Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The Golden Principle

As different trainers attempt to codify various training principles, the desire to arrive at the “Golden Principle” from which all other principles are derived, is natural.

For the Enlightened Rider, the Golden Principle is that:

A Horse and Rider should be Partners

This most basic and fundamental concept provides the foundation for just about all the other principles from “Don’t ask a trying horse to try.” to “Be clear and consistent”.

When embarking upon a business venture, the most common advice anyone will give is “Do Not Engage in Partnerships”. This advice would seem to fly in the face of what the Golden Principle of Horsemanship might prescribe. But that well meaning advice is given because of the startling statistics that reveal how many partnerships fail; an unfortunate statistic that is shared by so many riders.

In fact, partnerships are paradoxical in the sense that they are very well understood and defined by all parties involved and yet, they are so poorly practiced. Anyone will quickly tell you that a partnership involves compromise, a sharing of responsibilities, a free exchange of opinions, a clear definition of roles, and delegation of various authorities. And yet they are seldom capable of a daily demonstration.

Resolving this paradox is beyond the scope of this text. However, it is important to note that when talking about a partnership, it is vital that one practice as well as preach. The Enlightened Rider will recognize that since the horse will always be no more than a junior partner, the human must be the one who must accept all the blame for a failed relationship.

Accepting Blame Means

Being Willing to Change AND take Direction

A Partnership implies two or more separate entities working harmoniously toward a common goal. Harmony implies that there should be no conflicts between horse and rider; at least none that are not easily and readily resolved. There should also be no fear or intimidation. In place of these, there should be Affection, Trust, Communication, and Leadership. These ingredients are astonishingly easy to establish with a horse. The amount of physical effort is minimal. But the mental contribution will take humility and above all, introspection.

The reason humility is an essential element for the development of a harmonious partnership is because without humility, the rider will generally not realize that there is anything wrong with the relationship. Most riders who are having difficulty with their horses seldom see the relationship as the root of their problems. Problems such as being herd bound, barn sour, difficult to mount, or jigging on the trail are really not problems. They are symptoms. And in fact, these specific issues are symptoms of a poor relationship. As I have said before, since the human is the senior partner, the responsibility for a poor relationship rests squarely on his shoulders. The humility needed to fully come to terms with this reality is often underestimated.

In my past with horses, I have often encountered difficulties. At every such encounter, I always blamed myself. Yet, I often refused to change my methods and rarely consulted experts in order to take direction. When I finally decided to take an enlightened look at my behavior, I realized that my refusal was evidence that although I was acting humble by my verbal admissions, I was only saying what I thought society expected me to say under the circumstances. I would often say things like, “well he was acting up but it was all my fault.” But by refusing to change, it was clear that I did not believe what I was saying and that I was only pretending to accept the blame. It was an illusion that I created to not only mislead others but also to fool myself. This pretense was extremely difficult for me to recognize and even now it still crops up in spite of my mental guard against it. An enlightened view of myself revealed that I was someone who was more than willing to take responsibility for my mistakes, but not willing to accept responsibility for my incompetence.

As Enlightened Riders, we must avoid this pitfall and always look at misbehavior as a symptom of a bad relationship. Furthermore, the Enlightened Rider realizes that making mistakes is a reality of life, and an acceptable condition, but willfully repeating mistakes is a symptom of arrogance that is being used to hide incompetence.

The other essential element is the power of introspection. A rider must be able to look at himself from the perspective of others, and in particular, his horse’s perspective. In order to take the necessary steps to a better relationship, the Enlightened Rider must be able to see the effects of his own actions. It is not enough to simply accept responsibility. A path to a better way must be discovered. This path can only be found through careful and honest reflection about one’s own behavior and the consequences of one’s actions.

Interacting with our horses without a harmonious partnership is nothing more than mechanical drudgery; mechanical because an extreme dependence on mechanical devices such as bits, reins, whips, and spurs will be evident in all activities;

drudgery because the horse is no more than a restrained slave under constant supervision. Under these conditions, the horse has difficulty focusing on tasks while operating in fear of his rider. At the same time, the rider has difficulty focusing on his tasks because he must remain hyper vigilant, in constant anticipation of recalcitrance. While the horse fears punishments, the rider fears disobedience. This vicious cycle of fear not only produces less than mediocre results in performance, it is also unsafe. Yet, all this can be avoided by making sure that all training principles have partnership as their ultimate goal. The best way to do this is to constantly ask yourself the question: “What am I teaching my Horse?”

In order to develop a partner, we must always be aware that whenever we are interacting with a horse, we are teaching him something. And quite often we are teaching him multiple things. As an example, a horse that is slapped for trying to rub his face on a human learns not to use humans as scratching posts (eventually). But the corollary lesson is that human hands are not to be trusted. We must always be on the alert for the corollary lessons that a horse will learn in our daily dealings with him and always ask ourselves if what we are doing will develop a partner in our horse. The corollary lessons could be very undesirable, but if we simply modify our daily dealings with horses, we might be teaching corollary lessons that render our mount a pleasure and a joy to be around. For example, if we cross tie a horse to tack him, then he learns that when he is in the cross ties it is useless to resist tacking. Another approach would have us take the horse in a small enclosure like a round pen or small arena and tack him there without tying him at all. Since we ride the horse everyday and sometimes even twice a day, we would be requiring the horse to stand quietly while we tack him. I would not expect a horse to stand quietly the first time, but by the end of a year, you will have practiced this lesson several hundred times. And in that time, he will have learned patience, ground tying, and serenity.


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