Horsemanship and Equitation - The Horse Forum
  • 9 Post By DanielDauphin
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post #1 of 6 Old 05-12-2014, 10:54 AM Thread Starter
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Horsemanship and Equitation

I find that while promoting and answering questions about my clinics that the difference between Horsemanship and Equitation frequently comes up. Particularly when I am trying to convince an English rider that I really can help them, even though my saddle weighs a lot more, and my personal horse goals are quite different. It will not be my intent to start a turf war here, but merely to point out some major differences between the two visions of the man horse relationship. I will also state that the English instructors are not nearly the only ones guilty of teaching only equitation and leaving out horsemanship entirely. We are all dealing with horses, and all of those horses are constantly sizing us up and testing our leadership, so we’d all better be aware of and dealing with it, regardless of the type of saddle we’re riding.

As some of you know, my decision to begin teaching horsemanship evolved after my niece had a pretty bad riding accident that left her with a dislocated jaw, punctured lung, and ruptured spleen. She had been taking riding lessons for about two years at a very well known and respected facility and had certainly developed some equitation skills. Unfortunately, she had not been taught much about horses, how they think, and how to control them. In other words, what I consider “Horsemanship” was left out entirely. I find this to be an exceptionally common and disheartening occurrence among those who teach “Equitation”.

Since they are frequently used synonymously, let me define each term right now:

Equitation- The art or practice of riding a horse using proper form and signals to guide and direct the horse. This can be fairly discipline specific as varying forms are needed for varying goals.

Horsemanship- The art or practice of using psychology, common sense, and a complete understanding of the horse to influence and control his movements, moods, and the man/horse relationship. This is universal among all disciplines, and to a certain extent, the basic philosophies carry through to training any animal to do anything, with certain differences among each particular species’ social structure. Notice that it does not relate specifically to riding, but more generally to handling.

Many definitions, even in dictionaries, will make these two terms essentially interchangeable. I do not. To me, there are major differences between the two. For instance, we could all easily pick out the cowgirl that we dressed up and put on a dressage horse, and a Dressage rider that we put jeans and boots on and stuck in a Western saddle. Those differences are precisely differences in equitation. Their horsemanship however, would not and need not change, since they are both still dealing with a horse.

First off, equitation, to my mind, focuses primarily on the rider and their position. They seem to leave out the personality and wants/don’t wants of the other half of the equation, the horse. I will say that I am sure there are exceptions to this, but in my experience, those exceptions are rare. While I think that rider position is a very important thing, it is not nearly the only thing that will critically influence the man/horse relationship. To refer back to my niece, she was taught how to post, how to ride around in two-point, how to jump, she was beginning to learn leads, and of course, proper position of her fanny in relation to her ear, and her heals. She was not taught that horses have a mind of their own (at least not to an effective extent), or how to control a horse who has become uncooperative, or even when or why a horse might become uncooperative.

I’m sure that we’ve all seen the same horse ride differently for different riders. This is an example of a difference in horsemanship. A very good horseman can get along with a wide variety of horses and horse personalities and still get them to perform well despite differences in disciplines. Likewise, we can have a person who sits a horse very well, but is missing out on those subtle areas of communication with leg and rein. This person may sit a horse well, but a large variety of horses will not respond well to them. There’s more to it than simply sitting or riding well. This is where Horsemanship comes in, to my estimation.

I truly do believe, know, and understand how rider balance and position affects the horse and how he moves. I also truly believe, know, and understand that if you do not have your horse’s attention and respect that you are in DANGER. This is because a horse is bigger, faster, stronger, and more reactive than any regular human being can possibly comprehend without lots of experience with and around horses. Horses have fears, likes, wants, and desires, and can be very lazy and headstrong. Treats, heel position, and petting are insignificant solutions to these problems. Equitation is an important element in riding a horse and horsemanship. Let us hope that those teaching equitation will see horsemanship as an important element in their teachings as well. Let’s learn how to not get killed first, we can learn diagonals and leads later.
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post #2 of 6 Old 05-12-2014, 01:32 PM
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Yet again Daniel I agree with you.

All to often when starting children, and adult novices are put on well trained and quiet animals this is how it should be but, they need to progress to riding the different animals as they learn.

When I learnt to ride we were allowed to ride the same pony for two weeks running and then were swapped onto something else. When competing we rode the same pony all season, it was shared at shows with other riders but, if you were jumping it then that pony stayed with you all summer.

To start we rode ponies that you showed the course plan and they took you round, then, after you were use to winning ribbons, the following year you had a pony that needed riding for you to get around the jumps let alone in the money!

It was good for teaching horsemanship, to make you think and actually ride. Winning in an easy pony is nothing, winning on a little devil means something!

One of the best child riders I ever had the pleasure of teaching had a nasty 12.2 pony. It had two paces, reverse or flat out forward. That girl about 10 years old, rode that pony well. In a equitation class at their first show together he reverted to napping. She rode him as she would at home. When the rest of the class were cantering and he wanted to take off, she made him walk and trot. When he napped at the gate she made him canter forward. She kept out of the way of the other competitors.

The judge pulled them in and they had to do an individual show without stirrups. My girl was told she could keep hers but she didn't and did a show of sorts.

Then after all the riders had shown individually she asked the first rider pulled in, if my girl could ride her pony, one which her mother spent hours schooling. It went better for my girl and she looked really correct.

The other girl was out up on another pony which showed she could look good but couldn't get the best from a pony.

My girl won! We were all in shock because I never expected her to place. The objections were flying but the judge rightly said, "This is a Riding Class, not a show pony class. That girl could ride a donkey in the Grand National and get it round! Her pony is horrible but mark my words, in a few months he will be as good as gold."

She was right. The pair of them started winning jumping and more than once they competed in 14.2 classes beating older riders on better ponies.
She was and still is, a horsewoman.
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Last edited by Foxhunter; 05-12-2014 at 04:40 PM. Reason: Errors
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post #3 of 6 Old 05-12-2014, 03:43 PM
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I TOTALLY agree. A million years ago, when I was 11,my parents got me a 3 year old ridgeling as my first horse. He bucked, crow hopped, reared, and taught me how to ride. The other kids had calm, we'll, schooled horses and worked on their equitation. I didn't have time - I was just trying to survive. I never did get great equitation, but as we got older I could ride just about anything and get the most out of it. When I was 15, I was accepted at a very good jumper training stable. Most of the other kids wanted in, but didn't make it. Later, when I asked the trainer why, he said "because they can't ride. All they know how to do is look pretty on a horse."

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post #4 of 6 Old 05-12-2014, 04:38 PM
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I think a lot of the difference comes down to how and where you learn to ride
I grew up with a 3 older generations of family that all had horse experience so I not only learnt to ride I also had to learn how to care for my ponies correctly and because I was left to my own devices a lot it had to be done safely so there was never any question of allowing them to do anything unacceptable - bad behavior was nipped in the bud immediately. I also often grazed the ponies away from the house in the summer and would bike there with just a bridle and then ride them back - usually via the canal bank for a canter and a stretch of common land for a jump over some brush fences a local trainer had built on there - so I learnt to ride bareback. I was taught to ride without stirrups and 'no hands'. It all makes a difference
I spent a lot of my teenage years at a local riding school/dealer/competition yard - it was quite rough and ready but they did well. Lots of kids earned their lessons there over the years by working around the place, they all turned out great riders & though I can't say that Health and Safety were high on the agenda back then accidents were quite rare.
I've seen lots of riders who look picture perfect in the saddle but when something goes wrong they haven't a clue what to do about it
A really good horse can perform well for a while with a monkey on it - but it won't do it forever.
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post #5 of 6 Old 05-12-2014, 04:46 PM
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Another thing about teaching regardless of what discipline, is that someone on the ground can see things a rider cannot always feel.
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post #6 of 6 Old 05-12-2014, 06:45 PM
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I think you just described the difference between the lessons my daughter has versus my niece. DD has been taught to read her horse and the surrounding horse's body language, how to be firm with the butt heads and be gentle with the timid ones, how to make sure her horse does what it's told but also to not ask too much too soon. In short she is learning horsemanship. Each pony or horse at the school has something to teach the riders too, they aren't all perfect.

My niece has been riding the same amount of time and is a similar age. She rides well, but can't read her horse and doesn't know how to correct it. She rides dead broke horses that don't put a foot wrong. She also knows very little about horse behavior on the ground, or horse care.

I know where I'd rather DD learnt to ride.
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