Bob and Amigo turn on the haunches
Photo credit; Avalon Photography. Jolene Bertrand
Good horsemanship, a lifetime pursuit, how does one go about acquiring it? We are aware that timing, feel, and balance are three words that describe good horsemanship. Starting with balance we need to understand the anatomy of both the horse and rider. We need good self carriage in both. In the rider we need to have the alignment of the body over the feet in a neutral position. It is amazing how the balance of the horse improves as the rider bring his or her body into correct balance. To understand that three of the most important joints in my body for riding are ankles, knees, and hip joints. To gain an understanding and working knowledge of how important the pelvis area of our body is in riding. The three centers that are in the pelvic region. These centers are: center of gravity, center of energy, and center of control. The importance of our seat bones and being able to lower the sacrum. The best information for me has been an understanding of my joints and how they relate to riding. As my knowledge and awareness of my body increases, my riding improves. Hips, torso, shoulders, neck and head must be centered over my feet. As my understanding of my body increased I found it extremely important to learn the function and form of the horse's skeletal make up. All this has been helpful to learning and understanding the locomotion of the horse. If the human body is not in correct alignment it is impossible to feel the movement of the horse correctly, because our body is blocking what we need to feel. So, as balance improves, so does feel, and as feel improves, so does our timing. Our progression as a rider accelerates at an exponential rate. Some of the benefits of this correct alignment of the body, as expressed by the riders I have worked with, are of great worth to them. Once they got their body aligned correctly, riders who were experiencing pain in their knees, neck or shoulders every time they rode, no longer had that pain. I have witnessed horses that were showing signs of pain and discomfort. Those symptoms disappeared when the rider was balanced correctly. Is it a cure all for any and all pain? Probably not; but I am excited and amazed at what it has done and what it can do.
Learning how to help the horse come into correct alignment and balance when we are on their back, is the very essence of horsemanship. The correct knowledge and understanding we have of the anatomy of the horse, will be a huge asset in our gaining control and unity with the horse. Again we need to start with the skeleton structure of the horse. What is the purpose and function of every bone, joint, muscle, ligament and etc. in the horse. A good mechanic knows every part of the engine that he is working on. He understands its purpose and function. If we want to excel in horsemanship we need to understand how the Creator designed the body and the mind of the horse to operate. We need to learn and understand the locomotion of the horse plain and simple. There is a statement of both Tom and Ray that said where ever the feet of the horse go, the rest of the horse will follow. We need to understand the foot falls of the horse. I like to start with the walk and teach those I work with how to feel and know where the feet are.
In this photo we see each of the feet in a different phase of the stride. Starting with the right hind (flight), right front is starting to shift weight to the left (break over or leaving), left hind (support), left front is in (landing phase). The balance of the horse is on the two left feet, (landing and support) at this instant in time.
I have in my lifetime ridden many clinics with the old master, Ray Hunt. In every clinic, without fail, Ray would stress the importance of knowing where the feet of the horse are. We would practice calling out when a certain foot left the ground, because at that instant we could place the foot. What I want to share with you now is some of the information and knowledge that has been added upon the foundation of what Ray gave me. If we analyze the walk of the horse we know that it is a four beat gait. Thus since the horse has four legs, each leg would be in a different phase of the stride at any instant of time. As we ride our horse in the walk we can feel in our body a forward, up, back, and down motion in our seat bones and hip joints. Observing the horse in the walk and focusing on a certain leg (example starting with the right hind leg in the above photo) we see a foot in flight, a foot leaving the ground, a foot in a support phase as the horse thrusts himself forward during each stride, and a foot landing. The sequence of the feet being right hind, right front, left hind, and the left front. If we were to take a snap shot of the horse we would observe this pattern of footfalls, thus it becomes apparent that if there are four phases the foot goes through and four feet, the obvious conclusion is that each foot must be in a different phase at any instant of time. Now what is the relationship of the other feet to the right hind, as it goes through each of the four phases? As I understand where each foot is, then I know exactly where each foot will be in the next instant of time. Oh, do we start to see a light shinning a whole lot brighter at the end of the tunnel as this knowledge of footfalls at the walk begins to unfold for us?
Reminds me of good horsemanship, horse and rider intertwined together.
photo credit;Avalon Photography. Jolene Bertrand
In this photo we observe the feet in the following phases. Right hind landing, right front flight, left hind break over (leaving) and the left front in support. This is on Amigo the bay horse. Dan has asked his colt to un-track and step the right hind in front of the left hind. This colt is very very green and you can see some resistance or brace to what Dan is asking for, but his timing is there.
Using the knowledge and information that is available I designed a chart to help my students and myself understand where the feet are at the walk. Using this information helps speed up the learning process. I have seen charts and flow diagrams for the trot and the canter but nothing on the walk. This has been most helpful to me. There is some important information that you need to understand. The following are the keys to learning how the horse moves: I view the front feet of the horse as a pair, and the hind feet as another pair. If one of the legs of the pair is in flight the other leg of that pair is in support. If one of the legs is in break over, the other leg will be in landing of that pair. Flight/support or support/flight always go together. Landing/break-over or break-over/landing always go together. The other information that you need to know is that if a front foot is in flight, the balance of the horse will be on the opposite diagonal. If a hind foot is in flight the balance of the horse will be on the opposite side. The balance of the horse will always be on the feet in the support and landing phase.
There is some other information that is extremely important in understanding the foot falls.
This is part of the information that I teach in the Cowboy School and in my Horsemanship clinics. Much of the time in our quest to improve, the information is out there somewhere but to have the time to find it and dig it out and learn it is a difficult task. I am grateful for those who have helped me learn through clinics, articles, DVD'S and books.
In the above photo we see that at the walk there are always two feet on the ground, and most of the time three. But there is an instant in time when there are only two feet on the ground. Aren't the new digitals cameras great? We can learn so much from studying photos. They show us that instant in time, and then with the foot falls everything is dynamic--constantly changing. The right front is just finishing the flight phase, right hind just finishing landing, left hind ready to go from break over to flight, and the left front is in the final milliseconds of the support phase.
The following article and diagram, written by my wife Betty King, illustrates how we build this foundation for the horse and rider.
A Way of Being
Are we at peace, or are we at war? I’ve been pondering that question and how it affects our relationship with other humans and our horses since I read a little gem of a book last summer entitled Anatomy of Peace. The premise of the book was that our way of seeing others either as people or as objects determines whether we are at peace or at war. If we see them as people, honoring their humanity as we would our own, and responding positively to their unspoken needs then we can be at peace. As soon as we betray our better selves by seeing them as objects and being resistant to their needs we have the need to justify our behavior by vilifying them, which leads to a state of emotional war. Whether we are at peace or at war is our way of being.
Furthermore, it seems that our way of being, more than our actions, determines the response we get. It determines the quality of our feel with the horse. I’ve thought about how often I’ve heard someone at one of Bob’s clinics say, “I do the same thing with my horse that you do, but my horse still doesn’t respond to me the way it does to you.” Of course the thought that comes to mind is that if they had done what Bob did, the way he did it, with the attitude that he had, they would have gotten the same response. That person has usually just demonstrated by their actions or words that they are at war with the horse.
No one enjoys being at war. It feels terrible, but often we attribute that feeling to something that a person, or a horse, has done to us. We believe that if they would just change some things about how they live or act, we would feel fine. We don’t realize that we are responsible for that feeling, that it comes from inside us, how we are seeing others, and not from anything external.
Think about that for a moment. When we see horses clearly, as horses (and not humans in horse clothing,) with all the wonderful, honest, forgiving qualities they possess, with their need to co-exist in safety and peace, do we want to use terms such as stupid, lazy, stubborn, cowardly, or vicious to describe them? On the other hand, when, we see them as objects to be used to gratify our egos, or satisfy our needs, or return a monetary investment, then we become resistant to their needs and think only of ours. At that point we have to use those negative concepts to justify our lack of response. Once we enter this state of mind we set up a situation in which the horse generally responds in a negative way to our actions and intentions, which gives us more justification for our blaming and accusing thoughts. We go to war with our horse.
Many years ago, when I first saw Ray Hunt working with a horse I recognized his ability to be at peace with that animal whether it was responding in a way that was useful for Ray or not. Because he saw the true worth of the animal and honored that he had no need to blame, criticize or accuse. I couldn’t have described that quality at the time; I just knew that watching him interact with a horse was about the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. There was a quality to the way he touched the horse that spoke volumes yet defied description. He often worked with troubled horses that needed quick, firm reminders that Ray was to be respected, sometimes his actions could be described as hard, even harsh, out of necessity, but he never went to war. His goal was always what was in the best interest of the horse. It was his way of being.
Last fall, in Sheridan Wyoming, I watched Buck Brannaman working a young horse that had no respect for the lead rope, and not much for the human. It was dangerous and on the thin edge of serious trouble. Buck seemed concerned that the horse was going to get a bad deal and so was the human, and he did what was necessary to help the horse work through the problem. His level of concentration was amazing and he didn’t quit working until the horse understood, let down and came through. Because he never betrayed himself or the horse he never went to war. His way of being was at peace, the horse was well aware of that and when he was finished the horse felt safe, was relaxed, happy and pleased to have found a new friend.
No amount of good intentions, will power or self control will stop us from becoming disappointed, frustrated, fearful, angry and going to war. What will change our way of being is learning to see the horse as a horse, perfect just the way that God created it. It helps to be able to stop before we ever approach the horse and try to think ourselves into its mind. If a person finds that they are almost always in a state of accusation, anger and frustration toward the horse, or sees the horse as vindictive or out to get them, it can help to seek out someone who seems to generally be at peace with the horse and visit with them about horses and how they operate. That opens the way for us to recognize the needs of the horse and respond to them in a way that is most appropriate. A word of caution here: treating the horse as a pet, hand feeding, lack of discipline and allowing it to become insecure and pushy is not in the best interest of the horse.
Another thing I hear expressed when Bob is working with someone’s troubled horse is the fear that the horse must want to get away from Bob and that it will be frightened of him when the work is done. Every time they are surprised at how calm, relaxed and happy the horse is at the end of the session. The horse will be following Bob around like a puppy, anxious to get closer and feel more of what is being offered. It will know that Bob was always at peace with it, which allows it feel safe and peaceful with him.
So it is our way of being at the time we do what we do, that will make our relationship with our horse better or worse. Are we at peace, or are we at war?
For the following Horse Sense Pyramid, and its explanation, I must give credit to the Arbinger Institute and their wonderful work on the Parenting Pyramid. As soon as I saw it the relevance that it had for our work with the horse jumped out at me.
1. Although Correction is a part of Horse Sense Horsemanship, it is the smallest part.
2. The Key to correction is effective teaching.
3. The key to effective teaching is a good horse/human relationship
4. The Key to good horse/human relationship is a good human/human relationship.
5. The Key to good human/human relationship is our personal way of being
Or we can turn this around this way:
Personal Way of being: Are we at peace or at War?
Human/Human Relationship: How do we see others? As objects—obstacles to our goals, vehicles to get us to our goals, irrelevancies because we don’t need them to reach our goals? Do we value and respect the individual? Is he/she a person to us? Are they as important as we are?
Human/Horse Relationship: Do we respect the horse as a horse or see it as a human in a horse suit? Do we see it as an object—an obstacle to our training plans, a vehicle to satisfy our ego or earn money for us, or irrelevant to our plans?
Teaching: Have we developed a solid relationship based on Mutual respect and trust? Have we spent the time to learn how the horse learns?
Correction: Have we taught the correct thing for the correct reason and in the correct way?
My attitude is such a determining factor in the results that I can achieve with my horse.