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The Value of a Finished Horse

Published: 1/13/2015
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

When I was a young girl, I took an interest in horses and wanted to learn to ride. My parents took me and my older sister to riding lessons at a nearby Military Riding School in Caracas, Venezuela (where my father was stationed in the Air Force). [See photo at right.]

Week after week we worked on our position in the saddle, our balance, and learned to control the horse in all three gaits. We practiced posting and sitting the trot without stirrups and cantering without reins and without stirrups before we were allowed to jump.

I took many spills, cried, and hopped back on, and sometimes fell right back off. We gained confidence, balance, and an understanding of the horse's mental and physical states through patient instruction as well as some trial and error. Through the years I tried many different disciplines and got a feel for the horse world.

Thanks to those years of experience and many patient and well-educated school horses, my sister and I gained experience, confidence, and a good feel for the horse. My riding education as a young person is not extraordinary, in fact it is quite similar to that of my peers’ backgrounds.

Even though I start and train horses of my own, there is still immense value to be found in the well-educated school master horse. Last spring the Andalusian stallions at Real Escuela  taught me that I still had so much to learn, and helped me refine my balance in the saddle, the timing of my aids, and to become much more subtle.

Years of riding green horses had made me somewhat defensive and sloppy in my position, and these stallions would not accept less than my best. They pushed me to advance, further my skills, and stay humble enough to know there was a lot more I needed to learn.

Almost a year later, I still seek out horses that are more educated than I am so I can improve myself, and thereby improve my greener horses. My learning will never be done, and neither will the education of any true horseman or woman.

Many of today's riders seem to disregard the importance of years of learning on patient, older horses. I come across any number of people who “just want to trail ride” or “don't need to know all that stuff” for whatever reason. I see many people who ride young or green horses without having an independent seat, or without the benefit of years of experience on older horses.

Horsemanship can be dumbed down to simply staying on more often than falling off, often to the detriment of the poor horse's mouth. With the bar set so low, trainers may not need to continually strive to improve their riding in order to look good. Some take on an attitude of knowing it all.

Students may gravitate to trainers who will take charge and tell them what to do continually, rather than seek to raise their level of awareness and challenge themselves, and with the help of these teachers become able enough to ride and handle their horses independently.

A few years ago when I was interning with Sherry Jarvis, she told me a good teacher would be proud to watch her student outgrow her. That would mean the teacher had done her job, she said. I think often of what she said and strive to teach my students to be thoughtful, self-sufficient, and interested.

Keeping this in mind challenges me to improve myself constantly and be the best I can, for myself, for my students, and for my horses.
Whatever your skill level or aspirations, I challenge you to find a horse that is more advanced than you are, to stay humble, and to find out what you don't know. There is a world of possibility for those willing to open themselves to it. Continual improvement can be yours. All you need to have is willingness to put in the time.

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1/15/2015 Sigrid Hansen
Great insight...I have often said this of finding people who are more advanced than I am, but never thought of this same with horses. Love it!

"No one can teach riding so well as a horse" - CS Lewis