can stop him with one rein and untrack the hindquarters a little bit. Maybe I'll just see if can him to get him to step over behind. I thought I ought to do a little something positive before I put him up for the day. I tried to do that and, of course, I felt like my rein was tied off to a big rock or to the back of somebody's truck. I couldn't get anything accomplished. He hardly had any bend in him at all. I couldn't get him to step over behind--that almost goes without saying--and that kind of surprised me.

So, I worked on that for a few minutes because I figured--as down on myself as I was that day--at least I could accomplish that. After a while I could get him to untrack his hindquarters a little bit, step over behind, and bend a little bit more through his loin and ribcage. He had a little more feel on the end of the rein then. And after having shaped that up a little bit I tried to keep my promise to the horse that I wouldn't bother him, or pick on him, and started back toward the barn. As I got close to the barn it started getting to me--I really wanted to get this sorted out. So I stopped him and asked him to turn around, just as if there were an imaginary cow in front of us. Well, he turned so fast that my hat just about flew off my head and he dan near turned out from under me. I'd never felt him turn that fast before.

I thought, "Gee, now you better leave that horse alone because it's not going to get any better than that, that's for sure, and the way you've been riding the last few days you'll probably be a wreck in the next few minutes." I walked a brisk walk back to the barn and unsaddled him before I destroyed what I'd been trying to get. While unsaddling the horse and putting up my gear for the day, I realized that somewhere along the line I'd lost the hindquarters. I had control of them at one point, but I got so busy trying to be this "horse trainer"--and I say that with much chagrin--that I'd lost the basics that that got my horse ready to go on in the first place. Having lost the feel of the horse, I'd also lost my basics and the preparation. There was no way I was going to get him to turn around any faster.

Given everything he had to go on, and based on the way his body and his mind were arranged, there wasn't a lot more he could offer me. He was turning as fast as he possibly could. But once I got the hindquarters freed up--stumbled on to it by stopping with one rein--I thought, "I'll be damned...Bill tried to talk about the end of the horse that needed work and I didn't want to talk about that." To make a long story short, a few days later I talked to Bill on the phone again because I really wanted to talk to him about this horse. We didn't talk but just a few minutes and he said, "How did things work on that roan horse you were telling me about?"

I said, "Well, Bill, I found those hindquarters were not shaped up very well. His hip was in the way, it wasn't up underneath him, and considering he was prepared, he was turning about as fast as he could possibly turn. I got that shaped up and now he's happy to turn for me. We're getting along good again." I've often found that if you took away the fact that Bill Dorrance is a great hand with a reata and a gifted horseman, what you have left is just a fine human being. Bill is a good man. Considering I wasn't really listening to me, he could have said a number of things to me. He could of said, "Well I told you so," or, "If you had listened to me in the first place." But he didn't say those things. He just said, "Well, it's real good that worked out for you, Buck. I'm glad that things are starting to shape up between you and that horse." He didn't rub in the fact that he was right. It wasn't about being right or wrong. He was a true gentleman about it. The sort of consideration Bill showed for me is the same that he has shown other people and horses his whole life.

This Book is a Must Read: