Changing eyes

Jane Hedge continues her experience of the Buck Brannaman clinic, sharing with us her progress now she and Lizzi are home.

I’ve been focusing a lot on balance with my horses, and during this clinic I noticed that the holes in my riding are related. For example, in the short serpentines after changing direction Lizzi would brace her ribs against my leg for a stride or two, at first, I varied the pressure and position of my leg but it didn’t help, the trouble was starting in the change of direction. When moving out and changing leads on bigger circles, she would take several steps to balance herself and commit to the new lead.  I have also noticed she drops her shoulder on the right rein and while she can pick up right lead lope, it isn’t smooth and she braces a little against my inside leg and hand.

Picture by Marc Higgins

Picture by Marc Higgins

 When I asked Buck about these things, he brought up changing eyes. Throughout the weekend Buck mentioned changing eyes several times. Horse’s eyes being located on the sides of their head means that they cannot see in the area immediately behind or in front of them. Buck reminded us of the groundwork exercises done at the haltering stage before we ride, and that changing eyes should be addressed before we ever try and ride the horse.


Buck mentioned two ways that we can address this. Passing the rope over the horse’s head, down the opposite side of the horse, around its hindquarters and then wait for him to roll the hindquarters through and face up. This is covered in his foundation clinics, and there is a similar one in his book “Groundwork”. Secondly without a halter, just using your hands on their neck to bring the front end through, which is covered in detail in the book “Groundwork” and the DVD of the same name. Changing eyes is also covered quite a bit in his new DVD “First Haltering”.


As the horse changes eyes, he must place the handler in the blind spot and then pick them up again with the other eye. Working with our horses as Buck does helps the horse to connect what he sees in each eye and change eyes smoothly. Buck told me in particular for Lizzi, to watch out for any tension in the moment when I’m in her blind spots, and to keep focusing on that until she can change eyes without any tension.


Since the clinic, we have worked on changing eyes and in just a couple of sessions I have noticed an improvement on the ground. In our ridden work she is softer through her body in lateral bend, and in the hindquarter yields and drifts. I noticed the tension through her ribs and abdomen that I had been feeling is greatly reduced. After working on and improving her changing eyes she has become much softer, and I have made further progress with the work Joel Conner had given me in the previous clinic. I can now approach her neck, ears, shoulders, ribs flanks with much more energy and even some abruptness, she doesn’t react and stays with me mentally. Moving on, I have mixed things up with the flag and even began tossing my leadrope over her back without the usual snorting and busy feet, we’ve made so much progress. Through all of this Lizzi is becoming a more confident and a settled horse to be around. Random things don’t spook her and she is more mentally engaged in her work. I feel a more balanced horse growing beneath me, and feel confident in our future together.


Read the first part of Jane’s experience at the Buck on page 8 in the August issue of Western Horse UK