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The Well Rounded Horseman

Published: 4/2/2015
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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 kid taking riding lessons at various riding schools, my one hour of riding was all I could think about throughout the week. I learned a lot about the basics of riding, but I was sadly lacking in the basics of grooming, horse care, and handling. As I started to venture out into the big wide horse world, I found myself not to be as useful as I had hoped, and lacked confidence when problems arose outside of the arena environment.
As a professional now, I find many situations where a training problem is less than simple:
  • Is it the teeth?
  • Is it the feet?
  • Is it pain somewhere, or sickness, is it saddle fit, and how can I tell?
  • Or how do I manage a situation that's come up that I'm completely unprepared for?
Whether you own horses or just ride in weekly lessons, learning about the whole horse, from his mind to anatomy and care, will make you not just a better horse person, but also a better rider.

For the rider and horse pair to be successful, both need to be cared for holistically. When the horse's feet are balanced by good nutrition and correct and sufficient maintenance, when his teeth are maintained so his jaw can be free and relaxed, and when he has enough turnout and roughage to keep his mind and body healthy, the horse can perform at his best.

For the horseman to keep the horse at his best, he needs to be learning, evolving, and paying close attention to the information that's out there, and more importantly, to what the horse presents. The rider also needs to be caring for himself physically and mentally, because an unfit, mentally unbalanced person is any horse's worst nightmare.
Sloppiness, clumsiness, and negative emotions are things that the true horseman or woman works hard to systematically eliminate.

So while having a good seat is incredibly important, and learning the basics of riding school figures will set the foundation for a rider's accuracy, he will always be just a rider until his knowledge and experience is broadened.

  • If you're out on the trail and your horse spooks, do you have the presence of mind to understand why and where it came from?
  • If you can't get your horse loaded in the trailer, do you know what to do?
  • Can you be sure an issue isn't caused by teeth, tack, or foot problems?
Do you have enough tools in your tool belt to effectively deal with real life situations, or are you just a “rider”?
If the latter is your goal, then you’d better be prepared to limit your experiences to the arena, have everyone warn you of coming action, withhold action around you, or pay someone to put you on and pull you off of your horse between those four walls.

But with an ever-expanding tool box, you and your horse can face the world with confidence, and enjoy the journey together.

The choice is yours.

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4/2/2015 Julie Kenney
Spot on with your article, Amy! Learning with and about the horse is a lifelong endeavor and it takes a great instructor to push a rider past the basics to become a student of the horse. I love that you point out how important it is for us (the human) to come to the table without discontent and anger and other negative issues.
4/13/2015 Amy
Yes you're right Julie - it's very important to come to the table without negative emotions. One I didn't mention that is the hardest for many of us (myself included here...and I really mean that) is being hard on ourselves. Negative self talk is a negative emotion, and when we bring it to our horses, we put it on our horses. That is a lesson I am relearning often. It doesn't serve any purpose and isn't productive. So as horsemen and women, we'd do well to work on that little by little, or at least develop the awareness of when it arises. I'll let you know when I'm perfect ;)

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." - Winston Churchill