What is horsemanship? Typically many may define it as the ability to ride a horse well. Others may think of it as being in control of the horse at all times. Still others may think of it as a training style. Horses are fairly common and most of us are familiar with them and have certain expectations of their abilities and needs. Some may also believe in many old school theories and ways of training or even an old wives tale that does not apply and perhaps never did, but somehow the old school rules still perpetuate simply because that’s how it’s always been done. However, what we may think of as horsemanship and what it might actually be may not be the same thing.
Dr. Jeff Walder teaches his students and his team to be open to the lesson, explore what works and to develop that relationship with your horse that will be successful.
He shared that it is not the horse to blame if things don’t go as planned, but rather than become frustrated, look at the lesson presented and learn from it. Never give up! I am a grateful student for this philosophy and since I have no background to challenge that I am able to start with a fresh slate to learn.
As I waited for my lesson time I contemplated my thoughts on what the next blog would be. It was also time for Dr. Jeff and Madison to escort their magnificent Warmblood yearling, Koenraad, to his paddock. The three walked out from the barn and just before the entry point to the paddock Koenraad decided he wanted to be a little playful! I stood there mesmerized by his chestnut coat shining brilliantly even in the dreary winter day and all his white chrome! He danced and flirted with Madison as she expertly coached him while Dr. Jeff led the way with the treat bucket to distract him. I was totally amazed at how well they both worked in unison to safely get Koenraad to his destination. They took the fine art of team work to an entirely new level!! Notice I say safely.
Safety is key to solid horsemanship skills and for riding any discipline. Safety for the horse and also handlers and riders. What makes this team work so well is that they are patient yes, but they are also developing that relationship with the horse and they work to understand their horse. What may look like a handful to the casual observer can be very far from the truth. Koenraad while very energetic, is a young horse and a playful one and his handlers totally get that. That is the difference!!!!! They understand their horse!! They are open to the lesson their horse is showing them and from that they can build their circle of trust.
This week I also learned the fine art of communication through my leg ques or rather lack there of in one leg! My trainer, the ever patient one, persevered with Blue Moon and I as we worked through the lesson. Junior as he is known in the barn is very well-trained and schooled and also very patient. How fortunate for me to have a trainer who understands his horses, what they can do but also his student’s abilities and how that can work positively toward goals. I am also extremely grateful to have this champion jumper show me just what true talent is and how smart horses really are.
I really love Junior as he does not judge me for my failures but instead will just stop and wait for me to get collected and give him the next question. Notice I say, I need to be one to get collected, not the horse!!! Dr. Jeff shakes his head and laughs as do I and we start again. However, I respect my trainer and my horse enough to know I would rather keep moving forward rather than gather more questions for my horse at a stand still. Leg yielding is fun and I really enjoy it. I think the world of Dressage and English riding has certainly captured my interest to the point that I really want to do my best whatever that may be and wherever my skills will take me. This journey is challenging and yet engaging. A door had opened that I never knew existed.
Consistency, establishing boundaries and repetition have their place in training for horse and rider too, but there is much to be said for becoming knowledgeable of your horse’s natural behaviors and responses so that you can understand how to make things work in your relationship with your horse. Communication with your horse can be greatly enhanced when you understand the reason behind the behavior and actions. This is the powerful lesson I had the front row seat for this week. This all important point totally changed my perspective about what I saw in Koenraad and how he was treated as he went to his paddock. Patiently and without frustration, he was safely put into his paddock and he happily rolled in the grass after he was there. A happy horse and proud handlers.
Jeff will also share and stress repeatedly that it is important to have a good solid foundation in equitation and technique. You will be safer and your horse will be safer. There is just no substitute for this. I will remember this well as I practice getting my questions ready for Junior in my future lessons for it is he that already knows the answers, he’s just waiting for me to catch up!
So if anyone has any old wives tales for Dr. Jeff Walder or suggests an old school theory that belongs in the dark ages, don’t be surprised if you get “Oh really?, Really?” as your response.
Instead, be open to the lesson!