September 7, 2022 Written by Rachel Ory
In the process of learning the art of horsemanship, I have been through many stages and of course, am still evolving. In the beginning, I was only halfway committed. There were many things in life I was not willing to give up. The comforts of home, distracting relationships, and other interests all were holding me back. Over time, I became more disciplined in order to expand into a deeper level. I am learning to identify things in my life that no longer serve my highest purpose. By letting go of these, a space opens up to explore new territory. Every aspect of life, personal and professional, requires going back to the basics and refining them. A thorough understanding of simplicity makes the master. Simple things are overlooked by most, which makes the process deceptive. Here are some of my thoughts on the stages of horsemanship and the progression through them:
At the most basic level, riders learn how to deliver the aids to get the horse to operate a certain way. They spend a lot of time in their heads thinking of what to do next, reminding themselves of correct posture and positioning, which results in their timing being late and their aids lacking feel. It is easy for riders to get discouraged in this early stage because they haven’t yet put in enough concentrated practice to reap the rewards. There are many distractions in our modern world where convenience is prized. Breaking through the shell that conceals better horsemanship requires a commitment to practice, even when things get uncomfortable. Many people never get beyond this stage in their lifetime because every time they start to feel uncomfortable in a situation, they find a reason to quit. Getting to the next level has uncomfortable moments, but it’s very rewarding once you get to the other side.
The next level comes after much concentrated effort and practice. What previously took a lot of thought and effort starts to become more automatic. When the rider has a thought of what they want the horse to do, it takes time for that thought to go from the rider’s brain to their body, to the horse’s brain, to the horse organizing their body in response. Through repetition and practice, this “index of conductivity” is forged, and a faster response time is produced. At this level, so much practice has been done that the mind gets quiet. The riders body takes over and automatically does the things that the mind previously had to think about. This frees the mind to focus on other things. By now, the rider has developed better feel and timing. Forging this communication pathway is critical for every rider hoping to compete. Some horsemen dedicate their entire careers sharpening their horses’ responses in order to compete at the highest level. They get their pick of horses and ride those that are tough and talented enough to victory. This is great for them, but many good horses get discarded in that process. Some horsemen find satisfaction in seeing every horse find their highest and best use. These are the horsemen that are drawn to next level in search of higher vibration where horsemanship becomes art.
“Don’t ever let a horse find out what he can’t do.” - Ray Hunt said these words to Tom Pierson about the best three year old Tom had ever ridden. That thought is hard to improve upon.
At the artistic level, the index of conductivity is very high, resulting in very little delay between when the rider takes action and when the horse responds, and the horse’s response is unforced and natural, his expression pleasing. The horse is comfortable with what is being asked of him. These horsemen are laser focused with their horses highest and best use in mind. They rise above the grind of having to find new customers and new horses, no longer operating from a place of scarcity. People that are aware enough will see what a gift these horseman are and be drawn to work with them. The positive energy and flow of these riders and their horses is attractive, even if they aren’t the most popular or aren’t always winning. They move with ease through life in a playful, creative manner, exploring the forces of nature that make up horsemanship. In the moment, their horses almost shimmer with positive energy. It is what we all want when we start riding and feel glimpses of early on. Very few will walk the entire path and find their way back to that essence. But that’s ok! The pursuit is what matters.
No matter where you’re at, by now you know that the horsemanship journey is a long and winding process. Seeking help from other professionals and colleagues is important, and we should be seeking help even when our progress is positive. Just when we think we have “The answer” is the best time to keep looking. Setbacks occur when we wait until we are in a negative place before asking for help. This journey wasn’t meant to be traveled alone. I am saddened when I see riders become isolated; fierce competition all too often pits riders against one another and closes them off from sharing their experiences. Every successful rider has teachers, coaches and friends working with them. If you’re feeling unhappy or unsatisfied, perhaps something is calling you to dig in and look deeper. By witnessing those masters of horsemanship, the world opens up and we know that there are higher levels. This awareness fuels our journey.
I am fueled up and ready to be of service for another season, perhaps I’ll see you soon!