Alchemical Horsemanship

“Horses were not born
With little accelerators
In their ribs
So that they run when you press them.
It is quite the opposite;
When you use your legs
On a horse that has never been ridden before,
He tends to
slow down,
or stop
and sometimes,
tries to bite the rider’s boot!’

page 4 Another Horsemanship by Jean Claude Racinet

The holy grail of horsemanship, regardless of the particulars of breed, purpose, and tack, is regular rhythmic movements and prompt smooth transitions. Persuading horse people that the fundamental reason these attributes are so highly prized is precisely they are ‘unnatural’ to both horse AND rider is stepping into contentious territory, opening up a Pandora’s box of philosophical and ethical conundrums. Rather than descend into that tangle, and given that people are not going to give up riding horses any time soon, conscientious equestrians that are willing to face the fact that the fundamental concept of ‘natural’ horsemanship is inherently flawed and woefully misleading are left with a conundrum:

• How does one go about such an unnatural relationship in the most constructive and mutually rewarding way?

Left to their own devices, horses explore their physical and social environment by wandering freely wherever their attention may alight while remaining instantaneously reactive to the mood of the herd, while humans wander equally aimlessly through the intricate mazes of their minds while often oblivious to their surroundings. Given the difference between the worldviews of two such different species, the ‘natural’ result of putting an inexperienced rider on an untrained horse is usually a rapid parting of their ways especially as:

• The most natural, the deepest, the most ingrained instinctive human reflex when startled or faced with a loss of balance is to curl up, grab hold, and hang on for dear life.

For the horse, this behavior is a clear indication that they too need to fight for their life, only they do so by leaping about and dashing around, making most people curl up and cling even harder while rapidly bouncing right off the horse’s back. Even if this first difficulty is surmounted, there is the horse’s instinctive reaction to resist and/or evade the equally instinctive human reaction to grip without release. Unrelenting pressure on their sides from their rider’s legs and their heads from the rider’s hands is an incomprehensible insult from the horse’s point of view, and leaves far too many of them in a sullen, dulled, even biochemically depressed, state.

Horses quickly become inattentive to their handlers/riders when they find that their riders are oblivious to their surroundings, unaware of the messages their own bodies send, and unresponsive to the horse’s efforts to communicate with them. You must develop that fine degree of awareness within yourself, and then and only then can you begin to work on sustaining both your attentiveness to each other and the regularity and balance of each gait constructively on the ground, never mind under saddle.

A rider
Should not accept that
His/her aids not be obeyed
Immediately,
That is to say that they should
Rapidly bring about
Some kind of transformation
In the horse’s
Gait
Speed
Movement
Or balance.

Everyone will agree on that.

Very few,
Though,
Will think of the corollary
Which is
When the aid had brought about
The desired transformation,

IT MUST QUIT.

If it does not
If it lasts,
It denies its value
As a means of transformation;
It self-depreciates.

page 3 Another Horsemanship by Jean Claude Racinet

In other words, if you are bouncing about in the saddle with your heels kicking the horse at every stride, the horse will soon learn to ignore the movements of your legs. In order for a particular movement of your leg to mean something to the horse, your legs have to maintain a quiet and constant relationship with the horse’s body until you consciously and purposefully decide to change their position. Release of the aids includes release of the seat, as it is only then that the rider will be able to control the action of their hands and legs. A supple resilient, following, seat is the rider’s only means of harmonizing their movements with that of their horse. Only then will the rider be able to make distinct, timely, independent, and so meaningful changes of their hands, feet and weight that can function as aids and communicate the rider’s desires to the horse. If we can agree on the importance of a quiet resilient supple seat , we can agree that essentially all cues in riding consist of:

• A brief and purposeful interruption of the harmonious movement between partners

Then our focus turns to how we can best establish a harmonious relationship with the horse and becoming aware of how our briefest most minute shifts affect our mount (click here). With a harmonious seat for a base, as long as the rider maintains that certain degree of relaxed focused attention so will the horse. From that base, as soon as there is a shift in the rider’s attention, the horse’s attention and movement changes as well. While this attentive responsiveness is a true expression of the fundamental nature of the horse, it is definitely a learned skill for humans. Grand ideas and fine principles alone are not enough. For both horse and rider to discover and entrain a mutually comprehensible language takes much time, preparation, and conscious dedicated practice. Baucher cautions the aspiring rider that:

…There is one thing
no precept
can give;
That is,
A fineness of touch,
A delicacy of equestrian feeling
That belongs only to certain privileged organisms
And without which
We seek in vain
To pass certain limits…

Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.
(Kindle Locations). . Kindle Edition

Perhaps because maintaining this degree of focused aware responsiveness is so unnatural for people it is usually categorized as a spiritual practice. For those willing to buck the status quo (pun intended), stop blaming the horse, and work on themselves, I’ve adapted some ancient Asian Martial Arts exercises combining movement and meditation to focus on the needs of aspiring equestrians who realize that:

• If we want the horse’s constant attention upon us, we must develop our own in order to earn it.
• If regular, relaxed, rhythmic gaits is our goal, we must offer the horse a relaxed, regular, and rhythmic lead to attune themselves with
• if you cannot perform the movements desired on standing on solid ground, you certainly will be not be able to perform them any better when mounted on such a powerful self-animated being as the horse

A horse schooled with respect to its essential nature does not take and maintain a certain gait because they have been reduced to an automaton. They do so because the horse naturally desires to sustain a harmonious relationship with their person just as they would do with another horse in their herd. Given the difficulties of cross-species communication, improving your horse’s performance comes down to the fact that you must focus on improving your own abilities and awareness first. Then, and only then, will the horse be able to reflect their rider’s steadiness and respond to their requests.

Question. Is it the rider that determines his horse?

Answer. No.
The rider gives action
and position,
which are the language;
the horse answers this demand
by the change of pace or direction
that the rider had intended.

Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.
(Kindle Locations 1238-1241). . Kindle Edition.

It is only through your own conscientious practice and self-awareness that you will be able to truly communicate with and aide the horse in their movements. Here are a few practical practice sessions to help you, the rider, develop both physical and mental skills essential to riding with finesse.

Ground exercises for humans:

1. The Horse Stance
2.. Engaging the Hindquarters
3 Circling and Change of Hand
4. Loosening Up
5. Impulsion
6. Extension and Collection
7. Lateral Moves and Changing Leads
8. The Counted Walk- The Human Side of the Equation

Exercises focused on using your hands:

1. What About Hands
2. Developing Awareness
3. The Following Hand
4. The Fixed Hand
5. Rein Effects
6. Turns

Exercises for the rider with the horse:

1. Mounting Made Easy
2. The Flying Dismount
3. On the Longe Line-Light In the Saddle
4. On the Longe Line- Light Hands
5. On the Longe Line- Changing Gears
6. The Counted Walk- Adding the Horse
7. Are We There Yet?

And exercises for the horse:

  1. Leaping Like Locusts
  2. In the Wind of the Boot
  3. On the Forehand
  4. The Fantastic Gymnastic Circle
  5. Light In Hand
  6. Headsets or What is Ramener?
  7. Why Jaw Flexions
  8. The Counted Walk- Legs without Hands, Hands Without Legs

As I get them posted, the links will light up! And if you want me in person:

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