Connected Horsemanship
            at Valkyrie Ranch

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Self-Mastery before Horse Mastery

Posted by Lauren on March 2, 2014 at 10:20 PM

Self-Mastery before Horse Mastery 

                The concept of self-mastery before horse mastery is often a very new concept to riding students, yet it is invaluable to the success of a rider at any level. It is so easy for riders to blame the horse for their short comings; but in the moments of failure the truth cuts deep… the horse is only ever a reflection of his rider. How can a person impatiently expect so much of their horse and then in the same breath demand the horse to be absolutely gracious and tolerant of them. It is absolutely absurd to expect an animal to show a greater degree of responsibility, intelligence, grace & patience then we ourselves possess.  When said so bluntly, again, it cuts deep; it is, however, absolutely necessary for the justice of all horses that we riders begin to realize and practice that truth.

                What exactly do I mean by self-mastery? I mean for you to master your own body, emotions & thoughts to a greater degree than the level you intend to control your horse. If you cannot seem to remember to look where you’re going, open your shoulder and keep your hands quiet how on earth can you expect your horse to maintain a bend, not fall in through the corner and keep from playing with the bit or tossing his head? As I said before it is absurd! To be a successful rider you must have a heightened awareness of your surroundings, your own body and the horses’ body. You must have the capability to remember and put into practice every valuable thing you see, hear, read and learn. You must be able to maintain a zen type mindset which is able to influence the horses mind as well. Emotions aside you must live in the moment, not of what should have been but of what is, while at the same time always thinking towards and preparing for your next movement. You must have absolute clarity of intentions and directions.

 It is almost comical at times to watch someone trying so hard to work on a specific little detail that they don’t even realize they are meandering aimlessly around the arena. I often like to interrupt their concentration to ask them where exactly they are going, to which they respond with a puzzled look, “well, I don’t really know”. Of course we all start there and we go through stages of development just like a child first learning to walk most certainly cannot be expected to walk a perfectly straight line with nothing to hold onto. But like a child we must eventually grow up and develop the automatic muscle memory of walking. As an adult you no longer have to think about each little piece that goes into walking, “Left knee bend, extend forward, shift weight, regain balance, right knee bend, extend forward, shift weight, etc...” Instead you simply decide that you need to go shut the door, make lunch, or whatever and your body just walks. Our adult bodies so often take for granted these automatic muscle memories that eluded us as infants. It is the same for a rider. Though you may be an infant now it is crucial to let go of the couch and take those first few wobbly steps towards maturity.  A successful rider must develop in themselves the appropriate strength and flexibility in their body; it is not fair to ask the horse to carry you when you cannot even carry yourself! Develop and enforce correct posture in and out of the saddle. Grab onto the reins of your nerves and learn to control your emotions instead of allowing your fear or anger control you. Gain coordination through intentional and precise movements (yoga, tai chi and the like are a huge help).

                I am not necessarily saying that you are required to obtain the ultimate degree of self-mastery before being allowed to touch a horse; but again, you must have a greater degree of mastery over yourself then the level of mastery you expect to accomplish with the horse. If you do not yet have mastery over your hands then ride in a bitless bridle on a loose rein. If you do not have control of your seat and the ability to keep yourself from bouncing on your horses back then by golly do something about it! Take lessons on a lungeline, strengthen your abs and legs, relax and stretch your muscles, develop some rhythm, whatever it takes. It is not right to expect the horse to carry you with absolute grace, beauty and integrity, without protest, when the being that he is required to follow is jerking, bouncing, unbalanced, unmotivated, unfocused, unclear, impatient, not confident, etc. And God forbid that the poor horse have enough and injure the obnoxious root of all his discomfort! Oh heavens no, now he is dangerous, crazy, unsafe! He is to be sent to some rough cowboy down the street or the auction if that doesn’t work. Of course no one would ever think that perhaps if that same horse had been handled with a greater degree of justice and skill the outcome would be quite different.  If riders and handlers stopped expecting the horse to “take care of them” when they refuse to make any effort towards taking care of themselves, the number of “unmanageable” horses or even just those with bad habits would significantly diminish.

                In order to achieve self-mastery one must be perfectly and completely honest with themselves. What are your weakest points? How might you overcome them? Often times the solution is found far from the barn; but I guarantee your extra curricular efforts will benefit your horsemanship. By all means continue to spend time with your horse and developing your riding skill, it is a good test of your progress. Continue to work on yourself until you have acquired strength of body, strength of mind and strength of spirit. Do not fool yourself in thinking that you can get there without some blood, sweat and tears. It takes time, hardwork, determination and dedication. The rewards, however, far surpass your effort. If you can achieve self-mastery and a heightened sense and balance of the physical, mental and spiritual you will discover a whole new dimension of horsemanship that you never even knew existed.


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