Horsemanship is both an art and a science.
Whether you are new to horses or have been working with horses for years, a fresh perspective on the emotional, mental, and physical nature of the horse will only enhance what you currently have going. Shifting your focus for a moment, increasing your awareness of what the horse is thinking and feeling, rather than just doing, will help you understand why the horse acts a certain way. If you take the time to work towards Optimal Balance in both the body and mind, you may feel like you have taken a step backwards. The program may seem too simple, even unimportant. But in reality, improving basic horsemanship is the only way to ultimately move forward. Horsemanship is an art as well as a science, but more importantly, it is a journey into becoming a better person for the sake of the horse that you love.
Horsemanship is the term used to describe the proper care and development of a horse. It involves understanding the natural needs of a horse and the skills of teaching a horse to become un-natural. If a horse remained in a truly natural state it would be unmanageable and too challenging for most riders.
No one wants to own or ride a wild horse. We call horses dangerous, crazy, unpredictable, disrespectful, naughty, or stupid when they are actually being natural. What we really want is a trained, tamed, or broken horse one that is predictable, compliant, adapted to the human environment, smooth to ride, and quiet. This behavior is un-natural for a horse. In fact, the whole idea of a predator sitting atop and directing a prey animal (riding) is not natural. Riding is a learned skill for both horse and rider.
Horsemanship begins by understanding the horse’s whole nature; prey animal logic, herd psychology, and basic body mechanics. When people work with or understand only one part of the whole, a hole develops in the foundation of the horse’s training and development. Eventually problems crop up because the horse’s mind or body is coping with insecurities or discomfort instead of strengthening towards optimal function. When a horse can no longer cope with discomfort, insecurity, or fear, it takes one of two roads: A horse with a strong sense of self-preservation generally develops behavioral issues, and a horse with a more compliant personality generally develops lameness or physical issues. In either situation, a horse’s mind and body are not functioning optimally.
The art of horsemanship means developing a horse to be more than it could ever be without you, more than it could ever be if left alone in nature. Developing a horse (or yourself as a rider) is like a sculpture: you, the artist, must chip away at what you do not want, carefully protecting the parts you do want, until the ideal horse takes shape and materializes into a realized form. Michelangelo spent a good deal of time searching for the perfect stone before sculpting the David. He saw the David inside a raw stone in its perfect form. He held this ideal image in his mind while taking away those parts of the stone that were NOT the David. All horses have the potential to be beautiful and move optimally.
The science of horsemanship, the research on how the horse’s psychology, anatomy, and physiology function, is how you can begin to understand and finally see the masterpiece inside of each horse. Modern science is now at our disposal to support or dismiss all that we think we know about horsemanship. We can hold ideas, both old and new, up against scientific research, veterinary medicine, psychology, physiology, and sports medicine to realize the effects of training on the horse’s body and mind. More than ever before, we can measure the results of applied theories and understand why to use or why not to use various techniques. We can clearly explain the appropriateness of exercises, training techniques, and equipment in relation to the horse’s health. Michelangelo had a comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy and function. He had a clear vision of an ideal before creating the David. Once you understand how a horse’s physical design ideally functions and how a horse uses logic, you will begin to understand the horse from a different perspective. An awareness of the science and the laws of nature are critical for healthy development. Form governs function. Without a basic understanding of the very nature of the horse, a rider will chip away at their ideal horse but wind up with a broken or distorted pile of rubble instead of a work of art.
Horses and people require education. While all creatures are born with a blueprint to achieve an optimal state, they are not born knowing how to get there. Reaching optimal requires training, conditioning, and practice. We learn as we go, and sometimes life gets in the way of doing things well. We all need a little guidance from time to time to get things right. The horse must learn acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in the human world and must become stronger in its body to carry a rider or pull a cart compared to the strength it would ever need in nature. The human must understand the horse’s nature and work with it to develop the whole horse in body and mind without breaking a horse’s spirit. A rider must learn how to be an independent, balanced weight on the horse’s back, and build strength instead of causing stress. Our education and changes we make on the inside, is what sets the stage for a harmonious partnership with our horses.