Today there are so many different variations of disciplines within disciplines that “Good Horsemanship” is being skipped over in hopes of reaching the highest level within a specific discipline sooner. In my journey of horsemanship, I find myself being asked what discipline I do. It is a question I couldn’t answer at first and kind of despised because people just categorized me under “western”. Actually, I am working towards making a very well-rounded and versatile classical dressage horse that could be taken into any other discipline out there. People are getting too caught up in the appearance, style, or status behind certain disciplines. Every horse should be given the respect and dignity of being started with the basics then improved through the continual development towards classical dressage, while also having their perspective and education level taken into account during every single ride. The rider should allow the horse to be at ease no matter what discipline he or she is pursuing, all the while never dropping the basics or flat work along the way to focus solely on the desired end result.
Without the basics, you shouldn’t be allowed to do anything else with your horse. As long as you have the basics working for you, if anything happens along your journey, you can always come back to the basics to fix your mistakes and ask your horse for forgiveness. So many horses are so specialized that you can’t do anything outside that particular horse’s and rider’s comfort zones. For instance, take a dressage pony that does “great” in the arena but as soon as you try to leave the arena it looks like someone gave the horse a shot of pure adrenaline. It shies at everything and freaks out because it has never been exposed to anything else. As another example, consider a rodeo horse taken into a dressage ring to do flat work. It looks like a llama on speed because there are no basic horsemanship skills put into the horse. Not all are this way, just using examples, but imagine if you had the basics in the horse to be able to do all disciplines?
Whether it be western, dressage, jumper, polo, rodeo, or any other discipline, neither your attire nor the name behind what you do should matter. What does matter to me is that you could take a jumper and go rope a cow off of them, or a western horse and go into the dressage ring without people judging your tack, or a barrel racer into the jumping arena and have collection without the horse running off like an antelope on red bull, or take a dressage pony and be able to gather horses with them without ever noticing a difference in the relaxed demeanor of the horse. Most of all, the horse should respectfully enjoy every bit of what they do, no matter what it is!
Recently I took a trip to Florida and was able to take a jumping lesson on a beautifully huge horse! The horse was great at its job, but there were no foundation in the horse. I tried taking the same horse around the property and found the lack of foundation pretty quick. It was a one dimensional horse, which ultimately there is nothing wrong with, but imagine the fun in being able to take that same horse to show in classical dressage, or go rope a cow, or enjoy a ride around the property without any fear. I then rode my horse that day, roped some horses, did some classical dressage work to warm him up, jumped some small jumps, tried to pull a golf cart out of the mud with my rope, and then used him to show groundwork and saddle work in a lesson. Point being, the fun of taking my horse to do all those jobs without ever having any fear along the way is based on the foundation that the horse was started with and still working at!
On a funny note, I felt and sure I looked like a rookie in an English saddle with the stirrups put way up in the lesson. Note that I learned a ton from that lesson and it moved me forward significantly in my journey, which I will touch on in the future!
Imagine the fun you and your horse could have just by having the basics from the start. All horses should have the right to being brought up with the basics to enjoy a life of peace and not live a life in fear. All riders should know the basics to give that respect to the horse! You should know where each foot is at all times, you should know your horse’s mental state, and most of all, if you put yourself in your horses position throughout his entire life, would you have been able to learn and would you have enjoyed the journey along the way?
I know that my greatest struggle as I am progressing is taking into account if the horse enjoys it or if he feels like it’s a dictatorship in which he reacts but doesn’t necessarily enjoy. When I am working at something I tend to get result focused. While I can get a horse to look pretty, how does the horse feel about me after I get there?
I hope you take away from this the feeling that it doesn’t matter what the label behind what you do is but more importantly that you have the foundation put in your horse to safely pursue and excel at any discipline while continuing your education on the basics and flat work of classical dressage! All along the journey, try to put yourself in your horses position to see if the journey would be enjoyable to you.
Application to Daily Life:
Now imagine a child being raised from the young age of 4 years old to reach the highest level of a discipline without ever going through the basics. Imagine he is pushed to reach the top tier of a discipline through coaches yelling, screaming, and demanding that the child reaches perfection within the discipline from the very first day of practice. Now compile 4, 6, 10, or even 20 years on top of that without the demand for perfection decreasing, or if anything increasing over the years. Now imagine that child was you? How would you have responded to this? Would you have lasted more than a couple of years? Say you did and reached the top level of competition. Would you be happy once you reached that level? Would you have enjoyed the journey? Would you even enjoy your life looking back on any of it?
Now imagine replacing the child with your horse and imagine that horse is you, Would that have changed anything you have done in the past or will do in the future of your journey?