I love this photo- it’s education in a trickle down sort of way. These fillies are learning the fine art of wither itching from my retired gelding- when he speaks everyone leans close and listens. He is the Master.
Maybe learning takes lifetimes… This week I have been reading Xenophon, (431-350BC)- On Horsemanship. But not in the original Greek. So much remains true, except perhaps for the part about the importance of choosing a double-backed (wide) horse. In Xenophon’s defense, saddles hadn’t been invented yet. Reading is good for philosophy building on a snow day, but learning to ride isn’t an intellectual endeavor.
Riding, like wither itching, is best learned by doing. So the ardent rider might have a ground person to coach them. So much of riding is physically counter-intuitive, it’s an evolved goal to abandon martial control for sensitive communication with a horse.
“Forward!” It’s a word never not heard in a lesson. It’s the direction I give most frequently in a lesson. When a brain first engages with an idea, a rider’s body can stop moving- then so does the horse. An enthusiastic “Forward!” is is the remedy for both.
Some students apologize to me for having to repeat it again and again- but patience is easy. Could they think someone hasn’t said it to me at least a million and a half times? Or that I haven’t been schooled endlessly by horses who were quick to correct my impatience?
Each of us is a contemporary link of this ancient heritage-the art of partnership with horses- with generations before and yet to come. When we aspire to good horsemanship, even novice riders follow in the hoof-prints of great horses and trainers.
The best lesson situation is a shared respect between the rider, the trainer, and the horse.
“For what the horse does under compulsion,…, is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.” -Xenophon
The reward is when the rider hits on the right ask and the horse answers with relaxed ease. “The sweetest sound of all is praise.” -Xenophon, again. I am not sure if he means horse, rider, or trainer- but I like to think all three.
Xenophon might have been the first rider to write about what came to be dressage, he might have even been the first Dorrance brother. Riders who write a few hundred years from now might use futuristic terms for ancient principles. But today, in our home arenas- less famously and with horses that keep us humble- we still keep company with legend. “Forward!”
(Photo: Learning from the Master.)