Riding

Becoming a Horseman

Horses teach people so that people can teach horses.

From AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship”

Equine ethology was born of a desire to help man in order to help the horse. This quest did not, however, require the invention of a new scientific field of the creation of a new discipline. It is simply a rediscovery of knowledge and experience accumulated over centuries and adapted to modern circumstances.

The survival and evolution of the horse have depended on its ability to defend itself against predators. The gap between predator and prey still exists, and any relationship between man and horse that is unnatural must be presented to the horse in a way that he can understand and that makes sense to him. Once this understanding has been established, everything becomes simple and possible, and can be summed up as follows: Horses teach people so that people can teach horses.

Are you a new horse owner? Learn step-by-step methods to a sound riding foundation with AQHA's "Fundamentals of Horsemanship."

Whatever our equestrian activities and whatever our aims and motives, we are all searching for the same thing: that elusive harmony between man and horse that comes from a deeper understanding. Communication is subtle; mutual respect and trust find the perfect balance. The connection between man and horse is not only physical, but mental and emotional. The path to this harmony is not easy, and it requires considerable personal investment with moments of deep satisfaction (thank goodness) but also others of profound frustration. Determination, perseverance and a willingness to listen and learn will always bring success on the road to becoming a horseman.

Begin by understanding the horse and his behavior. Being able to interpret his actions and reactions enables us to understand how he behaves. It is essential to bear in mind - and adapt one’s behavior accordingly - that everything a horse does is dictated by his nature. Many good riders or trainers still do not know why a horse behaves in certain ways.

Understanding his behavior automatically improves the relationship between man and horse and is the fundamental basis of the bond that will develop between them. The horse will react positively to the rider’s commands, which in turn will engender confidence, a precise understanding of what is being asked of him and respect for what he is being asked to do. The end of misunderstanding between the two gives rise to positive behavior, and the horse will begin to act in harmony with his rider. It is untrue to say that a horse acts against his rider; he acts according to his nature when he does not understand what is being asked of him.

For some years now, the number of riders wishing to live in harmony with their horses has been increasing. They are no longer satisfied with an approximate approach, but want to learn as much as possible about equine behavior so they can understand as much as possible about how horses act, react and learn. This is not merely a passing fashion, but a genuine philosophy essential to the relationship between man and horse and can bring mutual benefit and pleasure in sharing each other’s company.

Much of the horsemanship methodology recommended nowadays is based on observations and reflections that have stood the test of time.

For example, in the ancient writings of Xenophon (370 B.C.), we find, “Only a gentle hand can calm a nervous horse.”

Horsemanship techniques have evolved, and in many cases, complexities have been simplified. This new approach has grown rapidly throughout the world. It offers solutions to help the horse integrate into our challenging 21st century lives.

Our modern world perceives the horse in a new way due to several factors:

    • New research
    • The specific requirements of the ways in which we use horses today
    • Our realization that the horse must be respected if we, too, are to be respected; in respecting him, we respect ourselves
    • Our desire to get the most out of the time spent with our horses, under the best possible conditions, free of stress for both parties and based on communication which is founded on a mutual and carefully-constructed understanding

This redefining of relations between man and horse is merely an evolution, not a deep-seated reform.

“A horse thinks, feels, makes decisions. Treat him like a friend, not a slave. People have to learn that whatever the horse does is right. You’re the one who got into his life, he didn’t get into yours.”  -- Ray Hunt

Practical understanding of the horse and his behavior is within our grasp, and it will be the starting point for a shared educational experience that can be thought of as a partnership. Everything we ask of the horse must be explained in a way he can understand. It is up to the rider to find the right way to communicate his wishes to the horse. Commands that are well expressed, clearly understood and thoroughly assimilated allow the rider to become more demanding without causing the horse to become tense or stressed.

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The road to a better relationship with the horse is laid out in the following four fundamental and chronological steps:

    • Comprehension
    • Foundation
    • Equitation
    • Competition

We have seen how a thorough understanding of the horse and his behavior is essential and must be the first thing we try to acquire. This understanding will form a solid foundation serving the horse all his life. The last step, competition, should only be attempted once the basic foundations of understanding have been acquired.

Before attempting to build something, one should have a clear idea of what the finished product should look like and how one intends to achieve this goal. This applies equally to the construction of a new house as to the training of a young horse.