Saturday, 6 November 2010

Is horsemanship a marshall art?

I was thinking about horsemanship, and how learning it is a bit like learning a marshall art. Not that I've ever learnt one of those, but I have heard people talking about it. Practising the move until it's perfect, done in relaxation and without thought - that's how I want to be with my horse.

There are a few basic things that I am working on with my horse at the moment. They are feel, balance, relaxation, co-ordination, and knowledge of the horse and how it moves, and that's about it for me really. At times I have focussed in on any one of these things and thought it was all there was to know about horses, but now I reckon it's all of them that I need to study, understand and work on.

I was watching a girl ride my horse the other day. She was riding him nicely. She is a more experienced rider than me and in some ways it shows. But there were one or two things that I saw there that have prompted me to write this post. I work a lot on my balance, and to be honest that showed up a bit there. When my friend was moving my horse through the shoulder in walk she couldn't get as sharp of a turn as I get. So why was that - same horse after all. I thought about this for a while and then decided that the more you work on feel and balance the more control you and your horse have in situations like that. The difference in weight change front to back might be tiny, but it makes all the difference to how sharp you could make that turn. Right there I'd better say that I want to do this whole thing with no force - just feel - no pulling or pushing ok.

That skill, learning to balance, is something to practice. I am at the beginning of it. Combining it with a nice feel through your body and through your hands - well, I think that is what I need to practise over and over to get the improvement in my horsemanship that I want to see.

So to get a nice feel - well, that's about being able to relax on my horse. I notice that when things get a bit difficult, that is when I tighten up. So I practice making a move and staying relaxed. I have heard people talk about a good seat. No idea what that means myself, but I have worked hard on relaxing in the saddle. Tension and balance struggle to exist together. I know the bits of me that tense up and I am consciously working on ironing them out. If you get on a tricky horse that struggles with a move, say even a simple move like a back up, that's a good time to see what your body does when things are a bit difficult. When your horse floats back like a good un, well, it's pretty easy to relax with that.

Co-ordination and knowledge of the horse's way of going - those are things that I would have chosen to ignore in my past. But now I can see the need. I have to know what affects what, and how the horse needs to travel (I don't mean he needs to take a little road trip - I mean the way he goes best). It's not rocket science - well it might be, but at my level it's not. The fact is the way you use your hands can have a huge effect, so it's important. An example might be if you are asking your horse to bend and you put a slightly backwards and outwards feel into your rein you may well get a lurch to that side. If you put a slightly backwards and inwards feel in the rein you might get a sideways twist in your horses neck. If you put a really nice small upwards feel, neither backwards, outwards or inwards, you will have more of a chance of getting a nice clean little bend.

All these things are quite small points to work on. But that seems to be what it's coming down to for me. I'm quite pleased really. I'd hate it if horsemanship had turned out to be some crap thing where you have to tie your horse down and pull him around all over the place. There's a lot of people still doing that though, aren't there!

2 comments:

Kate said...

It's the small stuff that makes the difference for me - I need to sit in, not on, the horse, and just sink into the horse - if I can do that, relaxation and balance follow. Easier said than done, though . . .

Nice post.

glenatron said...

I wouldn't say it was a martial art- not now at any rate, although of course for at least a thousand years that is precisely what it was.

I would say that it is certainly an art or craft, however, in the sense that it is something that is subject to a process of indefinite refinement and that mastery requires understanding of your tools, your materials and yourself. There is always room for developing technique to improve the things you do.

It has a lot of common ground with martial arts in the elements of balance and understanding space and movement. But ultimately horsemanship and riding are not really like anything else, which is a lot of their appeal for me.