Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Knowledge of Horsemanship?

A Knowledge of Horsemanship ?       
Originally published in Horse Directory,                                                             April 2013

By Tom Gumbrecht

Knowledge is Everything!

No, it isn’t.  Let’s start out with that.

"Circus"- The first horse the author sat.
For a short time, after beginning to learn how to ride at age 45, I believed that I would take a few lessons, maybe a half-dozen or so, and then go off and be a rider. It was such an accident of fate that put me in the saddle that I had no idea how much was involved in becoming what I considered to be a “good rider”. I didn’t even know what that was, but I suspected that it had something to do with attempting crazy stuff on horseback and not falling off in the process.  My innocence and naïveté were probably a good thing then, as a full understanding of what was involved would probably have kept me from even trying.

As I gained a little bit of knowledge and some time in the saddle, I explored different disciplines and found myself gravitating toward jumpers. As I watched from the sidelines I was mystified at how a rider could compel a horse to race around what seemed to be an unbelievably complex course of impossible combinations of fences.  While I thought of, or actually hoped to, one day ride a horse over a single fence, the thought of riding a full course didn’t even make it into my occasionally exciting horsey dreams.

I thought that I would need to find a way to access the secret details of some grand plan, some complex mystery that only the best riders knew and weren’t telling. “They” knew all of the details, but they weren’t sharing them with the likes of me. If only I knew what they knew, I could ride like they rode.

Or, not.

Laura Ruben of Affari Horse Farm taught me that discipline was not a bad word
You see, I was the kid who wanted to learn to play guitar on a music video, but found practicing scales and riffs to be a waste of time. I thought big! Skip the boring parts; let’s get right to the performance!  But then… something interrupted my big thinking. I had the good fortune, through another accident of fate, to have the opportunity to ride with a trainer who brought my big thinking down to earth while keeping my sometimes frail ego intact. A pretty good trick, honestly; it was accomplished by making the little things that I had no time for, fun.  Before I knew it, I was actually looking forward to practicing the very things I had so often shunned: balanced turns, straight lines, low hands, good posture, breathing, counting strides, work without stirrups, eye position, metered canters… basic things that I had been lacking.

Lola knows that jumping the little ones at home makes the big ones easy!
That was the missing element. I thought that I needed knowledge and guts; I wanted to float above the others on knowledge, and then swoop down and overtake them with guts. I was wrong; what was missing was not guts, nor was it knowledge. The missing element was discipline.  That was what “they” had that I didn’t; that was what I needed to find. It turned out that riding a competently executed course of jumps was no more than riding, in turn, a series of competently executed small movements.  Developed and perfected by repeating, observing, feeling, experiencing and improving some of the most simple things in riding. Honing skills as a woodworker sharpens his chisel in readiness for his next job. Put it all together and feel how it feels to experience something with your horse that is much more than the sum of its parts.  Discipline is the bridge between our dreams and our successes.

A point came when I began to understand what my very first trainer had told me once, a bunch of years ago: “Your problem, sir, it that you want to think it, and it will be done. Horses don’t work that way.”

I hate it when people who annoy me are right…

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