Our columnist suggests trainers make the time to pass on their horsemanship knowledge.
I recently watched a young, talented professional longeing a horse for a vetting. It was quite eye-opening to see that this professional really had no knowledge of how to longe a horse correctly. I offered some direction to the young lady, and with a few simple instructions the horse was trotting on the line in a controlled and constructive way. Afterward, I thought about how I had learned these very basic elements of horsemanship.
Growing up in Canada, I was fortunate to have access to the Canadian Pony Club. I consider this the beginning of my horsemanship lessons. The Pony Club was such a wonderful environment for any child who loved horses. We learned all about feeding, grooming and tacking as well as basic horse anatomy and equine care. When summer turned to winter and the ponies and horses from the Pony Club needed homes, I was persistent enough to convince my parents to take in my first pony. Thus began my education about how to take care of these gracious animals. I was responsible for their daily feeding, grooming, training and working with the blacksmith and veterinarian.
Having those skills enabled me to move on to a job with a reputable stable in Canada. I worked under the head groom who taught me about the care, feeding and soundness of the competitive horse. I was given horses to ride, but that was a privilege, not an expectation—and only when all of the other work was completed. I credit those early years with teaching me valuable knowledge that allows me to be a horseman today. I would imagine most of my generation would have a similar story to tell, gaining their knowledge through fellow horsemen.
Today we’re seeing riders coming straight out of the junior show ring and becoming professionals without really learning all of the aspects of horsemanship and the horse business. Perhaps for the sake of convenience, our industry has become very compartmentalized. The groom does the grooming, the shipper does the shipping, the veterinarian takes care of the soundness, and the rider rides. Each has become an expert in his field, but will this be at the expense of the well-rounded horseman?
Most of our horsemen from the past and present have learned about the horses from the ground up. These horsemen have great knowledge, awareness and respect for the care and career of the horses with which they are entrusted. Today we’re producing many riders with little to no background in horsemanship. So what will this mean for the future of our sport and the equine athlete?
There is a new generation of children who are so overscheduled it precludes them from having enough time to spend absorbing all aspects of horsemanship in great depth. It’s rare to find a child who can have multiple horses, play sports, go to school, have time for friends and excel at everything. Our need as Americans to “do it all” may be hurting the future of our sport. So the question remains: How do we fix it?
The programs produced by our associations only prove there is an awareness of the problem. The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Emerging Athletes Program is working to bring horsemanship to the next generation of riders. The USET Foundation’s Gladstone Program is working at the higher levels of our sport to educate future team members on the aspects of horsemanship that have, in the past, created winning teams for the United States. The USHJA Trainer Certification Program is another layer to expose professionals to all aspects of the industry. I’m a strong supporter of all of these programs, but are they enough?
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reintroduce horsemanship hand in hand with learning to ride. This takes time to teach. I admit I also have a hard time combining horsemanship and riding lessons into a student’s school week. When there are so many activities and so little time, the first thing that’s usually put aside is teaching the care and grooming of our equine partner. Most of us have excellent grooms who provide faster and often better care for the animals, but the student is missing a learning opportunity. I realize in this overscheduled world we cannot turn back the clock, but making a small change, possibly one weekend a month teaching horsemanship, could make a difference. It is truly rewarding when you see your students not only learning to ride, but also turning into horsemen.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have some knowledge-hungry students who may not have the financial support to enable them to take lessons, own a horse and show. These students by necessity will tend to seek out opportunities to work in exchange for lessons, thus increasing their knowledge of horsemanship. With these students, trainers should reach out and offer riding, training and showing opportunities that they might not otherwise have the financial support to access.
The issue of education is important enough for all of us to give back to the next generation of our sport by providing opportunities for young riders to become true horsemen. We can accomplish this by giving them our time, knowledge and encouragement.
Caroline “Carl” Weeden is a certified trainer who has worked with horses and riders at every level of competition from beginner to advanced. She has 30 years of riding experience and has competed successfully at premier horse shows nationally and locally. She runs her program out of Merryburn Farm in Zion, Illinois.
This Between Rounds column originally ran in the Aug. 31 & Sept. 7, 2015, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
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