Qualities Of Horsemanship
( Originally Published 1962 )
THE QUESTION FREQUENTLY ARISES AS TO WHAT QUALITIES ARE necessary in a good horseman. Many people do not try to ride because they are timid or self-conscious; others believe they are not athletic enough, not built to fit the saddle, that they are too old or too fat.
While it is true that but a few become outstanding riders, especially with the limited time the average person can allow for recreation, it is equally true that anybody can learn to ride ordinary horses safely and with confidence. The basic requirement, however, is that they allow the necessary time for proper instruction. The serious part of the problem is the limited number of instructors who can be of any material help; the great majority of them know little or nothing. In the hands of a qualified instructor no one need be afraid or worry about age or physical handicaps. Intelligent adjustment of the technique makes learning to ride not only possible but safe and pleasant.
For those who insist upon riding without proper instruction and who depend upon free advice picked up around stables or from other such sources, there can be no hope.
The handicaps that stand in the way of becoming even a fair rider are of a mental rather than physical nature. A type very much in evidence is the rider who knows it all. He very often talks more loudly and with more assurance than the person who stops to think occasionally, and consequently he exerts a good deal of influence upon those easily impressed.
We should also note the scientifically inclined horseman who believes that he can learn to ride from a book. He may cram the contents of an entire library into his head or sit and practice with the reins in one hand and a book in the other until he dies of old age, but he will always remain a sorry sight on a horse.
One of the first things the intelligent student discovers is that there is more to horsemanship than can be thoroughly absorbed in a lifetime, and that there is considerable difference between the exact and modern science of equitation and smart stable talk. Modesty, consequently, becomes one of the principal ingredients of the horseman's make-up—along with such other qualities as judgment, logic, charity, and unselfishness.
There is no objection to a rider's being temperamental, provided his temper is under control. People who have a habit of throwing tantrums should stay away from horses. No one should even attempt to control a horse until he is very sure of having his own temperament well in hand.
Laziness on the part of the student, whether physical or mental, is another reason that riding masters turn prematurely gray. If the student is unwilling or unable to co-operate with the teacher time is wasted all around. It takes concentrated application and nothing worth-while can be accomplished in riding, any more than in other sports, with-out considerable personal effort. The something-for-nothing boys and girls will find themselves left out in the cold.
People who have no confidence in themselves will never develop confidence in their horses, and the horses will have no confidence in them. As soon as the student learns self-confidence he begins to ride. Riding is safe enough as long as the head can be kept clear, but even a good rider can be thrown if he gets flustered. Fortunately, confidence will grow in direct proportion to increasing skill.
There are, of course, individuals who are afraid of their own shadow and will stay that way all their lives. If their fear cannot be brought under control riding will always be dangerous for them, and it will afford them little pleasure. It is of the greatest importance that the horseman quickly learn to distinguish between real and imaginary danger. A clear understanding of this fact seems to be sadly lacking among our amateur riders, and many of them acquire an entirely undeserved reputation as fearless heroes. The trouble is that much of this courage is similar to that demonstrated by the cows of the Afridis, who were persuaded to charge and break down the British live-wire defenses, paying for their success with their lives.
The sense of rhythm is one of the most essential attributes of the horseman, and, unlike many other things, it cannot be acquired. One must be born with it. If the sense of rhythm is missing, balance and suppleness cannot function properly, and riding becomes a somewhat mechanical performance, lacking grace and naturalness.
Certain of the rider skills, such as sense of balance, poise, coordination, and body control, seem to be lacking in a surprising degree in modem young people. The only possible explanation is that the wrong kind of gymnastics or none at all are provided in the schools. A few hours in the saddle, however, will begin to remedy these handicaps, although they will cause a certain delay in the progress of their equestrian education.
It is of the utmost importance that the horseman's nervous system be sufficiently sensitive to maintain the delicate coordination needed between brain and muscles. The fact that the first-class horseman must combine unshakable calm with high-strung nervous energy perhaps accounts for the fact that real artists of equitation are extremely rare.
Generally speaking, a sluggish rider is more severely handicapped than one who is overweight. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to use their heads or who have an unbalanced temperament are worse off than those who are physically weak.