Horsemanship and Equine Partnership

This post comes as a result of several recent comments I’ve heard from horse people as they are getting “amped up” for the upcoming spring riding season. Especially in areas of the country that are affected by nasty, cold winter weather, it seems that winter brings on a lethargic feeling, and so instead of the actual hands-on time with their horses, people tend to try to learn via technology, books, etc.

The first step is getting the information transmitted into your brain and the second is taking the time to process it. The problem is if there is a “glitch” in the communication system between a newly educated human perspective and that of the unsuspecting horse.
People can easily fall into the habit of assuming the horse will respond as they saw in a video demo. Then the person gets frustrated because the horse isn’t “on the same page” as he stares at his owner with a completely blank look on his face.
Learning information does not mean that the way in which you have processed, interpreted, and attempted to communicate it will be appropriate or suitable for your horse at this point in time.
I like to think of working with horses much the same as putting together a puzzle. There first has to be boundaries (spatial in the horse’s case- the edges in the puzzle’s case,) and then there has to be an organization in filling small areas in of the puzzle- just as you would with your horse.
Eventually, as you piece these areas together, you start to see the “whole” picture. But you usually cannot take a random puzzle piece and place it in the spot where it belongs- although you may get lucky doing this once or twice, statistically, you’re not going to do well with a 500 piece puzzle if this is your approach.
The same goes for horses; you cannot randomly wake up one day and decide “today we’re going to work on this.” He is not a machine. He is a sentient being with thoughts and emotions and just because YOU woke up today with newfound enlightenment does not mean that your horse has.
Today’s instant gratification society mindset has caused what I would call a de-evolution in the horse world. Kids that once grew up riding barefoot, bareback, and in a halter who were constantly harassed by opinionated ponies, learned balance, how to become clear, how to pick themselves up after a fall, etc. Was there quality horsemanship in these scenarios? No. BUT I do believe the hours upon hours spent with the animal instilled a certain “feel” in the rider’s balance, improved their timing, fine-tuned thought and decision-making processes.
Nowadays I watch new kids take once-a-week lessons and hear parents wonder if they are progressing fast enough. Time, miles, exposure, and experience all add up to the makings of a quality rider.
As an adult finding the balance of a job, busy life, family, etc. make it increasingly difficult to spend quality time with the horse. Riders need realistic goals based on the time and commitment they offer in the partnership.
I believe 85% of the horses on the market today are half the quality of what they were 20 years ago. The breeding quality decreased, the quality of training diminished, with many training programs “churning” the horses through their system, leaving in many cases, gaping holes in the horse’s confidence, sensitivity, balance, experience, and exposure.
It used to be someone would ride their horse to the fairgrounds (who cared if you didn’t have a horse trailer?,) compete in ALL of the classes (English, Western, whatever- as long as you were riding,) ride him back home again and the next day go and use him on the farm. It used to be “fun” to do “everything” with our horses.
Nowadays many equine enthusiasts with good intentions bandage, separate, stall, limit movement, primp and shine this 1,000 lb. herd animal and then wonder why the horse has mental, emotional, and physical “issues.”
The number of horses I see that are physically broken down by seven, eight, and nine years old is devastating. How is this happening? My theory is back to instant gratification. Ever heard any of these stories?
He's four years old and been to two trainers already...
Someday, he'll be great even if he is displaying dangerous behavior now.
30 days at the trainer he seemed fine, but now I can't even catch him.
He was great at four but now at six years old, he scares me.
This horse was an “emotional” buy, I had to save him, but he's put me in the hospital...
That "pretty face" turned out to not be safe and now I'm fearful, so what do I do now?.
The problem is, these horses are a reflection of their human experiences. Many of these become “turnover” horses with a multitude of past owners due to the fact the horse never received a quality education! Then folks wonder why their equine “partner” isn’t always easy to be around.
If money is tight, times are tough, weather prohibitive, time-limited, the easiest thing you can do is go and hang out with your horse. I’m not joking. Watch without emotional judgment. Honestly evaluate your relationship with him- I’m not talking about your long list of complaints of what he doesn’t do, but rather look at what he DOES do for you and then stop and ask yourself “Why on earth would he do this for me?” I’m serious.
Before you try and find the next “magic solution” or attend the “life-changing” clinic- put some hours in with your horse. Just learning the sense of movement, timing, rhythm, awareness, etc. will affect how you interact with your horse and how he responds to you.
Don’t wait for someone to instruct you every step of the way. Take the initiative with a good dose of self-discipline and start putting in the time, short quality sessions, building that version of yourself you have envisioned for when you’re in the saddle.
As I tell my students if you aren’t clear about your thoughts, your aids, your balance, your timing, your rhythm, how are you going to “be there” to offer support for your horse? It takes time and discipline. It takes practice, experimenting, and a clear head. It takes moments of frustration within you and learning to let go of emotional triggers. But if you quietly and diligently persist you will start to see changes in yourself. And your horse will start to reflect these by offering changes in his behavior towards you.
No more excuses, somedays, hopefulness, or half-hearted, distracted riding sessions. As you progress on your journey of improving your Horsemanship, you’ll also be building skills and qualities that will positively affect the rest of your life. Interested in a personal consultation to give you a jump start on improving your horsemanship and equine partnership? Click HERE

1 comment:

  1. Hey there Sam...this is a great piece of writing ( once again). I am often surprised at your ability to communicate so clearly.I know you speak from what you know. Knowledge is learned, wisdom comes from experience. You are very wise and thank you for putting your voice out into our collective world of equine enthusiasts.
    This has been a mild winter so far here in the north country.


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