Styles of Horsemanship

Styles of horsemanship is something I struggled with for a long time, in this part of the world (Southwestern Ontario) when people talk about styles of horsemanship, they are usually making broad reference to either the “English or Western” style of riding.  In reality those two seemingly different styles, in these parts at least, are pretty much exactly the same – differentiated only by the choice of saddle, headstall and arena sport of choice.

I have learned that horsemanship has nothing at all to do with the chosen sport or discipline of the rider, horsemanship is transcendent, it crosses the boundaries between all breeds of horse, all types of gear used, as well as any expectations of a given sport.  It took me a very long time to sort through what I was seeing at clinics, events, on videos and had read in books on horsemanship, to understand that there is only one type of horsemanship – whether you are trail riding, competing in dressage, running flags, chasing cows, or working cattle – horsemanship is horsemanship.  

Folks easily get so mindful of task completion, winning, placing or socializing on a casual trail ride, that their thoughts are far from thoughts of horsemanship.

I have noticed common themes coming from such notable horsemen as Martin Black, Gustav Steinbrecht, Ray Hunt, Nuno Oliveira, Tom Dorrance, François Robichon de La Guérinière, Buck Brannaman, Francois Robichon Baucher, Bill Dorrance, William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle.  When looked at from the perspective of style, goals, discipline or sport these men appear to have little or nothing in common, but when viewed from the perspective of “horsemanship” the connection becomes obvious.  Although separated by continents and even centuries, the student of the horse will find more commonality as one digs deeper, below the surface, than might readily be imagined.

My conclusion is that there are no styles of horsemanship, as Martin Black has often said “good horsemanship is good horsemanship” As I flip from author to author, I can see the thread, the things that each has learned from the horse.  That in my view is what makes a horseman a horseman – a horseman learns from the horse, not from the mechanical instruction they receive from other riders, rather they learn about such trivialities as “feel, timing and balance” – not just their own, the horse’s.  Now, when I read Nuno, I recognize Martin Black and I can see de La Guérinière smiling across four centuries, content that at least one other person has seen a light shining through the years.