People’s perception of what I do with horses is often very wrong. They see me working in one particular area or discipline of horsemanship and they immediately categorize you.
I am often being referred to as either ‘a natural horseman’ or ‘horse whisperer’. As much as I am flattered by their intent I am not really comfortable with either tag. To me, a good horse is a good horse regardless of his breeding and a “good horseman” is just that! There seems to be some apparent difference between a ‘natural horseman’ and your old fashioned ‘good horseman’. I’m not too sure what actually gets you placed in one category or another, A Horse whisperer appears to have an almost magic touch, yet I’m sure that you will find some correlation between the amount of magic performed and the amount of hours spent grinding it out in the dust and the dirt learning to be a better communicator. I say, “Whoever does the most homework wins”
It appears that “natural horseman” on the other hand seems to be using less equipment and in general asking less of their horses.
My horses have to work across the board, they have to have good manners and be highly responsive and accurate in their work. I am a very competitive person so I like my horses to perform well under pressure whether they are competing, entertaining or demonstrating, I strive for quality work.
Regardless of the “tag”, method or the equipment, I say judge people by their results.
I prefer to be seen as a versatile horseman, which is all about good communication. It comes down to your ability to give accurate information to your horse, in the way of cues or aids, in return for an equally accurate, response to that aid, regardless of your discipline. From what I can see, every good horseman is saying the same thing, we simply make it hard for horses to make mistakes and very easy for them to perform correctly. This message will be delivered in many different packages and generally with a lot of confusing jargon, but at the end of the day it is the same message. How much pressure you put on your horse is a personal decision based on your needs personal drive. The important thing is that you are safe and that both you and your horse enjoy yourselves at your own level.
If there is any magic in our business then it is in the horseman’s ability to make his cues
or aids so discrete that they are almost undetectable and yet receive dynamic responses from the horse. Everything a horse does is just that “a response to pressure”.
It doesn’t matter whether your chasing a cow, jumping a fence or in the dressage arena,
a horse performs at his best when he is left alone. For this to happen, he has to be schooled to give accurate and soft responses to the rider’s aids under pressure. Whilst a horse is resisting his rider he can’t possibly be concentrating on the job at hand to the best of his ability.
Most people are constantly applying pressure to their horse in some form without any response. They do it so much that it becomes a habit and as a result they don’t realize they are doing it. The result is the horse is becoming increasingly deafened to that constant pressure.
The ability to give accurate information or aids to your horse comes from learning to use your seat and legs as well as your hands. Most people don’t engage their seat and legs effectively and rely on their hands, which are generally inaccurate, as a result of poor stability and balance from the seat and leg.
I start by getting people to establish a balanced and stable position on their horse so that the information that they are sending the horse, can be accurate in the first place. Then I want people to become more aware of the quality of response that the horse is giving to those instructions. Most people fail in this regard because their expectations are not realistic. They are either expecting too much too quick or excepting far too little, and both results will generally end in failure.
I want people to realize that they are the teacher and as such if you are not happy with your student’s results then it is up to you to let him or her know. Remember every step they take they are learning something. Therefore if you allow incorrect steps they will be practicing and therefore actually getting better at incorrect work. The reality of this common situation is that the horse doesn’t even know that his work is incorrect as his teacher has failed to tell him. The horse will repeat the same work tomorrow because he was led to believe that it was acceptable. If your not happy with the work tell your student!!
Lying horses down and doing what are commonly seen as tricks, are great crowd pleasers and good for getting people’s attention, but it’s the trick of getting your horse balanced, bent and flexed correctly into a correct head carriage, being soft off your leg and into your hand, able to perform a clean balanced flying change and remain calm under pressure, that are higher on the priorities of the serious horseman.
When you analyze it, everything a horse does is a trick! That is, everything he does is a response to a pressure, for which he is rewarded!
If I have a skill it is being able to keep the method simple; being able to communicate effectively on the horse’s level in order to maximize results.