Mark Russell shares Horse and Pony News’ cover with Buck Brannaman and Buster McLaurey. Feature article by Andrea Haller published  Summer 2011.

This is going to be a very exciting year for horse enthusiasts in Florida. We sure need it.

If you travel on I 75 between Gainesville and Ocala, you have seen all the empty horse farms.  You have read about Ocala’s high unemployment rate, and Florida  leading the nation in foreclosures.   What hasn’t been  written about  is the impact upon us, the horse owners and professionals, and the horses themselves.

Each time a horse farm falls into foreclosure, the horses have to be sold or otherwise re-homed.  Where do they go?

Many have found their way to HPAF (Horse Protection Association of Florida).  In May, 23 horses belonging to a breeder of Arabian and Quarter horses were taken in, because the owner sadly passed away.  HPAF immediately organized a day for the public to come and see the horses, and interviews for their adoptions commenced.  Morgan Silver, the director of HPAF,  left no detail un-attended.  Many of the horses were adopted that week after the potential “parents” were rigorously screened.  I overheard Morgan saying more than once:   “we prefer that the mares go to a non-breeding home”…. despite their sought-after pedigrees.

Four of the Quarter Horses have been taken to Wellborn Quarter Horses for training and starting under saddle. Ranging in age from 3-7 years old, they are descendants of Easter Gentleman, an NRHA champion.  Their lives have…and will be….changed dramatically.

Enter Buster Mclaury from Texas:

Buster will be working with these adopted Quarter horses and will use them in his colt starting class.  Buster’s clinic is June 17-20, spectators are welcome.  The colt starting/re-starting class will be 9 am – 1, and, after lunch, the horsemanship class will fill the afternoon.   Buster worked with Ray Hunt for more than 3 decades, and has taken over the reins at Bill Muncaster’s “Diamond M Ranch”  in Texas, where Ray held his winter workshops.

Many of today’s colt starting clinicians prefer not to have “re-starts”.  This is because re-starts are almost always more challenging than starting from a clean slate.  It should be very interesting to see what Buster does with these horses.

“If I were to write a book on training, philosophy, etc. and no matter how many pages I wrote, it would still be incomplete.” Says Buster.  “ The more I learn about horses, the more I realize there is to learn. If I had to pick one “main message” I would say  ‘Listen to the horse. He’ll tell you where he’s at, and if he understands what you’re asking him to do’.

What’s next? Enter Buck Brannaman

All the publicity surrounding Buck Brannaman….much due to the movie called “Buck” opening across the US this summer…has created quite a buzz.  His Horsemanship class was filled before I could hit the “send” button on the announcement email.  There are still some spaces open in Ranch Roping, and this is Buck’s favorite class to teach.  The class starts with no horses (whew) as people learn the three types of rope shots:  “ride by flank shot”, the “hip shot”, and the “trap shot”.  After working with a roping dummy, the cows are brought in.

Buck’s Ranch Roping clinic

Buck stresses horsemanship first and the roping second.   The roping is just a job for the horse to do.   Classic dressage in western saddles!   “All dressage is, is good riding.” says Buck Brannaman.

Speaking of Dressage:  Enter Mark Russell

If I had to choose the person who changed me the most, it would be a toss-up between Jessica Jahiel and Mark Russell.  Jessica told me 12 years ago to “bring back the joy in my mare”.  She was lovely to ride, but apparently to a trained eye such as Jessica’s , my horse was a well-schooled robot.  I didn’t understand that, then, because I didn’t know that horses could feel  “joy” except when eating.

In my very first clinic with Mark (3 lessons over 3 days) I felt the joy come out in my mare.  Yes the same mare…she hadn’t given up on me in 12 years.   She felt 7 years old again, and her feet were so light I did not feel them touching the ground.  To a horse (and rider) that is pure joy.  I will remember that moment the rest of my life.

Mark’s work in-hand

Mark is at our facility 5-6 times a year, offering private lessons.  His unique approach involves releasing the horse’s TMJ, poll, and spine to allow them to relax, and allow alignment of the spine, impulsion, engagement, balance, and self-carriage.  Consequently, Mark’s clinics attract gaited, western, endurance, and trail riders.

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