This is a response to a post ( https://www.horseforum.com/member-jou...5/#post9532666
) on tinyliny's journal. As it got longer, and possibly more controversial, I decided to post it here. I didn't want to disrupt her thread, and it was turning into a rant:
I've argued the founding principle of horsemanship is simply:
The horse is alive!
That means it has thoughts, feelings, needs, desires. And they think and feel in a way quite different than what is too often taught. That is why I found that old quote from a cavalryman in the 1860s so helpful. So many people, including many life long riders on HF, told me what a very experienced rider on HF wrote a couple of weeks ago - that the only thing horses care about is eating. VS Littauer, in 1935, after years in the Russian Cavalry and becoming a jumping instructor, wrote the same thing - that no horse enjoys being ridden, and that all any horse wants to do is be lazy, eating food in the company of other horses. It wasn't until 20 years later, in the 50s, that he mentioned going out on a relaxing morning ride with his horse, both of them enjoying being out.
It is reflected in the often taught idea that if a horse is scared, you should not dismount. Why? Because by dismounting, you "reward the horse". It is reflected in the often made statement, "That horse has your number!" It is a bit contradictory, actually. All horses care about is food, yet they also spend their nights plotting ways to dominate their riders and take control of the world the next day!
But the cavalryman affirmed what I was starting to suspect:
"...Horses don't like to be ennuye, and will rather stick at home than go out to be bored; they like amusement, variety, and society: give them their share of these, but never in a pedantic way, and avoid getting into a groove of any kind, either as to time or place, especially with young animals."
"they like amusement, variety, and society
" - They are alive!
I'm not picking on dressage. This comes from the USDF, but a similar approach to riding can be found in many show disciplines, and is often found in basic riding instruction:
In a correctly executed turn or circle the horse’s inside hind leg carries more weight than the outside one. Before every turn or circle the rider should prepare the horse with a half halt and transfer his weight a little to the inside seat bone, in the direction of the movement.
The horse should then be flexed in the same direction. The inside rein should guide the horse into the turn, the rider’s inside leg, close to the girth, causing the horse’s inside hind leg to reach further forward. The outside rein should yield just enough to allow the horse to flex to the inside, while at the same time it restrains the horse from falling out over the outside shoulder. The outside leg should control the quarters.
When the horse’s forehand is guided from the straight line into the direction of the turn, the influence of the inside rein is decreased again. The rider should ‘straighten’ the horse with the outside rein, keep the horse exactly on the line of the circle. (‘Straight’ on the circle means making sure that the hind feet follow in the tracks of the forefeet, and that the horse is bent from head to tail according to the curvature of the line.)
The correct distribution of the rider’s weight is most important. In transferring his weight to the inside seat bone he should push the inside hip forward with a deep knee. This will also prevent him from collapsing his inside hip and slipping the seat to the outside. At the same time he should make sure not to leave the outside shoulder behind.
Notice the RIDER is performing a turn on a horse. The RIDER. But no rider ever performs a turn! The horse turns. Sometimes because we ask him to, and sometimes because he wants to, and sometimes the two meet and we decide to turn together.
You never turn the horse. You can tell the horse "Turn or else!" - as I did on Bandit the other day, when his attention suddenly leaped a few hundred yards ahead and focused on my wife and our white German Shepherd - in a place where Bandit could not imagine them existing. Once in a while, "...or else!" is needed for safety.
But with a few rare exceptions, we ask or command a horse to turn. Maybe to turn in a certain way. Having been bred for many years for docility, many horses will do so without resentment. Most of the time.
When one studies the horse's motion, be it the back, or the footfalls used in a turn or even in a trot or canter, it becomes obvious we don't even know HOW the horse moves and turns! It took the invention of high speed cameras to show a horse can trot with a moment of suspension. There are still people who teach the horse's back rounds up, forming an arch, when collected - although there is now very good data showing that never happens. We see a horse moving his hind legs deep underneath him, and think he is transferring weight to his rear - not understanding that ALL he is doing is moving his feet further forward than makes sense in order to make his rider leave him alone.
In riding lessons and shows, it is ultimately all about the rider. Even when the horse is supposedly being judged, the horse is being judged on moving in a way that pleases humans - to include rollkur, or the WP peanut rolling! Or a 2 or 3 year old horse is pushed to spin repeatedly, fast, with a heavy weight on his back, without regard to how that affects his body. I've yet to see a horse, on his own, spin around again and again. I've seen a horse on its own slide while stopping, but I'm pretty sure it was accidental.
Jean Luc Cornille argues that false practices tend to dominate shows, that the standards to which a horse is expected to perform ignore the root meaning of what the dressage masters were trying to do. It arguably takes a genius to feel with a precision that allows horses to correctly
execute - biomechanically correctly execute - training maneuvers meant to build up the horse's body, but that done incorrectly tear it down
Somewhere on his website ( Gestures verses Energy
), he argues that a horse faced with this lack of genius in his rider responds in a way that increases effort, pain and likelyhood of injury, effectively pretending
to do X. And the buffoon on his back, and the buffoon in the judge's stand - my description, not his - is happy, because they are trying to do the very difficult without the understanding and feel required to do it right!
That is why I reject the idea of a rider performing a turn on the horse. I think true horsemanship, at least for those of use who are not geniuses, consist of presenting the horse with graduated challenges, and letting the horse figure out how to perform them.
How do I turn a horse? I ask him. Sometimes with a look, and sometimes with moving the reins sideways a little further up his neck than where they normally rest. And my horse then takes care of the turn. That will never win him an award in reining, or WP, or dressage. But it recognizes that the horse is alive!
A quote from Ray Hunt then applies:
"There's a purpose and a meaning behind each thing you ask the horse to do."
A horse will do a lot just to please his rider. I often ride Bandit in our little arena. But ideally, I want the context to teach the horse. A horse turning back and forth between cactus (or trees, or shrubs, or rocks, or following a path that does so) understands what we ask because it makes sense to him. Like a word we don't know can have its meaning deduced from the surrounding context, the horse learns that we ask him to do things that make sense because they DO make sense! And then the horse learns that the monkey on his back is smart, and worth listening to!
And when the horse does stuff because it makes sense to him, he also figures out how to do so most efficiently. Maybe not TRULY the MOST efficiently. Jean Luc Cornille argues a horse who has learned how to do X adequately will stay at that level by habit - just as humans do.
But since I do not understand my horse's motion, because I am NOT a genius and refuse to pretend otherwise, I think the best way to improve the horse's motion is then to offer increasing levels of difficulty, until the horse needs to break his habit pattern in order to achieve the goal. And at some point, when a horse does what you would like him to do adequately, safely and cheerfully - just how much "improvement" do we need?
Long rant, which is why I moved it here. Some people would tell me that if I don't rebalance my horse with a half-halt regularly, even constantly, that means I suck at riding. I honestly feel the opposite. If someone is trying to micromanage their horse so intently, and gives the horse so little freedom to explore that the horse NEEDS to be rebalanced by a human before a turn - then THAT rider sucks! Caveat: Given how fast a horse can move, and how fast they can turn, a rider can get a turn that would flip the horse. We do sometimes need to give the horse some warning. But if we have taught the horse correctly, the horse will still get the job done safely. I've watched Mia, without a rider, fall at high speed when scared and running mindlessly. But I think we would all agree running mindlessly is not the goal of a good rider - but it is something we sometimes need to handle!
Because here is a truth Mia taught me, drilled into me, early on - a horse who wants
to turn can turn far faster than I want to experience, and do so with maybe 1/10th of a second of self-induced rebalancing! Mia and Bandit both can turn with a speed and violence that darn near rips me out of the saddle, and do so starting from a relaxed, extended, uncollected walk.
Applying a sequence of cues to control the horse's motion may be good riding, but teaching the horse to control himself and respond to your wishes because it makes sense to do so is, IMHO, good horsemanship! Because:
The horse is alive!
< / rant >