There are SO MANY different programs developed by horsemen with excellent marketing skills circulating the horse world today. Every system has its excellent ideas – and its holes. Different methods are understood and work for different people, with different horses, for different disciplines. I will never say that any particular method is wrong – but I will be happy to tell you what I believe real horsemanship looks like – except you will never ‘see’ it. Real horsemanship is almost invisible to the passive onlooker.
Real horsemanship isn’t a method, a series of steps or obstacles or games to achieve flashy circus tricks. It is not swinging a special rope, using a particular kind of halter, or not using a halter at all. It is not playing with a ball or the horse running backwards next to you. It isn’t turning a horse this way or that every time on cue in a round pen. It isn’t loading a horse into a trailer from the opposite side of a pasture. It isn’t respect, fear, snappy reactions, or dominance. These methods and step by step programs can be credited for bringing a level of understanding, compassion, and awareness to the horse loving public. They are NOT an end. They ARE a beginning.
Real horsemanship is embodied in clear, concise communication that a horse naturally understands. The Dressage world actually has a word for it – The Aids! The ultimate in beauty and real horsemanship is the conversation a rider has with their horse that is barely perceptible and actually quite non-dramatic. The horse that is calm and quiet and happy, with neutral ears, a droopy bottom lip, and relaxation and rhythm in their step when they go is the work of art of the real horseman. The Aids work on the ground and in the saddle to start, stop, turn, and communicate imperceptibly with any horse – they work the same every time. Even a horse that has been so conditioned to ignore them and only work off of cues, once rewarded for response to the aids, will again take a deep breath, relax, and respond again off the Aids.
Unlocking the mystery of real horsemanship and the Aids is the subject of book after book, article after article. Check out our list of suggested readings for a variety of books that we suggest every horseman should read.
Real horsemanship is as simple as watching the horse’s body language, acknowledging their thoughts and concerns, and discussing things in a manner the horse will understand. The key, however, to real horsemanship is to know how to allow your communication to grow up and step outside the cycle of dominance.
Using the horse’s fight or flight reactions while inside the cycle of dominance will allow you to be successful in the beginning. What happens when we remain, as horsemen and ultimately as human beings in everyday life, inside the cycle of dominance? Horses inside the herd are always watching and waiting for their leader to fail – and then they overtake their leader and assume that role. How can we, through trust, leadership, kindness, and a solid relationship of true love, step outside the cycle of dominance and enter a brave new world?
Real horsemanship does not include fancy circus tricks and flashy shows of dominance – it is performed every day by the quiet riders and happy horses who allow their communication and relationship to grow from natural horsemanship into a true partnership.