When deciding to sponsor this panel of experts discussing horsemanship at this year’s Equitana, we knew that the conversation certainly would be interesting. We were pleased to see it expand beyond our wildest expectations! Listening to what each expert had to say was an unparalleled opportunity to consider one’s personal place as a horseman or horsewoman, and one’s own definition of horsemanship.
In these posts, we aim to recapture some of the highlights of this engaging discussion that crossed disciplines and backgrounds and was intricately woven together through expression and experience.
The panel consisted of Karen Rohlf of Dressage Naturally, Ronny Riemer, the “German Riding Instructor” of RC Equestrian, Pat Parelli of Parelli Horsemanship, and Max Corcoran, Supergroom and USEA President.
Jen Roytz of the Retired Racehorse Project asked questions of the panel that led to some very illuminating answers. We highlighted aspects in these posts by using some keywords and the knowledge shared accordingly. Note that the order of the questions doesn’t follow the full hour; we pulled excerpts from the panel to share.
Understand behavior & body language. Be observant.
Know your horse. Seek happiness.
Rohlf: So when I think about a well-rounded horseman, I think about someone who goes across disciplines – but there’s something deeper than that. I think a good horseman needs to understand what makes a horse happy. If we are looking to be two happy individuals in a relationship, then we have to take care of our own selves, so we show up the best human that we can be for our horses.
Riemer: German Show Jumper and Olympian, Franke Sloothaak, always told me that each day you get on your horse, and it doesn’t matter which horse you ride, even if it’s the same horse, every day that you sit in the tack, the first thing you need to think about each day is: ‘What is it that I can do as a rider to support my horse in the best way possible, so that this horse can achieve their greatest potential?’
So for us as horsemen and horsewomen, it is imperative that we find out what our horses need from us today. What can I do for my horse? And never the other way around. As Karen [Rohlf] said, ‘It is a happy, healthy horse that does the job out of free will.’ We have to listen to body language and the language of our horses.
Parelli: My definition of horsemanship is the perpetual and progressive series of habits and skills that both horses and humans need to become partners. Perpetual, which means forever – and the progressive, which means continually growing – habits. Horsemanship is something that happens on the ground as well as in the saddle.
And natural horsemanship, by the way, it’s not just on the ground. Natural horsemanship is horse psychology, understanding how horses feel, think, act, and play. And Karen [Rohlf], you said something really good – being there for the horses as “ambassadors of ‘Yes!’ instead of ministers of ‘No.'”
Corcoran: To me, a good horseman encompasses all things. A good horseman is someone that always puts the horses first. Someone that continues to tell their horse what to do, not what not to do. They know what makes them happy; they keep everything positive.
Someone that continues to listen to their horse, whether sitting on it or watching it. They are always observing their horse, seeing what minute details are happening.
You know your horse so well that you notice everything. Maybe they didn’t finish their grain. Maybe they didn’t drink enough water. Maybe they’re sleeping more than they should. And noticing those small things, all the time, to be able to stay ahead of whatever it is that we can do to make their lives better.
As we equestrians know, no matter what discipline, goals, experiences, or plans we have, the essence of equestrianism is an equine relationship. At the heart of that relationship is our horsemanship. Without understanding how to be a steward to the horse, we lose the essential connection to their welfare. And from our perspective, no matter what your approach to horsemanship may be, understanding and prioritizing positive connections with the horse is the foundation to a lasting connection that can lead you down a path of success.
At Via Nova, we meet each person where they are at. It was heartening and touching to hear the open, willing voices of these experienced horsewomen and horsemen as they talked about their continuing equestrian journeys.
Read more about discussions from The Lost Art of Horsemanship on the Via Nova blog.
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