JACK'S APPROACH

My approach to horsemanship is not a method. A method is a systematic procedure, an organized plan that controls the way something is done, a body of techniques. An approach is a way of doing or thinking about something. The Dorrance brothers and Ray Hunt presented an approach to horses, not a method. To me, their approach is better than anyone's method. This approach is not about headgear, or about English vs. Western. It is about thinking from the horse's point of view, and doing what is fitting for the horse in any given situation.

An approach cannot be taught as easily as a method. It is not a concrete set of actions to be learned or imitated. This approach comes from a sympathy or empathy with the horse, recognizing and respecting the horse's thoughts, feelings and instincts. It is based on the concept of a trusting partnership, not human superiority or ego, not force or fear, not equipment.

Many people today work within this framework of good horsemanship. What makes my approach any different from anyone else's? Many people use a similar approach, but here's what I like to emphasize: attention, attitude, and awareness. These are some of the things I think are most helpful when working with horses. Attention has to do with where the mind is directed. Attitude is how the mind is directed--the mood, the feelings. And as Tom Dorrance says, improved horsemanship is just a matter of improved powers of observation and awareness.

Having the horse's attention is the basis of everything we do with a horse. If you don't have his attention, nothing else really matters--you can't accomplish much. To continue without his attention just teaches him that he doesn't need to give you his attention. Many people don't realize that they don't have the attention. They don't know where it is or that they even need to have it. So first a person needs to become aware of this important aspect--starting the moment you approach the horse to catch him. Once you become aware of the horse's attention, you can learn how to get it, keep it and use it.

I want to be aware of the horse's attitude--toward everything. I want to adjust my approach so I can work with that attitude and improve it so we both are in a learning frame of mind.

Here's an example of how attention and attitude can be applied in the saddle: drawing vs. pressuring. I find that using the inside leg to draw the attention before going that direction is more fitting than using the outside leg to create pressure. Both ways work, but I find that drawing the horse's attention is much less confrontational than pressuring him to move in a certain direction. I feel I can get his attention with a better attitude.

Riding with awareness of both yourself and your horse, paying attention to some of these little things like his attention and attitude, and making adjustments to your approach, you might find that many of your issues or co-called "problems" in your relationship with your horse will take care of themselves.

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