Becoming a Horseman

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Whatever our equestrian activities and whatever our aims and motives, we are all searching for the same thing: that elusive harmony between man and horse that comes from a deeper understanding.

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Communication is subtle; mutual respect and trust find the perfect balance. The connection between man and horse is not only physical, but mental and emotional. The path to this harmony is not easy, and it requires considerable personal investment, with moments of deep satisfaction (thank goodness) but also others of profound frustration. Rest assured that determination, perseverance and a willingness to listen and learn will always bring success. This is the road to becoming a horseman.

As we progress in our journey, the way we perceive horsemanship changes. It no longer appears to us as a discipline, but rather a way of living and being with horses in harmony with how they learn, act and react.

Solid fundamentals are the key to success in the saddle. AQHA?s Fundamentals of Horsemanship will give you the inspiration, skills and confidence to create a more rewarding relationship with your horse.

The first habit to change is the way we try to understand the horse. You must try to understand things from the horse's point of view, which is easier said than done. A true horseman stands out from the crowd by his way of doing everything ? from the way he tacks and leads a horse, to the way he behaves at all times.

If we don't really feel the need to change, the horse will constantly be forced to fill the gap left by our incompetence, which results from our ignorance. A rider can compensate for this by riding well and may not feel the need to change, but the lack of understanding remains. Basics foundations have been neglected, and the rider feels he can cope without them. But the gap is there, and problems will eventually become apparent if the rider doesn't realize that only a change in habit will enable him to progress.

As an example, in a math class, all students understand the exercise by their teacher, except Dennis. The teacher gives Dennis a few more hints, and he makes a genuine effort to understand, but he cannot solve the equation. Dennis? willingness to learn is not enough, and he feels annoyed and humiliated in front of the rest of the class. He does not even want to look at the blackboard; he has already given up.

The teacher realizes that Dennis needs more help and individual attention to solve the equation. Without it, Dennis will become obsessed by what he feels is his failure. He will become isolated and not able to solve the next exercises.

The teacher knows that Dennis comes from a ranching family. In the teacher?s explanation, he brings the figures to life by replacing them with cattle in Dennis? imagination. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division take on a whole new meaning. Herds are sorted by age, some are sold, others are bought. Some cows have calves, others don't.

Using this realistic presentation based on familiar terms gives Dennis a totally different approach to the exercise. Everything seems logical now, and Dennis is able to solve the blackboard equation.

The teacher knew how to

* Alter his teaching methods to adapt them to a specific pupil.

* Take a moment?s break from the exercise to avoid putting Dennis in a situation of failure

* Use imagination to find a way around Dennis? problem.

* Challenge his own ability: ?If my pupil can't solve the equation, then as a teacher, I am partly responsible.?

* Maintain the dialogue and help the pupil find the will to continue learning by restoring his self-confidence.

If the teacher had not been prepared to adapt his methods, not only would Dennis have failed, but the teacher would not have fulfilled his role. One of the most important objectives of a teacher is to help the greatest possible number of pupils understand, progress and succeed.

The teacher showed professional skill, fighting against the temptation to seek complications instead of simplicity.

Be sufficiently flexible to adapt to each situation, having first made sure you really understand it. Always try to make progress; do not remain stuck on one exercise. Concentrate on improvement, not perfection. You must, however, know how to find the root of your problems and come back to it. Do not be tempted to skip certain steps; it is all a question of finding the right balance between consistency and variety.

It is imperative to work with the horse at his own level, not where you would like him to be. By making an exercise interesting, you will give him reason and motive to do what you ask.

Never forget that during this learning period, we have very little to offer the horse, but he has a great to offer us. If you can listen to his needs, you will be able to see and feel things as he does.

Read more on America's Horse Daily.