The basis of good horsemanship

What is most important being with horses? Fairness, patience, leadership skills? The right method with the right techniques?
I think all of these are valid ideas. But for me, the basis is something different: Our awareness and our attentiveness. Not only for the big but especially for the subtle things. For nuances in body language - our own and the one of the horse. 

I find that if we become more aware of our behavior and the behavior of the horse, we observe us and we collect information. Which in return helps us to make good decisions - meaning decisions that enhance our training and our relationship with the horse. 

This is why I recommend to spend time with the horse just focusing on observing and feeling. Don't aim for something apart from attention and having a closer look than usual. I think that is beneficial no matter if you are a horsemanship newbie or an experienced horse person. 

You don't have to do anything, just be with your horse and ask yourself (some of) the following questions. 



basis, good horsemanship
Both horses are attentive but
focusing in different directions. My
legs are relaxed, but my upper body
still has some tension. My belly button

is turned away from the horses.
Photo: Marko
How do I use my body?
Think if you are tense or relaxed and how you breathe. Do your arms and legs hang casually or are they braced? Where have you put your weight? How do you hold the rope? Check if you are looking at the horse or if you can feel where he is and what he does without actually watching him. 

Where am I respectively to my horse's position?
Check if you are close next to each other and if you feel crowded. Are you standing next to your horse's head or further back, maybe at his withers? Have the two of you moved? In which direction does your belly button point (yes, this is important)?

What does my horse do? 
Is he relaxed or does he want to move around? Check where his attention is and how he carries his head. Does he adapt to your movements? 

I think the range of observations we can make without actually doing something is quite amazing. 

Last year, I attended a clinic with Leslie Desmond. The participants were standing next to their horses when she advised one to shift her weight from the leg nearest to her horse to the other leg. Instantly, the horse lowered his head and breathed out deeply. We underestimate the importance of these small details - when we are aware of them that is to say.

Of course, you can observe your horse whenever you want and not just standing still next to you (we actually do it every day). I just think that starting out from a stand still is the easiest way to do it deliberately because you can fully concentrate on it without having to manage anything else. Which would be the case if you'd actively ask something from your horse. 

At the beginning it is not important which questions you ask and which answers you'll receive observing your horse and you. It's also not about scrutinizing or judging the answers
I think the important thing is to observe the horse in different situations, to get used to it and turn it into a habit. In the end, we are not only aware of the horse almost unconsciously, we also learn to react correctly without having to give it much thought. 

Interestingly enough, we don't have to actually look at the horse to observe it. This is helpful when leading the horse, for example. For me it's important to know where he is at (in terms of place and emotions) without  having to turn constantly. Horsemen and -women don't want you to turn your head neither. Pat Parelli says "Don't look back, he won't change color", and Leslie Desmond indicates that a human that turns his head often when leading the horse casts doubt in the horse if he actually knows where he wants to go.  

Also, it's not that hard to sense where and how the horse is walking behind us - we just need to concentrate on and direct our attention to it: We can look from the corner of our eyes, we can listen to the hoofbeats, we can observe the horse's shadow on the road (if the sun is in a good position) or we can just try to sense the dimensions of our bubble and if the horse is outside or crowding it. 


Have you ever thought about the level of your awareness around your horse? Have you tried to feel and watch closely? Or has it become something you do automatically without thinking?

2 comments:

  1. oh so true! it is so important to watch out for the details! that is also why I do not need a single word to maneuver Hafl around but when it comes to my boyfriend he could not even shout enough - not literally of course! but my body language while working with him is set and he is still new to this whole horse thing :D

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    1. I know what you mean :D Though my boyfriend looks pretty good on horses (after a total of 2 weeks of riding experience in his life !!!), I always tell me that it's because he has learned so much from me :D (it would kill me otherwise to see how effortless he does things I really have to struggle for).

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