Where are the holes that are getting in the way of you obtaining excellence with horses?
Becoming excellent in anything takes dedication and time. A master horseman will take more time putting foundation before specialization and they understand the importance of the “little things”.
Just imagine you’re at a horsemanship 101 clinic. It’s the first day of the clinic and the clinician tells everyone to saddle up and join him in the arena in 30 minutes. You already have your horse in hand so you lead her over to your trailer and begin politely saddling her.
As you are saddling your horse you notice two trailers down from you a young woman attempting to saddle her horse. The first thing you notice is that the horse is tied long. As you try to get over the fact that the horse is tied long, you also notice the incorrectly tied knot and that the rope halter is about to slip over her nose.
As the horse is moving around, the person tries to throw the saddle up onto the horse’s back. The horse is so offended by the rudeness of her human that she pins her ears and attempts to bite. The person hits the horse on the face and continues saddling.
This continues on with the person grabbing the back cinch and buckling it up before putting on the front cinch. The horse continues to dance around. By some act of God the person finally gets the front cinch snug enough on the horse to head over to the arena.
She enters the arena where about 10 other individuals are riding around and the clinician is waiting to call the class into session. You ride in behind her as she leads her horse into the arena.
Everyone is riding around as she attempts to mount her horse. The horse continues to dance around and as she is trying to get on, her saddle slips onto the side of her horse.
She keeps trying to mount up and then the clinician yells to her “Get that horse out of here and properly cinch her up! If that saddle slipped under her belly you could kill us all in here!!!”
This is not a joke… it did happen.
What is wrong with this situation? I’d be willing to bet that you can point out at least two (of many) problems with this scenario.
Here’s The Really Good News
There is hope.
I have to continue to remind myself that not everyone chooses to work toward achieving excellence with horses. Most people are happy with just getting by and not getting killed. In other words… they’re happy with being mediocre.
Here’s something to consider… what if we were working on the path to excellence and, by default, that allowed us to be much, much safer and nearly eliminate having a “bad” horse day.
Hmm… now that’s a thought!
Not everyone desires to have an honest and high-level relationship with a horse.
Over the last 10+ years, I have noticed three of the toughest hurdles people face with improving their horse-man-ship. I also struggled with these same hurdles, so don’t think I was exempt, because I wasn’t.
Awareness is the first step to causing change!
So here are some ways to get over what I believe are three of the toughest horse-man-ship hurdles. The sooner you decide to improve in these areas, the sooner you can have more fun and stay even safer with your horse.
By no means am I saying it’s going to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it, but it’s also not as hard as it appears right now.
Old Habits Die Hard
I have to admit I have some poor horsemanship habits that 1) I may not be aware of, 2) I’m aware of and I’m working towards changing and 3) I may not feel are important enough to change (this is rare since I believe everything means something to a horse).
Since I’m a dedicated student of horses, there are times I may catch something I did on one of my videos that I had no idea I was doing. I was not conscious of it. This happens to all of us.
Video may be one of the more powerful ways to observe yourself without feeling like a failure or being offended because one of your friends pointed out the fact that you’re a blockhead around your horse.
Remember, a good friend will be honest with you, and if they’re a really good friend, they will not sugar coat it because it could mean the difference between you staying safe or getting hurt.
The best tip I can provide on interrupting old habits, after becoming aware, is to be willing to make a change, and the biggest motivating factor to make that change will be your burning desire to have good horse-man-ship habits.
Monkey See Monkey Do
Think back to the situation I described at the beginning of this article. Just for grins, lets say that the person who was observing the person saddling the horse was new to horses.
They might think that there is nothing wrong with tying a horse long or with the halter about to come over the horse’s nose. They may think that it’s okay to hit their horse and that what they observed is the proper way to saddle a horse… not realizing that there were many safety concerns in that scenario.
Setting both good and bad examples are extremely powerful, so why not choose to make it a habit to set good examples?
This is just a simple example, but this type of “Monkey See Monkey Do” mentality happens more often than not in the horse industry.
The best tip I can think of providing when it comes to this is to be very careful where you get your information.
Just because you saw someone else do something with a horse, don’t blindly accept it; always question “why?”
When learning something new, observe different ways and then compare techniques. You’ll know when the right one resonates with you.
When observing these methods, don’t allow yourself to be swayed just because someone is a “trainer”. Keep in mind that many “top trainers” have poor horse-man-ship skills. There is a big difference between a trainer and a horseman.
Reading Horses And The Situation
I saved reading horses and the situation for last because I believe this is the most difficult of the three. Learning to read and understand horse behavior can be a life long endeavor, but it’s well worth pursuing. This is the area that separates the true horseman from the mediocre trainer, those who use force with horses or someone just wanting to get by.
Learning how to use psychology, versus fear and intimidation, is not normal for most equine enthusiasts, especially if they think it’s too hard and will get in the way of a blue ribbon or winning a futurity.
Mastering the art of putting the horse’s noble nature first, and relating to them through their mind before asking for the physical… is not for everyone.
The best tip I can provide here is to study. Study those whom you know have a “special” connection with horses. Observe them, learn from them and most of all learn from your horse. Learn to listen to your horse more than you listen to humans and you will find the answers. This is the most important area, and it’s constantly overlooked.
The better someone becomes at reading horses and situations, the safer they will be around horses.
A few other tips I can provide which I may expand on in future articles are as follows:
- A great technique is not always the answer
- Become a better problem solver
You don’t have to be an amazing trainer to be an amazing horseman
But you do have to make a change if you seek excellence with horses. For master horsemen, it may be minor tweaks and for others, like myself, we have a long road ahead. I don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying every step.
The more you learn and develop yourself, the more your horse-man-ship skills will improve. Through learning more about you, you will learn more about your horse. I know, sounds weird… but it works.
So get going and pick one of the three things I mentioned and see if there are areas in your horse-man-ship you can improve.
Keep it soulful,