Photo: Robbin Cresswell
“Some people will be too sore to ride the last few days of the clinic,”
Craig told us at supper the first evening. I shot a delighted look to my friend
Mary Beth who had attended with me, and she grinned back with hopeful skepticism.
We were attending a 7-day Craig Cameron working clinic at the Double Horn
Ranch in Bluff Dale, TX, and Mary Beth and I had come to RIDE. Billed as “the
riding-est clinics of them all”, the Cameron clinic was to combine riding
and training skills in arena/round pen sessions as well as out on the trail.
Craig went on to discuss with us all some of our goals and hopes for the week,
and flash that big white Craig Cameron smile.
Over the next 7 days, the entire class found ourselves thinking and riding harder than most of us had ever experienced in our lives, trying to earn that smile again. It reminded me of a cartoon I’d seen years ago of a child raising their hand in class and asking the teacher “May I leave? My brain is full!” The difference was that none of us wanted to leave.
The very first day we spent much of the morning in the shade around the round pen while Craig began working on a few young colts to be started, and we ended up out on the trail after the first lunch of what proved to be consistently outstanding food at the Cook Shack. After a short ride through part of the Cameron’s scenic ranch, our entire group became faint of heart when he calmly informed us that one of our first exercises would be to ride a course which included a jump over a log about 18” tall on a downhill slope. For those of the group more accustomed to more mild trail riding or even working cattle, the whole concept made us jerk to a halt at the word “Jump”. But not a one of us was going to be the first to say they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it… and we all got it done. There was leather pulled and hands and feet flying, and Craig got straight to work on us.
Our days were spent immersed in study of the horse’s mind and physiology as well as learning how our actions, in and out of the saddle, affected them. We watched, made notes, took photographs, and often entered the round pen to try our new skills under Craig and his cowboy’s attentive tutelage. Our horses remained saddled up to 12 hours a day, and we rode up to 8 hours daily. A few folks in the class were indeed too sore to ride by the latter part of the clinic, and the rest of us choked down over-the-counter painkillers and secretly admired our own saddle-sore knees and thighs. Chinks were recommended and there was plenty of reason why!
It was amazing to us to see this typical cowboy, a real “man’s man” who called things as they were and went right into the middle of the occasional storm without turning a hair, showing us all such a considerate approach to the horse. He proved a remarkable ability to work with a wide variety of skill and aptitude levels of both horses and riders, and a variety of horse and human attitudes. And just like he taught us to do with our horses, he “looked for the try – not perfection” with us as well. If we were capable of doing better, he expected it, plain and simple. He accepted no excuses as long as we were all trying our best.
Craig pointed out to us time and time again that it is so much easier to just sit in the saddle and go… but it’s so much more fun and more effective to think while we’re riding. Says clinic participant Julie Griffin, “I learned that all of us are still learning… it’s okay to not know, it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to mess up. I think the clinic really helped develop confidence both for me and my horse, and confidence is something that will just plain help you in all areas of life.”
In all fairness, the only disparity between the “real” Craig Cameron and the one viewable on his videos and on RFD-TV was the fact that, in person, we all felt somewhat like Goldie Hawn in the movie “Private Benjamin” – Craig resembles a Drill Instructor a whole lot more in real life. “What happened to the nice Craig we saw on TV?” we demanded, as he harassed, yelled and barked at, berated and poked fun as we struggled to get through days of what felt like Cowboy Boot Camp. In all fairness, he also cheered, bragged, exclaimed and encouraged us as we finally got things right. We quickly figured out that we should leave our egos behind with our cell phones in the cabins each morning. And frankly, Craig’s brand of brutal honesty combined with very constructive criticism and a laugh it is impossible not to join proved to be highly addictive. “What’s not to love?” said Griffin. “Craig is the only person I have ever known that can yell at you all the time and you grow to LOVE it!! Craig has a gift for reading people as well as horses… he knows when to push you and he always recognizes the try. Craig cares enough to keep pushing until you really get it, and then he is full of praises. I really felt like I had accomplished something at the end of the day.” By the end of the 7 days, we were all begging for a “real Craig Cameron” cassette tape that we could take home with us to play in our headphones while we rode.
A few times during our clinic, we were pleased to be joined by 7-time World Champion rodeo rider Ty Murray and his parents Butch and Joy. Butch is a first-class leatherwork artist and handcrafts several items for sale in the Double Horn Store, including handsome spur and slobber straps.
Craig Cameron has been called “the Cowboy’s Clinician” and accurately so. His clinics have not a Horse Game to be found… what you will find is real world, working solutions to real world problems and situations. He has spent his career specializing in “problem horses” and his strong western work ethic combined with a compassionate understanding of a horse’s physiology, abilities and limitations has made him a success as a true Master Horseman. But he doesn’t want to keep it to himself; he wants to give it to his students.
By the end of the clinic we had all ridden hard, thought hard, and been through the gamut of emotional, mental and physical effort. We’d been fed like cattle barons (especially the last night’s t-bone steak supper, oh my) and worked like field hands. Craig had answered every question we had come up with and quite a few more that we didn’t know we had been wondering about. We had finally become Craig’s “Cowpeople”. Friendships had been formed with folks from all over, and when the last day finally came and folks started loading up and heading out down the highway to all parts of the United States, we were all just a little bit bummed. The world of cell phones and highways and too many things to do in one day was waiting for us, and the satisfying glow of a job well worked and well done was packed along with our dirty jeans and boots. The soft, relaxed eyes of our horses were our reward as well, as we loaded them for the haul home. Craig laughed with that trademark smile, “Your horses are saying Thank You! FINALLY!”
Should you wish to contact TJ Rogers of Fear Not! Horsemanship, you can call her at 512-848-4765, or visit www.FearNotHorsemanship.com. Should you wish to attend one of Craig’s Cowboy Boot Camps, you can call 800-274-0077, or visit www.CraigCameron.com.
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