Saturday, October 1, 2011

Horsmanship?

I have just plonked down at my desk, still in my riding gear, after one of those days where you work so hard, your feet ache, your muscles hurt and your dogged tired, but it feels good because you know you got heaps of done, and for once everything went your way. The horses all behaved and performed well today. The wild mare was excellent to ride,even going for a walk down the road, the other break in's all behaved and my performance horses all co-operated, its a nice feeling because , i managed to get every horse that need it, ridden. Now with the left over buzz of energy from a successful day, I'm going to ignore the cat clamoring for attention on my lap and type down somethings that been on my mind for a while.

What is horsemanship, or rather what do you say is good horsemanship? how do you define it? If you envisioned a horse trainer what qualities would they posses? I'm in a dilemma which i cant totally explain in this post, but i will try to in time. but back to horsemanship what is it? Is it that rider who has elusive 'feel' for every horse they ride, the rider that can see a stride for a jump no matter how far away they are, the trainer that can produce a happy obedient horse, or the rider who really has that pizazz in the show ring and squeeze every ounce out of a horse in competition, is it the ride who has the best cared for horse. Because a lot of people have differing opinions when it comes to what is good horsemanship.





There are some horse care practices that i look upon as torture and other people see as a sign of a competent horse person. I don't really who right or wrong. I look at some people at shows who horses are immaculately groomed, to the point where they wear 6 rugs, hoods, bandages, tail bags and there bodies only feel the sun when they are ridden. They have to be stabled and wrapped in cotton wool at all times, separated from other horses, because god forbid they get a scratch on them. To me this is lack of horsemanship , not a sign of it. Because the horse loses every horse sense it has, no socialising, rolling in the dirt, grazing everything that makes it horsey. But i hear again and again "o so & so is such a good horsewoman look how well presented her horses are"....and i think to myself surely this is just a sign of good grooming not horsemanship.. but i could be wrong, and this is just an example.

My old boss, a dressage trainer, who i have huge respect for, he was a good horseman, in the saddle. He felt that every horse could and should be improved through training. He was not snobby, or particular about the horses he rode he just tried to improve the way of going of every horse he sat on. The horses were happy to work for him, and were beautiful soft and elastic feeling to ride. Yet when it came to things like presentation, he was not the most perfect example of it. He didn't like tidy pulled or plaited tails, and he always looked slight rough around the edges, but i don't think this made him a bad horsemen at all. he also taught me a lot about horse fitness and conditioning, and i had huge respect in him for that. he made sure his horse got galloped and forest rides each week, not just drilled routines in an arena. They were all happy fit and healthy horses. However while he was an amazing rider, his horses lacked even some most basic ground manners that would have made life a lot easier, yet in the saddle that man was amazing.

Then there is the horsemen who take obsessive care of their horses. the horses are not allowed to trot down hills, to hard on the joints. the legs are bandaged with pedantic care, the Velcro must always finish in a exact spot. you can only use certain brushes, and tails are never brushed but separated hair by hair with you hands. You must never ride on hard ground, nor ground that is to deep or muddy. instead of a bit of hay, hard feed and good grass, nutrition is forefront in these horses training, everything from a good top line, and behaviour issues can be fixed with the right food.Each horse must do a certain and exact amount of competition before moving up a level, or competing at nationals. Their is a set routine that is never changes no matter the horse. The horses comfort and well being is paramount to everything, even manners and schooling

But then there is another kind of horsemanship and this is what i picture when i think of the word. One of my biggest mentors and someone who has influenced my entire career, is an old cowboy type, nothing like the dramatic show queens, dressage masters, or pedantic jump trainers. He taught me that every horse can be well behaved, and safe to handle, they can all be responsive and fancy bits are not required. from this guy i learned how to read a horses behaviour, teach ground manners, correct behaviour problems, and break in and deal with any kind of horse. He knew more about a horses psychology than anyone else Ive ever come across, he understood how horses learned, reacted, and how much you could ask from any animal at a time. This guy knew how to teach all the fancy 'show tricks' like getting a horse to lie down, play dead etc etc. But his real talent was that he had an amazing 'feel' for every horse and he showed that every horse could and should be sensitive, calm and well behaved, and safe to handle. Nutrition, fitness and presentation however were not in his familair repertoire.

My last thought, is that competition results are not always the best indicator of horsemanship. i know plenty of fantastic trainers and riders, that for some reason cannot get it together and perform in the ring. They don't enjoy the pressure, they get to worried about how the horse is feeling, what ever it is, that amazing training just doesn't show through when it counts. There are also riders who have the amazing ability to shine in competition. They can jump on a horse they never ridden before and win the class. They may never have the patience to train a horse themselves, but they can perform under pressure when it counts and get the most out of the horse they are sitting on. This is a skill in itself. I'm not sure if one type of rider is better than the other, just different.

I don't think there is one type of horsemanship either. unfortunately i never found anyone who covers all aspects, the nutritional, and physical health, the behaviour, the training and the presentation. Usually its a beautifully presented horse trampling their rider into the ground or a scruffy looking horse happily behaving beautifully. some riders cant bear to push their horse that extra 10% to produce a wining performance and some cant be bothered to train a horse at all. Some people spend so much time worrying about unsoundness they don't let it do anything, and others don't do enough and pay the price. Who knows who right and wrong, who is the better horseman and who isn't?

What is your opinion what quality makes a good horsemen or woman?