In general, horsemanship should be consistent regardless of the location or situation you find yourself in, though it is of course acceptable to alter your strategy slightly if circumstances demand it. The basic movements you use to help your horse work through a situation should remain the same, and you should attempt to keep your signals consistent. This does not mean that you shouldn’t be dynamic and respond to your horse’s variable needs, however. You must also be aware of your horse and work through the issues that surface as the ride progresses, whether that be from the ground or in the saddle. If you’re not working through the issues that arise and supporting your horse through difficult situations, your problems will only get worse. The key is to support your horse with consistency.
Creating effective training strategies has become one of my favorite parts of working with horses and riders. There are many similarities between cases, but the strategies I employ to help each horse and rider partnership progress are always a bit different. This principle is the same for my own riding as well. How I work with a horse in an arena by myself may be different then how I ride in an arena with twenty riders or how I ride in a wide open hay meadow. Under the surface, I will be working on all the same things and using consistent horsemanship, but the exact method I use will vary based on current circumstances.
There are several areas involving consistency that tend to cause problems for horses and riders. I have outlined a few below:
Routine – When horses are ridden in an excessively routine-based regimen with a controlled outside environment, they tend to become too limited in their capabilities. Once the routine is mixed up, the horse falls apart. These horses are mechanical in the sense that they may go through the motions that make them seem advanced when all the conditions are perfect, but they have no ability to adapt or overcome an imperfect environment.
Fear – Aside from causing problems for the horse, an excessively routinized training regimen can have a bad effect on the rider as well by promoting a fear of all uncontrollable factors. This causes the rider to limit his riding to very specific environments and conditions. In worrying so much about his surroundings, the rider loses focus on connecting with and properly training the horse.
Situational – Sometimes riders who are accustomed to working with their horse in diverse environments end up riding their horses very differently in each type of situation. This creates separate training regimens for indoor arenas, job orientated tasks, and outdoor trail riding. This can lead to a different horse and rider relationship from one minute to the next, with no consistency and support for the horse to build off of.
Unaware – Some riders don’t realize with any consistency when their horse runs through a leg or against the rein aids, and this makes the rider inconsistent in their signals. In this situation, the rider has become a passenger at the mercy of the horse’s reactions rather than a supportive trainer ready to respond predictably but effectively to the horse.
The best way to be a consistent yet responsive rider is to get in harmony with your horse through proper use of the basics. Whether you’re in an arena, out on a trail, roping a cow, or on a naval carrier, the basics are always the same. When you work through areas where your horse needs support, the basics can help you simplify and then refine all movements. This is the true sign of partnership between horse and rider: harmony in all circumstances. Where the basics are in place, the rider can feel the horse, and the horse willingly responds to the rider no matter if it is in an arena or outside of one. The outside factors become negligible because the horse and rider are in harmony and share a solid foundation of basics that never change. Ultimately, you should be able to videotape yourself riding your horse in many different locations and have it look as if you have simply photoshopped different backgrounds into the frame. Your horse should remain the same even in different locations.
In my opinion, the greatest deficiency in the horse industry right now is the lack of education in the art of classical horsemanship. This is the horsemanship that promotes the consistency, harmony, and basics discussed above. If the riding you’re doing or lessons you’re taking are not based on classical riding of some sort, then I must say that you’re doing yourself and your horse a huge disservice. These are the tried and true methods, and when riding conditions are unpredictable or you are faced with an uncertain situation in the saddle, classical horsemanship and the strong foundation it provides you with will prove indispensable.