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 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.
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 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.
Eat humble pie. Check your ego at the barn door.
Parelli: My sister, who has nothing to do with horses, worked at Marie Callender’s. And I learned that my favorite pie was apricot with vanilla ice cream. I loved it. But as a young rodeo cowboy, I also found out very quickly when I met Mr. Troy Henry, a real horseman, that the pie that I hated the most was humble pie. And he humbled me. I never worked harder, never learned more, than in the five years that I apprenticed with him. And I still love apricot pie.
Riemer: Like Pat [Parelli] said, you have to be humble enough and open enough to say, ‘Okay, up until here that’s all I know. I don’t know what to do. I just need help.’
There is always someone smarter than you, who has experience that you don’t have. And it doesn’t have to be an Olympic rider. It can be an international groom, who might say, ‘Well, usually this is how the horse likes to be warmed up. But today you did it like this.’ It doesn’t have to be a rider in your discipline. Pat [Parelli] has fixed something I couldn’t. And maybe the dressage rider tells the show jumper how to achieve straightness. You always have to be open.
Egos have to be checked – at every barn door, there should be a little stand, like one you put your umbrellas in, with some hooks where you go in, you check your ego in and then you go to your horse. Otherwise, you’re going to have your humble pie.
Corcoran: I would totally agree with everything that Ronny just said. One thing for sure, if you’re getting in a rut, it’s so important to take your emotions out of it all and to step back. Be humble, leave your ego at the door and take a breath. Then ask the questions. Ask a friend. Ask somebody that you admire, a confidante, a mentor, or whomever.
Not every single horse is exactly the same, and I think we forget that sometimes. Just like human athletes, you watch soccer players or football players or hockey players, every single one of them are built differently, and they all have their different strengths and weaknesses. The same with equine athletes, we need to understand how to balance their strengths and weaknesses.
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.