Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Horseman’s Strength

Working on this week’s TV show about the Budweiser Clydesdales got me to thinking about why big horses allow us puny humans to control them. I’ve heard it speculated that they simply don’t know how strong they are. That may be true. There are many things horses don’t “know” the way we humans know them.

What horses do know – and we conclude this by observing them – is that it’s very important to be able to move one’s feet freely. In fact, in the horse’s world free movement is more than important; it’s an obsession. It is the key to living another day.

Accepting this fact about the horse’s nature is where every horseman’s journey must start. It’s why so much emphasis is placed these days on groundwork, for it is through groundwork that the horseman proves he can control the horse’s movement. Riding then becomes much simpler.

Note that control comes not from the horseman’s weight, muscular strength, or athletic prowess. It comes from understanding, respecting, and expertly using the horse’s nature as a unique animal species. We cannot force a horse to do anything but we can manipulate conditions to where it becomes easiest for him to do our bidding. Our idea becomes his idea. Outthinking the horse, rather than overpowering him, is the horseman’s stock-in-trade.

Horses do not think the way we do, but they do understand this basic truth: a creature that can control the movement of my feet is worthy of my respect. A creature that can do it without making me fear for my safety is worthy of my trust. Someone I respect and trust is someone I will follow, no matter how big he or she may be.



eliduc said...

I have shod draft horses and I never noticed that they didn't know how strong they are. They flick a hind foot and the farrier ends up nine feet away. They are cold blooded and not as reactive as hotter blooded horses. When you ask for a foot it takes the message 20 seconds to reach their brain and return to the foot. Rick is right. A horse's first instinct is to flee and hopefully he will not act in an aggressive, protective manner at the same time. People are always putting the cart before the horse when they teach a horse to pick up it's feet. Even farriers and trainers make this mistake. Instead of beginning with the feet we should teach the horse not to flee. When a horse avoids having it's foot picked up the first thing it does is move away from you. It's no different when they avoid being haltered, bridled or mounted. The first thing I do is teach my horses to ground tie, like teaching a dog to sit and stay on a long lead. Only after a horse is taught to stand still in one place should it be mounted or asked to give a foot.

Phyllis said...

I like what you said but you set up the question...HOW do you teach a horse to ground tie?

strivingforsavvy said...

I just finished listening to your book "Human to Horseman" on CD. I absolutely loved it. I was driving from Portland to Seattle and back and listened to the whole thing. I have already recommended it to some friends. Thank you for your insights and honesty. I hope to meet you some time. Will you be at the horse expo in Albany, OR in March?

4barecuzIcare said...

I think there is one important fact that is left out of the horsemanship thinking and that is that horses are "carried along" by an unconcious herd mentality sometimes. That is what would lead the herd over a cliff and that is what often helps a rider cross a creek in a group that, by itself or even with just their human to direct them, they would never cross if they thought about it. This non-thinking herd-following is hard-wired and I see many people (myself sometimes too) that in the heat of the chase ar able to ride over or thru obstacles that the horse's main reason for doing is to not be left behind. Of course it doesn't always work!:-)