The Informed Horsemen
( Originally Published 1962 )
EVEN AMONG THE MORE INFORMED HORSEMEN IN THIS COUNTRY there seems to be an accepted idea that as soon as a rider has reached the point where he can cling to a horse over some jumps he has reached the limit of advanced horseman-ship. It obviously makes no difference whether the jumps have high wings on both sides or not, just as long as they are very high. This is only one of the many misconceptions that are holding back the progress of good horsemanship in America.
Good horsemanship may be partly defined as the rider's ability to control his horse—any horse under any circumstances—in such a way that he appears to be a part of the horse's anatomy. The common sight of horse and rider en-gaged in a more or less continuous struggle is always a demonstration of ignorance on the rider's part, even if he happens to win the fight—a clumsy attempt to replace science with brute strength.
Good horsemanship also involves a thorough understanding of the horse, his temperament, peculiarities, strength and endurance. A horseman must know how to ride in such a way that his horse can and does perform with the highest degree of efficiency. For instance, the rider must know how to manage a long-distance ride and still have his horse in condition to go on the next day, regardless of hard roads or rough country.
At first glance it seems confusing that our principles of technique do not conform to those of our glorified cowboy. The real cowboy is universally recognized as one of the best riders in the world; so how can there be anything wrong with his technique? As a matter of fact, there is nothing wrong with it, nor with that of the Arab or the Cossack, although they all ride in ways quite different from that of the modern sport rider. The explanation is that these three, as well as the well-informed military or sports rider, have adapted their technique to their own particular conditions and purposes. And they all have a thorough understanding of their horses. In spite of minor points of disagreement they will all concur as far as the main issue is concerned—because they are all horsemen. The line must be drawn between ignorance and knowledge, not between the different schools of technique.
This fact alone ought to create a suspicion in the minds of would-be horsemen that there is more to riding than just a limited ability to hang on to the saddle and later blame the horse for any unpleasant happenings.
The rider's ability to control his horse through his points of contact can be developed only by cultivation of "feel." Feel is the product of practice in the mechanical motions of correct technique, under close and expert supervision. In other words, what you do is important, but how you do it is of utmost importance. What to do has been learned through centuries of experience; how to do it must be solved by the rider in the saddle, by careful and patient application under a qualified instructor.
Real skill in horsemanship cannot be developed by attempting to absorb a profusion of scrambled, disconnected technical details, regardless of how correct they are. The program must be logical and carefully planned. The student must from the very beginning understand the important reasons for every move he makes. He must also realize why the sequence in which he learns the various details is logical and necessary. He must always keep in mind the goal toward which he is working. He must learn to see why every detail, many of which may seem to him scarcely worthy of attention, becomes of vital importance when considered in con-junction with other details. In other words, the student must from the beginning acquire the habit of using his head more than his hands.