Friday, April 24, 2009

My Basic Approach

This text covers my personal opinions on horsemanship as it pertains to the training, and riding of horses.  It is not a criticism of anyone’s methods or a promotion of my own personal techniques.  It is, instead, intended to promote a more enlightened approach to horsemanship.  An approach based, not on methods or equipment, and certainly not on technique, but on perspective and attitude.  The perspective I speak of is that of how we define our relationships with horses.  The attitude is that of deference and consideration.  If we define our relationship with horses in harmonious terms with mutual affection and respect, then we will enjoy tremendous successes with our horses.  But if we define our relationship as that of a master and servant, (or slave as the case may be) then the performance of our horses will always be forced and mechanical.  If our attitude is one that demands respect without providing the prerequisites for that kind of deference, then it is only reasonable to expect that our demand for respect will become a battle of wills.  If forced performances and constant battles are not the results we want, then a more enlightened approach is called for.  I believe that such an approach is within reach of anyone who wants to realize an extraordinary potential.

  It is important to be aware that Enlightened Horsemanship is not a series of problem solving exercises that starts with an untrained colt, and, through the judicious application of techniques, tools, and time, ends with a well trained and reliable mount.  Rather, it is a lifestyle consisting of a series of habits designed to establish, develop, and maintain a relationship between the horse and rider that can best be described as a harmonious partnership.  There are no individual or specific techniques that can accomplish this task.  Instead, the rider must understand that every movement, every activity, and every attitude, no matter how minor, bears a significant effect on the relationship.

  If the reader is a beginner to horses, I believe he will find much that is useful in this work.  However, I must apologize if many of the terms and analogies are unfamiliar.  The spirit of brevity has prevented me from engaging in lengthy explanations of common equestrian terms and practices, other than a few footnotes.   This was a conscious decision in order to avoid obfuscating the principles I hope to impart with confusing technical descriptions. The meanings of most of these terms can be gleaned from researching material presented by my predecessors.  I encourage true beginners to seek out these sources as the experience of these older horsemen will provide much better explanations than I can provide.  For the convenience of the reader, I have provided a list of books that I consider to be invaluable references for the equestrian.  This list is by no means exhaustive but it is a good start.

The practice of horsemanship is an art and a science.  By science, I mean that there are specific actions under specified conditions that can reliably produce predictable responses.  By art, I mean that the practice can, and must, be adjusted to suit not just the horse, or the rider, but the horse and rider in combination with their environment.  This is because although much of the technical requirements of a Grand Prix Dressage rider may be very similar, (or at least should be) to that of a roping cowboy, the artistic requirements can be very different.  Although the Cowboy will use many of the elements of Dressage, with full understanding of the principles, he will be able to adapt the principles to serve him and his horse in the myriad efforts faced by the working cow horse.  The breadth of this variable is infinite and therefore can never be captured within the limitations of a prescribed formula.  Furthermore, it carries with it a responsibility that is really undefined by any but the individual practitioner.

Therefore, rather than providing a list of training techniques, or a how-to text on the care and welfare of a horse, what I hope to present is a philosophical approach to horsemanship that will compliment whatever techniques we all currently use, and enhance the relationship that we have with our best friends.   The purpose of these reflections is to challenge preconceived notions we may have about horses and their handling, and to develop our relationships into a bond more powerful than any bridle and stronger than any chain. 

I can think of few pursuits as rewarding as that of improving and strengthening our relationship with horses.  But perhaps even more important than enhancing our relationships is opening our minds to change.  In changing our attitudes, we pave the way for a change in behavior.  By changing our behavior, we demonstrate our capacity to learn.  A horse’s behavior is more than a reflection of his treatment.  It is a reflection of our attitudes, our hopes, and our compromises.  It reflects our virtues and highlights our vices.  A horse at once compliments and criticizes.  When we understand this simple concept, we can then be prepared to face the harsh reality of its logical conclusion. Simply that whatever we want our horses to be, so should we first, by way of example, be.

Nothing Reveals our Character so much as our Horses


lani said...

You said,"I wish that riders would keep in mind that horses do not learn when an aid is applied but when it is should free to collect, rather than restrained into position." I have a horse that is barn sour and it is embarrassing because she fights. Ppl suggested tight circles, see-saw, tie-down, short rein, but nothing works. People say she prances so pretty and looks like alot of fun, others thinks it's me (she came that way). The horse is better today but on the way home the rein is held short. Pls. comment. Robyn

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