Jen Roytz of the Retired Racehorse Project asked questions of The Lost Art of Horsemanship panel that led to some very illuminating answers. We highlighted aspects below 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.

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.

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.

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.

In these five 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.

Be open to change. Be progressive.

Rohlf: I started out as a kid in the backyard with my horse. And long story short, I became a professional. I was a successful dressage trainer, and found myself at one point really burned out. I was going to quit. And quite by coincidence, I took the winter off and just happened to be seven miles down the road from the Parellis.

I got dragged over there to their center. And it was life changing. When I started learning from the Parellis, it not only gave me a lot of the things that I didn’t think I  needed, but it reminded me how I felt when I was a kid. I remember thinking, ‘I’m allowed to ride around here bareback? I’m allowed!?’

So, people would say that I went ‘Natural.’ But no, that’s not it.  I re-naturalized. I was ripe for a change, and it connected me. And I then realized the things that I thought made me a good professional made me a bad person, and that didn’t feel right. It wasn’t that I wanted to quit being with horses. It was the way I was living in the professional horse world. So it gave me a new lease on life. It gave me an opportunity to rethink everything.

Then I had to go back and figure out, how does this fit into dressage? When I started, dressage and natural horsemanship were never used in the same sentence.  But the FEI (Federation of Equestrian Sport) definition reads, ‘the object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. And as a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose, and flexible, but also confident, attentive, and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the rider.’

So when I started putting that definition into practice with natural horsemanship, I was proving that I’m not a weirdo, I’m just doing dressage the way it’s meant to be done.

Riemer: I think I’m barely touching the surface of being a real horseman. And I’m willing to listen to anyone that has any sort of advice to make me more of a real horseman. I’m right in the beginning. My glass is still partly empty and I need to fill it. And I have to say, once I stopped taking myself too seriously as an athlete and as a show jumper and Grand Prix rider, once I started just enjoying the time with my horse in the moment on the course, my horses started moving better, jumping better, eating better, and being happier. And now my number one joy is the connection that I have with my horse, and not with the success that I have in the ring.

I just got a new horse. The first time I competed with him, I went in five classes – I got eliminated three times, and fell off twice. Back in the day, that really would have bugged me. But instead of being angry, I watched videos of the rounds and saw why it had happened. I saw what I was doing wrong, and what I hadn’t done.

The horse didn’t change. I didn’t change. But my approach to the horse changed. And then after that, we started getting ribbons in the Grand Prix.

Via Nova video on Rolex stadium jumbotron

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.

Read more about discussions from The Lost Art of Horsemanship on the Via Nova blog.