emsMost of the old time horsemen have asked the same question during the past few years.  Where have the horsemen (and women) gone? I think it’s fair to say that horsemen beget horsemen, usually. But spend a little time around people involved with Pony Club or Fox Hunting and you’ll learn that the horseman is dying out and being replaced by Moms and Dads who’s enthusiasm for anything equine comes via their kids. And bless those moms and dads because where would our riders be without them?

From the County to the City and more
The change is blamed on the loss of land and the migration of families to the cities and suburbs.  I don’t doubt that for one minute and I believe land conservation is a major issue for horsemen both now and in the future. I encourage everyone to visit Equine Land Conservation Resource’s web page at http://www.elcr.org/index.php .

Americans have become a disposable society that thrives on convenience. As timedrive-thru goes by we expect more convenience and we expect to reach our goals faster. A person can feed their entire family in less than ten minutes by driving thru any one of a multitude fast food vendors.  At the end of the meal, we throw the dishes in the trash. Have you ever sat in a line at Mac Donald’s and gotten angry because it wasn’t moving fast enough? How about the internet? Have you ever gotten angry that it was too slow?

Everything is high tech and faster.  And when the new high tech comes out we chuck the old one in favor of the new.

And what about the coolness factor, a particularly important issue with young people?
They have to have the right label, titles, style color and size of everything.  Is it a droid or an Iphone, a Mac or a PC?

worlds_largest_horseInto the Horse World
All of this flows over into the horse world. We teach the crest release instead of the following hand to get into the show ring faster.  We count strides instead of developing an eye.  We believe bigger is better and anything with a foreign name is bound to be a winner. Then we strip 3 day eventing down to the qualities of a horse trials to make it suit our new choice in horses.

The two prevailing rules for a good horseman used to be:
1.      a good horseman always put the horse first.
2.     if things go wrong with the horse, it’s usually the rider’s fault.

Not so any more. The result has become most important and we’ll get there by any means necessary.  And if anything goes wrong it’s usually someone else’s fault.

Do You Know What You’re Doing? She was Asked
This was clearly illustrated in a recent facebook discourse. (But remember- Betty White says facebook is a HUGE waste of time!)

A teenager put a photo of her horse wearing a martingale, a shadow roll, and an elevator combination bit that puts pressure on the chin, tongue, bars, poll and nose on facebook in order to receive comments.

Someone asked if the horse needed all of that hardware and if she actually knew how to ride.  And the party was on.

I’d watched this young lady move up thru Pony Club ranks from the time she was 7 years old. The driving force behind her was a family who wanted her to achieve.


Chasing the goal to win blue ribbons and achieve ratings, the girl was moved regularly to “better” horses and ponies. When the better mounts were too much for the girl, stronger bits  and force were used. If the horses didn’t submit they were replaced with a new mount.  The girl never understood, accepted, nor used the principals of classical training.

Horses were a tool, a way to accomplish a goal.  No Partnership. No horse first.  If a horse wasn’t ready for competition, it went any way.  She described her horses as stubborn, jerks, idiots, %#@*!…well you get the picture.


Being a lover of “coolness”, at 12 years old her horse wore coordinated crocheted ear coverings. Later it was quarter sheets during warm up.  Next her horses all used the Mikmar Bit. Then the bubble.  She’d used the Myler Combination bit for the past three years on most horses, so I was interested to to find out what her response to the question would be.

And She Answered- 

1.   I needed this to get the horse under control and then switched to the waterford for both horses (new coolness).
2.   We needed a quick fix
3.   We didn’t have the time
4.   He was stubborn
5.   He’s too big
And my favorite…6.   My trainer told me to.

I wish I could say this was an isolated situation but unfortunately I run into more young people with this new attitude about riding.  They miss the richness of being a horse person. It can be broken in to roughly 5 points.

1.   Young Americans follow the coolness.
2.   they want it fast
3.   they don’t have the time
4.   It’s the horse’s fault.
5.    It’s the trainer’s fault.

What Does It Really Mean?waterford
Taking this interpretation one step farther, the 5 points above indicate:
1.   self esteem is tied to “things”
2.   perseverance is lacking
3.   the goal is more important than the process
4.   accountability is lacking
5.   there is an inability to think for themselves

Are we developing riders and not horsemen because we are losing the example provided by the old horsemen and women? While there is nothing better than growing up under the gaze of the real thing, I don’t believe we must have horsemen to teach personal worth, perseverance, enjoying the process, accountability, and critical thinking. Do you?

The real questions are: What can we do to help our young riders grasp the meaning of Horseman? Is this trend  inevitable? If it is, it becomes more important than ever to preserve the history of riding in the United States.

Thanks for reading U.S. Horsemanship,

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I know this is an old article, but as a “younger” person I feel compelled to respond. Firstly, I wanted to mention that I do no think this is only isolated to young American horse people. I think what you’re describing happens all over the world. The reason it happens: classism, technology, a culture that wants instant results, a culture that doesn’t recognize hard work, a culture that wants everything easy and lazy. It happens for the same reason a person who has lacked interest in animals their whole life suddenly decides to adopt a German shepherd puppy. If the puppy matures into a theyy are dumbfounded and treat the animal as a broken or malfuctiong object. Their are vital skills to be gained when working with animals. Bypassing the opportunity to connect and work with animals will never work in the long run.

    • Jessica, Thanks for reading this post and I agree with you- people who live by shortcuts miss the manful parts of life. Barbara

  • Barbara,
    There is still hope in the world. I am so lucky to have a very dedicated trainer, Ronald G Bartholomew. He is only 25 years old, but insists that all of his students learn the basics from the start… he focuses on teaching very young students and has included me in that process.(I’m 58) Everyone must wear the proper attire, and have their gear clean and safety inspected, by him. Whether he is aware of it or not, he is changing the horse world, one kid at a time. He probably gives his kids more life lessons than they will ever get from a book….and as an older person I will support him in anything that he does……Thank you for responding to my comment, RGB Training and Sales can be googled and is on FB.

  • Very well put Barbara E. Fox….excellent article. As sad as it seems, this need for faster, cooler, ANYTHING (without commitment or dedication) is very prevalent
    in our society. Our children are not being taught that “practice, practice practice” makes you better at whatever you choose to do. Practice requires a time commitment, which is not being allowed or encouraged. Because many of our schools are in such chaos (lack of staff, funding etc) children don’t learn how to learn, they learn how to take tests….the message is “get the test done, on time. No matter what” So the child’s take away message is “I need to hurry up and finish”(regardless of quality) This carries over to all aspects of their lives: Horse riding, music lessons, personal relationships, commitments, jobs etc….If the legs of the middle class continue to be cut out from under us, we will not have a society, or horse folks, or teachers or artists…the list is endless. I get it, I live it.

    • Kimberlee
      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I’d want to be a kid in today’s world. I love the heritage of having grown up as a kid who would do anything to ride or be around a horse, and then of a young trainer who was willing to sleep in the tack room at shows, bringing along green horses, making ordinary horses special… I loved all the time I lived on the back of a horse. It added real quality to my life. You can change a whole industry by changing what the kids do…you can change a whole country by what they are taught in school

  • The story about the girl just looking to win is quite sad- it’s also one that I’ve seen countless times.

    I think the biggest issue in the horse world today are the current crop of trainers. Most of the trainers I’ve seen in my area are not looking to train horsemen or equestrians- they’re looking to make riders. More specifically, they’re looking to make riders that are reliant on their trainers for instruction and help with their horses.

    “The girl never understood, accepted, nor used the principals of classical training.”

    Of course the girl wouldn’t know anything about classical training, because it’s not in the interest of the trainer to teach them about any of that good stuff. When students can’t ride their way out of a paper bag but still love the sport, they’ll flock to trainers with full pocket books looking for help.

    “the girl was moved regularly to “better” horses and ponies.”

    So that the trainers get their commission of the sale of the old horse and purchase of the new horse.

    “Horses were a tool, a way to accomplish a goal. ”

    It’s easier to sell a tool.

    “If a horse wasn’t ready for competition, it went any way”

    So that the trainer gets their coaching fees, and so that they can ride the horse in the show at the rider’s expense, ostensibly for “training” purposes.

    Basically, it’s all about the money, and that’s a fundamental part of the horse industry that isn’t likely to change.

    • Yes, when money gets involved you can pretty much forget the well being of any critter, human included… 🙁 I call those humans “users”….

    • Kevin
      You are so right. The horse dealer has always been around, money has always been a driving force.We have really lost our grasp on sportsmanship, in favor of advancing our perceived personal status. Riders miss out on so much
      Thanks for your good comments

  • I just dropped over this article and I think it’s so good that I just have to put in a comment.

    I have been thinking about the same thing as you many times. Especially because I’m not from a horse-family myself. I’ve never got any horses or ponies from my parents. Most of the time I have been training by myself, because lessons were either unavailable or too expensive for me. I’ve always had a dream of going to shows and being a very good rider. I watched people around me getting good horses and just flying up to the big classes. Well, not many of them are still riding, and my dream has changed. I still want to be a good rider. But now I think it’s more important to be a good trainer. I want to be able to produce the horses, not just riding them. I no longer see any value in just being a “good rider” with good results on the paper.

    My dream changed after spending almost a year as a working student in England. I worked with an old and very vice man. He understands horses like nobody else I’ve met. He taught me so many things about horses. Things that most riders never think about, or never even notice because they are too busy winning or something. He taught me to treat the horses with respect, and without violence. Reading the horses mind, knowing how they will react and why. And he also taught me how to break in horses, and produce them to be good showjumpers. This man has bred and produced horses up to olympic games, both showjumping and eventing, and I really respect him for that. I am so happy I got the chance to learn from him.

    I have done hundreds of 1m-1,10m-1,20m classes on many different horses. But I’ve never jumped a big class at a show. And I know most people think that it’s only the results on the paper that tells how good you are as a rider. For most people I’m not good at all. And I know I would do a lot of mistakes if I was told to jump a 1,30m class or a 1,40m class at a show. But still, I rather want to produce a horse to that level myself, or produce a horse and sell him to somebody taking him further, more than riding one big class on a good horse once with an okay result. Because that’s not the difficult part.

    • Lone,

      Thank you for your well thought comment. I think you were very fortunate to have time to work with the gentleman in England. It’s nice to see hard work pay off and even better to see a horseman pass his knowledge on to the next person. You have a good heart for this and have found the true love of horsemanship.
      Competition is only a test of how good someone is under pressure. Hopefully we don’t have to continuously ride our horses under pressure.

      Barbara Fox

  • I wouldn’t be too hard on the girls when the adults around them are creating this atmosphere and often pushing them to compete and win for their (the adult’s) own gain (ego, to build their reputation and business, etc). When a youngster is given more horse than they can handle, and is not allowed to admit fear (or to risk failure, then adding hardware may be the only solution they know of to fight off fear and gain control. If the trainer tells them to add a tie-down instead finding out what the problem is and teaching them to work through it, well, how many kids will argue with that authority figure? I know grown women intimidated by trainers.

    • Yes, I agree with you- to a point. Some where though, each of us has to take personal responsibility or else young girls will continue to grow up to be intimidated women. But shame on trainers who intimidate and take the power of self sufficiency away from any student and to parents who have to live their dreams through their children. Competition can grow out of good riding skills but, IMHO, it should never be the reason to ride. If that’s their reason maybe they should get a bowling ball. It does less harm and doesn’t require a trainer to tell you when to make your next move. You’re right about adults being a huge part of the problem.

    • Indeed. To paraphrase Vladimir Littauer, a winning ride does not always mean a good performance in the arena.

      One of the issues I have with a lot of competitive riding is that good riding invariably takes back seat to winning performances. Winning as the primary reason for riding turns a horse into a means to an end and not an end unto itself. The horse becomes a tool for the ego and becomes an “it” instead of a “though”, if you get what I mean.

  • I was free lunging my TB the other day and one of the “advanced” students of the student coach was sitting in the stands doing her homework. I use the free lunge time to bond with my horses and for us to get a little exercise without to much empahsis on work. The mare was trotting/cantering around having a blast kicking up her heels. The “advanced” student looked up from her books to watch us. I was turning my mare with my body back and forth in different areas and different speeds. I heard, “come on horses name why wont you just keeping running” and some clucking. I couldn’t belive that this “advanced” student that is now leasing to buy her own horse didn’t see my moving/ driving her with my body, she honestly thought that my horse was being lazy!

    Don’t worry though, she sure looks pretty on her horse. Big bit, bad hands, and no feel!

  • At our barn we try to make it quite clear that horses come first from the mandatory ground lesson that we use to teach things like stable bandaging to proper cooling out and what not. We tell our parents that well let them know when it’s time to look for a horse and we use a what could you have done differently aspect with our students and we always instill that even though we are teachers that we are still students

  • As a horse owner and Senior horse show judge I can appreciate your comments and insight into what is happening!

    Through the years I have seen many trends in the show ring – alternative equipment, bits, colors (or no color), coolers, breeches, stirrups, girths and show ring styles. The fundamental thing which has not changed is performance. The HORSE must perform. We do now, however, start at ‘baby, pre-green, starter, novice, short stirrup, maiden classes, where as before, hunters started at 3’6″!

    There are many pressures on trainers and coaches to have their students perform and WIN – at all costs!I think this is one reason why there is so many students moving up to ‘better’ horses, rather than putting the time in to improve their horse.

    I agree with what you say and think behind the students who are competing in the show ring, are ‘trainers’ who lack the depth themselves. They are, the product of the throw away society. They see the ‘big guns’ get into the ring and make it look effortless. Then they go home and emulate it. What they fail to realize is the hours of training, specific exercises and programs designed to efficiently and effectively get the horse to perform so beautifully.

    Understanding the basics and the simple foundation ‘training pyramid’ will uncover the moment where your training has gone off the rails. I believe most horses can achieve more than what we give them credit for. Given the correct training program and adequate time, they can become superior contenders. Just think of Lendon Grey’s “SEldom Seen” Connemara PONY who won Grand Prix dressage against the fancy warmbloods!

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I see now I am not the only one who is noticing a shift in the horsemanship.


    • Thank you for your good comment. You’re right about the pressure that comes on trainers to get students into the ring. I have sympathy for trainers.Finding the balance between teaching good horsemanship and the excitement of competition can be hard for someone who also has to support what they do. If only riders knew how much longer the satisfaction of improving the horse you haves lasts as compared to the thrill of the blue ribbon. No one is very interested in who won last weekend (except in copying what might have brought success). They are interested in who will win this weekend. It kind of takes the air out of the balloon.

  • I think the changing point for my daughter was 6 years ago (19 now) in becoming a horseman was after one of her first shows when the assist trainer who wasn’t present at the show asked her how she did. My daughter replied, a 2nd, 2 4ths, and a 6th. The trainer then said, but how did you feel you did? A lightbulb moment happened for both of us. It was more than the ribbons but the pride and accomplishment of hard work, fun times and love for this animal that carried her around safely.

  • Excellent post. What occurs to me is that this lament, that our children are fixated on achievement rather than sportsmanship, is pervasive. Anybody read “Early Decision”?

    Often with the best of intentions, we don’t rear our children to pay attention to what brings them joy. I don’t mean Junior should be excused from taking out the trash or keeping his room clean, but I do mean that what brings the child joy should be honored, and MATTER. The kid with the sci-fi bit and and cranky horse is treating her mount the same way many aspects of society treat children and youth.
    You will do it because I said so.
    You will learn it because it’s on the test.
    You will eat it because it’s good for you and I’m your mom and I have body issues.
    You will get A’s so you can get into a good school and bankrupt yourself earning more A’s…
    Horses were better friends to me during adolescence than people were. Horse people are some of my dearest friends. They never put me in a harsh bit, never made me compete when I was too scared, never said I’d been an up-down for too long.
    That kind of acceptance is precious, and a child who never experiences it won’t be able to hear the horse pleading for it.

    • Your points are excellent. I love when a parent brings a child for a first lesson and says, “I just want him to experience horses.” It’s a rare occurrence but it does happen; usually the student is young and it becomes an adventure. Thank you for your comment. It’s surely food for thought.

  • What I have observed, and mostly with english disciplines (H/J etc…), especially the competitive ones, (though you do see it in western as well)is that there isn’t a lot of effort put into finding out the root cause of a behavior… just put a band-aid on it. Harsher bit, side reins, martingales, all kinds of extra crap that if someone actually spent the time to do some training with the horse (and rider), he would be much more willing, relaxed, and supple without all of that stuff.

    And then there are so many riders who are already sure they know it all because they’ve only ridden deadhead horses, have never gotten hurt, and have never challenged themselves. They have no feel and don’t understand what is involved in getting a horse to be a willing well-trained partner. Unfortunately, the horse world these days has become very lazy, and people rarely educate themselves to understand “the why” behind things.

    And with all due respect to all of the people who had never trained a horse before, knew nothing about training horses, but decided to give it a go with their own un-broke horse, I can’t tell you how many of these cases I’ve seen where the horse has turned out to be dangerous, doesn’t understand what is being asked (because the owner didn’t know how to teach), and is downright disrespectful. This all goes back to people not having the knowledge needed but still being afraid to admit it and ask for help. Sure, sometimes things go well and the horse turns out okay, but I think that is the exception, not the rule, and the owner is probably very sharp with a natural instinct for feel. I want my horse to be a friend and like me too, but in the end he better respect me first.

    • I agree that finding the”why” is of major importance. Understanding why something occurs is the first step toward ownership of a theory or training principle. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

  • one of the best people I have taken instruction with is Charles Dekunffy, you go to his fb page and watch his videos. he always said, ‘you want your horse to work with you, not for.” H

    • Very well said and there are quite a few others who have seen this light…..Buck Brannaman is another on of those, thanks to Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance

  • I think this problem goes way beyond horses. I have seen this same disposable attitude in my stepdaughters time and again, from cell phone to clothing. They also don’t comprehend the power of knowledge, I am a 25+ year FEI dressage rider and know much of what I learned was from hours of sitting on a fence post watching any and every lesson, clinic, warm up ride or horse show I could. Want to learn collection, watch a jumper about to tackle 5ft wall need to see relaxation and concencentration watch a cow pony cut out a few head. All horses can teach us. Today the discarding of old ideas or different ways is a detriment to this generation of not only rideres but young adults. And don’t even get me started on their unwillingness to accept responsibility. To this day when I ride I frequently find myself apologizing to both my trainer and horse for my mistakes. “That was my fault I let him down in the transition.” I learned this reality of horsemanship from a former Spanish Riding school trainer, and he made sure my 14 year old self never blamed a horse for my mistakes. Tonight I listened to one teen complain how her poor grade on a test was the teachers fault. If you don’t do the work you get the grade you deserve. What’s going to happen to these kids when their bosses aren’t as accomadating to their lack of responsibility. I just hope somehow they will grow up, learn to ride and learn to be productive members of society.

  • From the 3 beginners I had focused on, one quit within 2 rides and the other two had moms looking for ponies before they were done with the 10th lesson. I quite frankly think its ridiculous that the little girls are given such a priveledge after such short amount of time. and then i see the mothers mucking stalls and feeding and haying while the babies are trotting around on their ponies. They never had to take their time and work for the horse in the first place! Why would they take their time with training and riding once in their possession? Granted I’m just bitter because I’m 25 and am still working toward ownership. I’m sure I could’ve been a part of it as well by pushing the girls to go beyond their comfort level and bringing them to a sense of premature cockiness? But whatever. That’s my two cents.

    • Keep working hard toward horse ownership. It can happen and you’ll be so thrilled you’ll forget about the rest of it.

  • Good article. I got a jumper nearly a year ago and had to take him off all arena work, let alone jumping – seemed like his brain was fried as he was overused for his sheer honesty over fences and never was given a break. Now after nearly 4 months of relaxing trail rides we started arena work again and all the sourness is gone. Great honest horse that loves his work. All he needed is some time off that sadly no one had time to give him.

  • I adopted a 4 y/o slaughter bound QH gelding, 8 years ago. I trained him myself, and trust me when I say, I had never trained a horse before this one. I knew I wanted to train him by way of natural horsemanship. I knew which techniques were absolutely unacceptable in my eyes. I had seen enough clinics and read enough online, to know what direction I wanted to go. I started with Parelli because I loved the idea of training a horse with it’s inherent personality in mind. I also train my foster rotties, and follow the similar principles. I enjoyed great success with the Parelli program for a long time, then hit a wall. Like most things in life you have to learn to be flexible when training a horse. I found this out the hard way when after much frustration and many tears, I finally had an “AH-HA” moment. Not everything is in a tidy little box. As I looked up into the eyes of my boy, he looked so puzzled. He came up to me and put his muzzle to my cheek as if to say “If I understand your request, I will do anything for you.” I was not being the leader I needed to be for him. From that point forward, I started delving into many other natural horsemanship training philosophies and integrated them into our sessions. If I couldn’t relay the lesson one way, I would look for another. I think Tuffy and I have benefited greatly from all of the wonderful horsemen and horsewomen of my time. Over the last 8 years, through the tears and the joys, I have enjoyed and embraced, every step of this journey, with my amazing partner. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Yes, he sure is…I work with a lot of horses and they are the ones who have taught me the most. I have gotten that “you do that again, I will lash out” look” from an Appy once. I stopped and backed off. He felt that my request was not polite enough. So I stopped and asked with less intensity and he complied, not great, but he did…will never forget this experience, lol

      • This whole experience with Tuffy has definitely helped me become a much better communicator…LOL! My children appreciate it. They are 20 and 23 now, and they have noticed how much more patient I am. I appreciate that they noticed. <3

  • As both a horse mom and rider myself, I feel I have an excellent view of the issue. Growing up riding, I was the only “horsey” person in my family. My parents knew nothing of horses but were supportive. I rose in a typical H/J barn that focused on winning ribbons and trophies and DID use a lot of the shortcuts and cheats I’ve seen mentioned here. Ironically, it was my NON-horsey parents who started me on the road to becoming a better horsewoman. Both of them are school teachers, so we never had a lot of money to throw at problems, and they always told me “The horse takes care of you when you ride it, so you have to return the favor.” I never had the newest, most popular brand tack, but what I did have was clean and well-maintained. If something broke because I didn’t take care of it, guess what– I didn’t ride until I (ME not mom and dad) paid for the replacement. But you bet your butt I was out there every day taking care of the horse. As a result, I didn’t have as extensive a show career as some of my friends but it was every bit as successful. My wonderful NON-horsey parents managed to foster a love and respect of horses that has lasted my whole life and made me a better person. …… Now as a mom to a 10yr old girl and 9yr old boy, I get to share that with MY kids. My son isn’t as into riding as my daughter, but he can groom, feed, and clean the stall all by himself. My daughter is extremely fortunate that we own a Hanoverian mare so she gets to forge a partnership with her horse early on instead of being thrown on packer after packer. This means she has to actively learn HOW to ride not just how to “sit pretty” (which I have heard trainers say to their students). And you can also bet she does all of the work caring for the horse herself. We ARE on full board, but if there’s a pile of poop in the stall when we get there, she has to clean it. So now my 10yr old, 4ft tall, 90lb daughter can catch, lead, groom, tack, ride, cool down, bathe, and care for in every way our 16hh 1200lb Hanoverian. Which means WAY more to me than any ribbon or trophy she’ll ever win ( although those are fantastic too, LOL)!!! …. Unfortunately not all parents think like me and I’ve gotten a few negative comments from other boarders that I’m “so lazy and make my kids do all the work”. Really?!?!!!! Yes on the days my daughter rides, she does MOST of the work– and I do it on purpose so that she will learn riding is a privilege not a right, and foster the same love in her that my parents taught me. Which begs the question– why did it take a pair of NON-horsey parents to teach me how to become a horsewoman instead of the trainer?!

    • Liz, I think it really comes down to the core values a person has. Your parents had good and strong core values and this is what was passed on to you. People who do not have that will always cheat and take shortcuts and use others, humans included…this is why I am so passionate about all this because it is a direct reflection of how we treat each others. Horse users will also use people as they see fit and it’s simply WRONG to operate this way!

    • Good job, Mom. And it sounds like your non horsey parents knew a little bit about work ethic and appreciating what you have

  • I work with a lot of horses on a regular basis and often have to do ground work to get them to co-operate…I want a horse that trusts me, not one who fears me, because that usually leads to more issues down the road. I have experienced enough to know

    • Horses that understand what is going on and aren’t afraid of it are usually pretty cooperative if they aren’t over faced. I think ground work is super important. Keep up the good work

  • I just got creamed on a FB forum for suggesting that a jumper perhaps reared because she was ridden in a double bridle! I used to watch jumpers as a kid and I do not recall ever seeing a horse ridden in a double at the higher levels! When horses reach the place of rearing, they are deeply troubled by something done to them and this is the only way they know to express their feelings…I do not need to know a horse personally to see that! This article came just at the right time because it exactly describes what is going on in riding these days. Oh and this is not just an American issue. The horse in question was ridden in Europe 🙁

    • I love FB forums but you can really get stung there. Horses rear to avoid pain or get away from something they’re afraid of, unless of course they’re trick trained like circus horses. Thanks for coming here to leave a comment

    • I sort of agree with you re rearing, albeit I sure do remember the day my rather mentally deficient 2 y/o colt said “Hey MOMMY! Look at MEEEE! I can STAND ON MY HIND LEGS, seeeeee?” when I got home from work and he met me at the gate… reared several times just to be SURE I noticed… and we had to have the CTJ about how Rearing Is Something A Young Horse Should Never Do… On the subject of the double bridle however you are simply incorrect. In the 1920s to 1950s most if not all H/J horses were ridden in double bridles. But people had more highly educated *hands* back then than they do now, and the average rider had a better understanding of the purpose and use of various types of bit, too.

  • First riders need to believe that horses are sentient beings. Horses have feelings and motivations. Taking them time to reflect on what works and what doesn’t matters.

    I think it’s about learning (as best we can) how horses see the world and how we can work with them. Bits are communication devices not a form of punishment or total control.

    • Marcy I agree with you. I also think there is a real danger in anthropomorphizing the horse or any other animal. As soon as we give them human emotions we start giving them human consequences. An example might be- He’s just being stubborn- so the rider gets bigger spurs or kicks harder when in truth the horse can’t do what is being asked; such as go forward freely with a mouthful of iron

  • Hi Everyone. In England I feel generally that the horse profession shot itself in the foot in the ealy days by using students/working pupils as slave labour. I agree that all students need to learn how hard the work is & how to be responsible for the life & care of your equines but I think the work ettic was taken too far. Now with the intro duction oc the college based learning everyone has a work to rule – only work if you fell like it. Walk away at 5pm wether the horses are fed & given enough hay & clean water for the night- doesnt really matter someone else will do it. We cant do it the taxi is waiting for us & we have a great night out planned. Oh yes of course we will exercise the horses – great – come on guys they dont kno what we are doing now we are out of sight lets just go galloping – it doesnt matter if the ground is hard theses boys need to stretch their legs – lack of knowledge/ responsibility/ no empathy with other living beings. with regard to teaching riding – most teachers have been taught at colledge & dont know what the real world of horses is, so can only teach from experience their experience isnt good enough. The other main problem is that of health & safety _ its all gone mad – when you taech at a school now the clients arrive 5 minutes before their lesson, ride in an enclosed space on a half dead horse, as all schools are terrified of being sued & the vets that vet the horses for your licence are now not horse vets & couldnt tell you if the horse was suitable to teach someone to ride on just that it is sound – it can see & its tack fits as he is a pig/small animal specialist that does the inspections as an extra earner.

  • Horsemanship requires riders that have in depth knowledge of seat and leg aids and do not suffer from RDS (Rein Dependency Syndrome).
    Unfortunately in all fields of riding riders, trainers and clinicians have ‘lost’ the ability to teach lightness of the rein connection. Even Ray Hunt said he could not teach feel and if one cannot convey how to feel then one surely cannot expect a rider to grasp lightness of rein connection nor lightness of the seat and legs aids.

  • Excellent article and straight to the point! As a riding instructor I run into any number of individuals who are always looking for a ‘quick fix’ for some difficulty they are having, or rather some difficulty the horse is having with them, if you know what I mean. Today, even in the ranks of top riding instructors, there is very little knowledge (and often no desire to know) exactly how various bits work, or even a modicum of understanding of equine locomotion or even a more than basic understanding of control, the aids and coordination of aids. As a result, there are too many people who view horses as a fashion statement or extension of ego. Go into the hunt field today to see the results: the biggest danger of hunting is the other riders due to the superficial nature of their riding.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dan, you are so right. I was thinking about you today while I was considering how to bring Caprilli in on the basics. It’s good to hear from you. Barbara

      • You’re welcome! At the basic level, Caprilli’s “Natural System” is just about as simple of a system that there can be. Even at the more advanced control levels, it is still simple if the student knows the principles and applies them with the understanding that each horse and each rider is different. Caprilli’s original methods did not produce what I call “Cookie-cutter” horses and riders.

  • Very true. As a pony club mom and a former 4-Her (and Fla 4-H Horseman of the year, way back), I know that while there are national standards and rules for pony club, and believe it to be the best youth organization for kids, the club is only as good as ‘the leaders and parents. I am surprised that pony club would allow this kid in the article to ride in all that hardware and would be curious as to what her discipline is, because at most levels, some of that was not allowed. Unfortunately, I cannot access the rulebooks online as you now have to be a member. I believe that pony club with its ratings and rallies, and being held to national standards, unlike 4-H, which has no national standards, is the best thing out there today to teach horsemanship, which so many of todays trainers do not produce for the reasons mentioned. We had one girl who joined pony club who was supposedly jumping 3’6 after only 6 months with her trainer, yet she could barely pass her D-1 rating. She didn’t know conformation, parts of tack or the horse, and could barely make her horse trot a straight line. Yet her trainer would put her on a school master and send her in to jump 3’6. And sadly, that is so common today.

    • Lori – I wanted to put your mind at ease that this hardware on the horse was not during Pony Club but for horse shows. I love Pony Club, too and I agree with you that it’s easily the best youth equestrian organization out there. School masters serve a great purpose but so do those naughty ponies and ordinary horses. Kids miss so much when they don’t get to be kids with a horse. Why is there so much pressure to “excel” the short way. . . I guess I should use the term “accel” as it would be a derivative of accelerate as opposed to being a derivative of excellent! I’m just glad the 3’6″ girl found Pony Club! 🙂

      • I think Pony Club is great, and always wanted to join, but there wasn’t one and I was an intense 4Her. We couldn’t afford pony club anyway. I have very mixed opinions about positive and negative impacts of Pony Club standards. The standardization of knowledge is great, but the rating system creates intense competition. If your horse can’t jump 2’6″, or your family can’t afford a truck and trailer, or even trucking, you cannot advance. I admire pony club for adding their Dressage track to address some of these problems, but I’ve also met pony clubbers who wanted quick fixes specifically to get their ratings. That horse can only comfortably jump 2’3″, but I need 2’6″ to get my rating? Otherwise, I can’t advance? There’s a huge, constant conflict of interest there. And it never stops. There is constantly something new to achieve, which I like, but that creates constant pressure to go higher, faster, have a more athletic horses. If the horse I can afford can’t jump 3″, or should’t, does my progress stop?

        It also seem much harder to do pony club without the ability to compete, and the emphasis on competition. Rallies are competitive. I could afford to train, or to compete, so I worked hard at home and did very well on the occasions when we got to go out into the world.

        On the other hand, 4H was never intended as a riding INSTRUCTION program. So all the riding in a given club isn’t regulated at all, which scares me. Regardless of the organization, some groups in it are great and some are poor, but the lack of standardization in 4H has shown me some horrors. To me, 4H done well, emphasizes time with the horse above all, regardless of specific goal. This structure allows each kid to work on what they can do with the horse they have and explore different possibilities.

        I think both organizations have strengths and weaknesses–strange to me that the strengths and weaknesses can come from the same principles.

  • Well, my own twelve year old loves her ear bonnets, but it does actually seem to settle her mare 🙂

    Seriously, though, it seems to come back to education or certification of trainers and judges, and the Horsemen that are out there taking a stand for classic horsemanship. I’m heartened by the rise in popularity of Denny Emerson’s FB page/discussion (Tamarack Hill), at least in my circles. George Morris’s Horsemastership series seems to be good thing from my limited view, and perhaps this kind of thing can trickle down to the lower levels.

    The same twelve year old wouldn’t ride a pony for it’s owner at a local show recently, as it felt “off” in warm-up, even though the owner said she thought it looked okay. There is hope, yet.

    • I like ear bonnets, too! And I think Denny Emerson is a special trainer/instructor with lots of depth. I’m glad you mentioned him. I’d encourage everyone to join him on Facebook . And yes about George Morris’ Horsemastership series. Most encouraging is finding out that so many other horsemen/women share these views. I feel like if we each do out bit, we’ll be effective.

      Short story about another 12 year old. Her first rally and the sand is too deep for the pony she’ll ride in dressage Intro. The pony went off behind and the girl stopped her test and asked if she could leave the arena. Her team mates were furious with her. I thought she was amazing.

      12 year olds can be pretty terrific people

  • Yes, indeed, many of the youngsters today have too much to do in their daily lives to devote quality time learning the proper ways and taking the time to “enjoy the journey” with a horse. There’s music lessons, school competitive sports, dance class, etc and so on which seems to take priority over the barn. I’ve been teaching for quite a few years now. I would guess that out of 50 kids, one shows the devotion it takes to be a “horseman”. Then, of course, there’s the parents that don’t have the time to get their kids to the barn…..makes me sad….

    • You’re right, it is sad. And the kids are missing soooo much. What does it take to make a barn a place the kids want to be?

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