One of the worst things that happens to us when we first get in to horses is that we think all we have to do is just get on and ride. It’s no wonder so many of us end up getting into relationship issues with our horses! Most horses have a justifiably negative opinion of us humans and as a result they learn behaviors that range from frustrating to downright dangerous. I know when I was starting out over thirty years ago just how bad it can be!
But what if, from the first day we first dreamed of having a horse, we were taught that our job is to learn how to bring out the best in our horses, and that sometimes we need to consider that riding should not be our first major focus. What if instead we were taught that we should first think of ourselves as a trainer — psychologist, behaviorist or all of the above — first. If we were taught this from a child or young adult, it would make sense that we should have to learn to become a horseman first before we could become a rider second. A horseman is part rider, part trainer, part psychologist and part behaviorist. Being a horseman is way more than just being a good horse rider.
So what is being a horseman all about, and how does a horseman bring out the best in a horse?
It’s not until your horse is experienced in being calm, confident and willing that you can work on yourself to improve your feel, posture, position, technique and advance your skills.
This is also why “school masters” are so valuable. They have their act together, they know their job and they can put up with the mistakes riders make as they are learning. Pat Parelli expresses this in #7 of the Eight Principles: “Horses teach humans […]” because he knows how valuable it is for riders to learn from experienced horses. Unfortunately not all of us are lucky enough to have access to that kind of horse which is why becoming an excellent rider some – times takes longer than it should.
A trainer is a teacher, and it is your responsibility to teach your horse what you need and want him to know. As his teacher you need to be a good communicator, have a plan, and be knowledgeable, disciplined, patient, and focused. You need to be able to blend consistency and variety in the right proportions, to solve and prevent problems, and to make progress as soon as your horse is in a learning frame of mind.
In the Parelli program you learn a lot about how to use equine psychology to influence your horse’s mind, rather than manipulate him against his will using physical force. It’s about getting your idea to become your horse’s idea, but understanding your horse’s idea first. Essentially this means you need to know what strategies calm or motivate a horse, when to retreat or use reverse psychology, and when to advance and make rapid progress.
Understanding horse behavior takes the mystery out of horses, and the key to understanding the individual horse’s “Horsenality.” Not only does this allow you to understand why your horse behaves in a certain way, it informs you of potential behavioral patterns. You’ll know how to design productive training sessions, when to speed up or slow down, and you’ll stop bringing out the crazy, unpredictable, lazy or naughty side of your horse.
Be a Horseman
By using all your skills as a horseman you’ll bring out the best in your horse by slipping effortlessly from one role to the other exactly as needed. When your horse is afraid or loses trust and confidence, you’ll understand him and help him regain his confidence and trust in your leadership. When your horse resists or shuts down, you’ll know how to encourage his ideas or wait until he asks you a question. When your horse is calm, trusting, motivated and willing, you’ll get to work on the subtleties of becoming an excellent rider. Even though “rider” is first on this list, for the good of the horse it’s the thing you get to focus on last. One day it will all be seamless — you’ll do it all, all of the time. And then, in your horse’s eyes, you are a real horseman.
To find out more on how to become a real horseman/woman talk to us learn more about and Instructor in your area or 2 Day Clinics or longer Courses at our Australian Centre.
By Linda Parelli