One of the great restrictions in the minds of some of my clients is that the Horsemanship means of communication is restricted to behavioural issues, and not for progression and performance. I would say 40% of my lessons day to day are on behaviour/fear related issues like loading, feet handling etc, the rest is about performance.
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with horses at the top of their profession. Grand Prix Dressage horses, Grade A show jumpers, medal winning Reining horses and so on. The funny thing is, as soon as you move away from their discipline they are nothing short of green! One memory I have was when I was about 20, and a clients horse had qualified for the regional Dressage championship at Myerscough. When the competitors went back into the ring for their placings, our horse was the only one that rode in without a lead rein. These horses were supposedly highly trained, but can’t stand still to be handed a ribbon.
There’s one clear difference between performance horses trained traditionally and those that have been trained through good, real horsemanship. The one big difference is the desire in the horse. Now before I go on, please don’t assume that a horse can’t be trained traditionally AND with Good horsemanship but a few decades ago things changed and the use of gadgets become a bigger thing. In both the English and Western world, certainly in the more ‘old school’ circles there is a more ‘make the horse do it‘ attitude. Whether you’re an intelligent horsemanship, parelli or a student of someone individual like myself, the emphasis is always on getting a horse to try their best, not just perform.
Some of the ’top‘ horses i’ve ridden have been impossible to ride in a snaffle, or without a spur or especially in a halter!! That desire to try creates things like self carriage, it allows a horse to ask questions and ultimately makes them happier about being ridden.
This may sound crazy, but i can safely day that the horse in the video below (you can see the full video of her on the Ridden section of the channel) feels so much better than the most advanced non horsemanshippy horses I’ve ridden... she has had just ten rides!
I know that every person is different and has different preferences on what is a nice feeling horse, however when it gets to the point that the horses mouth has regular sores or their sides are going bald then that moves away from training and into welfare.
For me, a horse should feel as fluid as my own two feet. I don’t have to tense my arms and put excessive effort into moving my legs, I just move them, staying relaxed with minimal effort. Thats how I like my horses too.