Monday, October 10, 2011

Slow Horsemanship

You may have heard of the Slow Food movement - the idea that real food, prepared with real ingredients, with a focus on the pleasure of the preparation and the eating, is better for us - our health and happiness - than convenience and speed.

I'm trying to practice Slow Horsemanship - the same idea, really, using careful, slow methods - paying lots of attention to the "ingredients" - my horse and my interactions with the horse and the horse's responses - without gimmicks, gadgets or artificial deadlines that get in the way of doing things with care and softness.  Learning takes places in the spaces as much as in the doing, I've found - the horse and I need time to process what is being asked of us, to understand and to respond.

Many problems in working with horses, and most of the abuses that occur in the horse world, would be avoided if Slow Horsemanship were used - if people weren't in a hurry, and didn't want quick results.  Haste does indeed lead to waste, and haste is the parent of impatience and anger.

One of the things I've noticed is that when you watch really great horsemen and women work, there's no flash or show - sometimes it's just like watching paint dry and things tend to be very quiet and low key - but real work is taking place.  Once in a while there's a big move by horse or rider - but only when necessary and it's mostly over before you hardly have time to notice.  The best horsemen and women get the best from their horses because they seek partnership and provide leadership, not dominance. That's my ideal.  There are good horsemen and women out there in all disciplines.  I've been fortunate enough to work with Mark Rashid on a number of occasions, and I try to remember some of his principles, including that "horses don't wear watches."  I also always remember the story he told this year about the horse he was riding at the clinic - how he and his wife only rode the horse at the walk for 9 months because the horse wasn't ready mentally until that point to do more - it took that long and that was OK.  That's why Mark no longer does colt starting in clinics - the artificial time constraints don't respect the needs of specific horses and how their training should progress.

Another thing I like about Slow Horsemanship is that it allows me to build a solid foundation, where any gaps in the horse's knowledge are addressed and filled in before we proceed to the next step.  I think a solid foundation gives both the horse and me confidence as we try new things together.  And the foundation is more about things like attention (to one another), patience and self-calming, relaxation, softness and shaping time and space together than it is about the specifics of what the horse is trained to do - I think if the foundation is there the horse can be trained to do all sorts of things.

Progress is so incremental that I hardly notice it myself - sometimes I wonder if I'm getting anywhere but then I look back and see how far we've come - each horse in his or her own way on his or her own path.

Slow Horsemanship . . . I like the sound and feel of that . . .

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