This started out as a FaceBook comment…
It’s no secret that I spend a lot of my spare time perusing historic literature on horsemanship. By ‘historic’ I mean the written word of previous generations of horsemanship masters. Reading the works of these masters of horsemanship is something I encourage not only my students to do, but also for every horseman of all levels to do.
One of the old adages I often use is “good riding is accomplished more with one’s head than one’s arse.” Of course, book learning only goes so far and then one must eventually get off the top rail of the fence, climb into the ring and actually work with horses.
This is where the importance of knowing as much as one can in terms of understanding the existing historical literature of those horsemen who came before us (and had the good sense to write it all down for the benefit of future generations). It gives us the ability to learn from the past, advance the good work and hopefully avoid the mistakes of the past by knowing what not to try.
Horsemanship is a cumulative process that each individual must build on his own. The written work is a necessity, but so is the ability to apply what one has learned academically in the real world. Experience is the best teacher and one must understand where one came from in order to know where one is going, or should go.
When one has the additional tools that result from academic study of the development of modern horsemanship, one also has the ability to test certain theories, methods and practices for one’s self. In fact, such experimentation, and the willingness to do so, is a requirement of the true horseman.
When Vladimir Littauer commented that, “all horses ride they same. They have four legs” the actual implication is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. One must not only be a learned horseman but also a rational thinking horseman.
One of the most disconcerting thing I find about most horsemen/riders/trainers (or any combination thereof) is that they tend to be blissfully ignorant of the work of others that came before them. Most people today don’t study the works of previous generations of master horsemen nor to they tend to question things that are taken as the immutable truth. They do not experiment for the most part and as a result they do not make progress for themselves nor for the art of horsemanship.
Today, if once cites the methods and techniques of the old ‘masters’ or questions the methods and techniques of today’s ‘big name’ commercial trainers who are selling their own ‘unique’ systems of equestrianism, one risks the chance of being accused of having ‘strange’ ideas and being branded a ‘black sheep’.
It’s also a pity that the average rider and riding instructor do not investigate and apply the various skill sets and tools of military horsemanship. Such tools and skills, while viewed by some today as relics of the past, are, in fact, tools to develop the skills needed in order to be a true horseman. Today, jumping a horse over obstacles has become an end unto itself rather than a tool for developing a rider’s skills to promote an over-all picture or skill set.
The more you read, the more you know, the more tools you have to work with – and I tell this to my students regardless of what discipline of horsemanship they wish to pursue.