A foundation of principles

9 Nov

Well, here we go…after brainstorming and trying to articulate the thoughts in my head into something coherent, I’ve come up with my personal seven principles of horsemanship. These represent principles that I’ve learned to date from my horse affair. They’re probably not written as eloquently as I would have liked, but you gotta start somewhere right?

So here we go, in no particular order:

Personal Principle 1.

Respect the horse as a horse – understand that they are not humans, they are horses. As a species, they have their own instincts, thought processes, learning patterns, and communications.

Personal Principle 2.

Always ask politely first – I like how the Parelli program uses the “suggest, ask, tell, promise” approach when working with horses.

Personal Principle 3.

Respect THE horse as A horse – each horse is different. What works with one horse doesn’t work with all horses.

Personal Principle 4.

Reward the slightest try – nothing is going to be perfect all the time (or likely the majority of the time).

Personal Principle 5.

Respect in life and in death – I’m not sure how to phrase this to capture what I truly mean, but essentially I believe that horses are not disposable once they have outlived their working lives, or when you get fed up with them. I do not believe in sending any animal to slaughter.

Personal Principle 6.

Check your temper or stay at home – taking out your temper or pent up aggression on a horse or any animal is never ok. Ever.

Personal Principle 7.

Commit to tomorrow – whether things are going well or if there is room for improvement, look to further your journey tomorrow.

As you’ve probably noticed, several are related to the natural horsemanship school of thought. My parents bought me Monty Roberts’, “The Man Who Listens to Horses” when I was 15 years old. As I read it, I had so many eureka moments, it was like things just made total sense. Of course, the frustrating part about having such moments when reading this book was that the only interactions I was having with horses was during my weekly riding lesson, where I wasn’t exactly free to experiment with these principles. I dreamed of the day when I could be given a “crazy” horse and a roundpen just to try things out. Lucky for everyone, I wasn’t given this chance as I can now see that I didn’t have the proper knowledge at the time and probably would have done more harm than good.

My latest (and pretty much first) concentrated efforts into the world of natural horsemanship has been over the last 14 months. Since riding with The Boss, I pretty much am free to do whatever I like. On the property, there is an outdoor ring, a stone dust track (to train the standardbreds), a 20m x 20m coverall, and a back field. There’s no indoor arena which can often make winter riding an exercise in creativity, but overall there are lots of spots to play in. In September 2011 I was at a local dressage schooling show with Corona. I also brought another horse named Ember there to show just for fun. Ember is leased by my friend at the barn, and at their last show together (the previous summer), Ember decided she did not want to enter the ring and had a bit of a fit of rage, throwing my friend into the dirt and galloping back through the onlookers (including my already-horse-terrified parents of course) to the trailer. Of note here is that once the horse was caught, my friend got right back and proceeded to win the class – she fell off outside the ring so wasn’t disqualified. Mad props to her!

Anyways, Ember is a fabulous ride but at times she has been known to take these notions and just throw her weight around, which mainly end when she throws in a quick buck with a half turn and you land on your butt in the mud. Been there, done that. Bringing the two horses to the show, I was convinced that if anything went wrong, it would be with Ember and worst case, I would just scratch her and only ride Corona for the rest of the day. My first dressage test of the day was on Ember and she was good – a bit full of it but I thought she did really well overall. I was then riding the same test with Corona – we’d had a great warm up and I thought all was well. We trotted around the outside of the ring waiting for the bell to ring. The bell rang and we entered the ring nice and straight – got to X and had a beautiful square halt. As I started trotting towards C I could feel Corona tense up, I pushed him on and then all hell broke loose. I’m not sure exactly what he saw, but something about the letter M scared the bejebus out of him and he recoiled like a spring and spun 180 degrees in the blink of an eye, leaving my hanging on to one side. I tried to get back up in the saddle but didn’t make it and ended up landing first on my feet, then on my butt in the dirt as Corona galloped towards the gate. I went to get up only to realize that my right foot couldn’t support any weight.

The verdict: I had fractured my right heel and torn several supporting ligaments around my ankle. I had never seen bruises and swelling before in my life. My entire leg from mid-foot to my knee was black and blue and looked like an elephant had jumped on it. I was told they couldn’t put a plaster cast on because of the swelling, so instead I was fitted with an air cast for 6 weeks and was on crutches for 3. I spent two weeks on my couch because I couldn’t support any weight on my ankle. This game me ample time for reflection and thoughts about what on earth I was going to do about Corona. I decided that this would be prime time for some ground training so one day I went (well – I was taken, let’s be honest, I couldn’t drive!) to Chapters and picked up Clinton Anderson’s book, “Downunder Horsemanship”. This started my practice in natural horsemanship.



Since then, I’ve read, and read, and read some more about natural horsemanship and have moved on to having quite an affinity for the Parelli school. I found a local Parelli 2* instructor in my area and treated myself to a 3 hour session with her this summer. If I had more disposable income, I’d be doing this every week as I really enjoy it and I have noticed changes in Corona as well which I will save for another post!

Have a happy and principled Friday!




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