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Good Horsemanship in any day’s task

Published: 6/22/2014
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She teaches at Bay Harbor Equestrian Center in Michigan, riding English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and several others.

In this new contribution, Skinner explains how horsemanship is a work of heart.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

In the summertime, many visitors wander through the Equestrian Center. Many want to know what kind of barn we run, what it is we do, and what sort of lessons I give and what sort of riding I do.
Oftentimes I don't know how to answer in a way that satisfies people. I usually say something like “horsemanship with a dressage focus” but to many people, this offers too vague a picture.

But what do we call the discipline of “keeping a horse happy, respectful, fit, and pliable enough to do whatever it is I want to do.”

The general idea is that if I create a trusting and willing partner, dressage will be a cinch, jumping should be no problem, and no matter the situation, we will get through it together as a team.
Obviously not all horses are suited for all disciplines, due to conformation, personality, and all the little what-have-you's that make us all unique individuals, but to me, the same general goal applies to everybody. If he is my willing partner, riding a dressage test should feel about the same to him as opening a gate. He should be well rounded, interested in his work, and inquisitive; full of bright personality because he is involved, although compliant.

I think it all ties together, and this really clicked for me as I practiced putting my horsemanship to the test the other day on one of my training horses: a Tennessee Walker who struggles with staying straight and has a tendency to get awfully “wobbly.” We practice dressage movements to help him achieve straightness and strength (which due to his breeding, he lacks).
What he lacks physically, he makes up for in personality. He is friendly, sweet, and wonderful pretty much 100% of the time. I know he appreciates having a purpose, and any horse hates to be labeled by their limitations.

The perimeter of the barn was just done being sprayed for hornets, and so my task was to go about and open all the stall windows. With anywhere from 6 to 10 horses to ride a day, I simply didn't have time to walk about and open them all in between horses, so I thought my current horse might enjoy the challenge.
Half the windows of the barn could only be reached up on a the top ridge of a very steep hill by going between some very spooky trees, with more scary farm equipment lurking nearby. So we walked a straight line between spooky tree Number One and the first window, leg yield over. I open the window, holding it by the edge in my left hand, backing a half circle to the right to keep it from hitting him in the shoulder and yield his shoulder back to the left to lock the window in place.
The gelding did 24 windows and was an absolute rock star.

I don't believe he would have gone through the scary trees, up on the ledge, past the farm equipment without the horsemanship aspect. But without the dressage, straightness in the leg yields toward the window wouldn't have been possible. The two together made for one well-rounded, compliant, and useful horse.

What discipline do I call all that?

I have no idea. But I do know it keeps my horse happy, and sure keeps me happy, too.

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7/2/2014 Lila Schiel
Great article Amy keep up the valuable information.

"My horses are my friends, not my slaves" - Dr. Reiner Klimke