We had a chance this week to catch up with Betty Staley—dressage rider and featured trainer and clinic host in the hit documentary BUCK and the all-new instructional DVD series 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN. Betty was kind enough to share a little about how she feels Buck’s philosophy and methodology can help the dressage rider, as well as insight into her own evolution as a dressage trainer and competitor.
TSB: How did you discover the sport/pursuit of dressage? What about it attracted you?
BS: As a lifelong horse nut, I had a general awareness of dressage as a horse training discipline. Seeing a video of German Olympian Reiner Klimke inspired me to become a serious student of dressage. The beauty of horses is an inescapable magnet.
TSB: How did you discover Buck Brannaman and determine that his methods had something to offer you as a student of dressage?
BS: As a fellow student of Ray Hunt, I heard about Buck. Buck’s horses like their work and they perform better than mine!
TSB: What is one of your most vivid memories from the Buck clinics you’ve witnessed?
BS: Watching Buck rope horses; the calmness and focus with which Buck approaches any drama, or crisis. Learning how and why Buck ropes horses saved my life and he wasn’t even there. That’s a vivid memory.
BS: A personal assistant to Producer/Director Cindy Meehl called me. Buck’s sponsors are often called upon to adjust to unusual circumstances. Buck’s a remarkable person and because of him, I’ve met people from all over the world. Cindy made a significant life-changing documentary. When Cindy began compiling the footage for the 7 Clinics DVDs, she asked me for feedback. Buck, through his teaching, and Cindy, with her visual prowess are offering the horse community a wonderful resource.
TSB: What would you say to those who ride dressage in order to convince them that Buck’s training methods apply to every horse person, just as the lessons from his life apply to every human being?
BS: Horses, no matter what breed or sport, are all still horses. Buck’s ability to change horses (for the better) is uncanny. Dressage has a wonderful set of methodical building blocks for both horse and rider. But, there are dressage riders, who are struggling with their horses. There are also horses that do not easily fit into the dressage mold, but through adjusting how the rider approaches the horse, that same horse could be a wonderful dressage companion.* Dressage is both grounded and mired in its traditions. A comment from Ray Hunt comes to mind, “If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t fit, I wasn’t talkin’ to you anyway.”
(*Editor’s note: Betty taught a homebred, full-blooded, Tennessee Walking Horse the upper-level movements of dressage.)
TSB: If you could be sure that viewers take away one lesson from the 7 CLINICS series, what would you like it to be?
BS: Enjoy your horses, enjoy learning.
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
BS: It takes me about five minutes to fall in love with any horse, but I’ll probably die a fan of Tennessee Walking Horses. Light shod, of course. For my book, I’ve got a compendium “do it yourself” type manual. That’d be handy to have on the island. I’d have fun figuring out how to build and fix my hut.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.
BS: Very young, I was in front of my mother, bareback on a draft horse. Mom lost control of the horse and was knocked off by a tree branch. Much shorter, I stayed aboard. I remember wondering why all the adults were scrambling to catch the horse. Up there, all by myself, I was simply thrilled.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.
BS: My first horse cost me $100. She was unhandled and I didn’t own a saddle, so I rode her bareback, everywhere. Riding cross-country, across a high mountain plateau, we endured one of those blue sky hail storms. Relentlessly pelted with ice, my mare dumped me. But, she didn’t leave me.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback or with a horse that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?
BS: Shoot. I don’t know. Every day with a horse is a grand day. There is so much to learn.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
BS: Jesus. He’s returning on horseback, you know. I’d like a job riding His herd.
TSB: What is your motto?
BS: “No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it reaps a harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.” That’s scripture and a pretty long motto. So, I’ll edit that down to: for the willing student, problems are opportunities.
You can hear more from Betty Staley in the seven-disc DVD series 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN.