Archive for the ‘The Art of Horsemanship’ Category

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
~ Ronald Duncan, “The Horse,” 1954

Having recently been introduced to the horse world I am constantly in awe of their qualities. I am told by those with decades of experience that the fascination never ends and I must say that I am looking forward to the time when I can deliver the same message many decades from now.

Over a period of many thousands of years, horses provided one of the most consistent and influential levers in the development of civilization around the world. As John Moore aptly noted: “Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization we will find the hoofprint of the horse beside it.” They’ve carried us, pulled us, powered our equipment and entertained us as we fumbled our way up through the pages of history.

We’ve domesticated them yet they retain their powerful and effective herd mentality. They protect one another, organize themselves, care for their young and enjoy life, all without our intervention. While the same could be said about the intelligence and skills of their human counterparts, I can assure you that no bet was ever lost by a horse at the track!

Horses can teach a great many lessons to humans who have an ear to hear. I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling the whole story, but each of the pure qualities of expression outlined by Duncan above are natural characteristics of what I call “radiance.”

Radiance manifests through any individual who has made the connection between inner greatness and outer expression. He who is radiant is outwardly oriented, focused in serving others and devoted to giving without concern for results. Is it really so hard to imagine?

When you forget about yourself radiance comes naturally. Your expression in radiance is characterized by nobility, beauty, grace, strength and gentleness. Not sure? Watch a horse for a few minutes. They possess these qualities and are unhindered in their expression.

I encourage you take the time before you go to acquaint yourself with one or several of these magnificent beasts which have not only witnessed, but participated in the rise and fall of great civilizations throughout the history of man.

When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V


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Yesterday we looked at a simple principle that can transform your life and for that matter, the world.  “Return things in better condition than you found them in.”  My friends will tell you that I have been fascinated with the work of a man who inspired the movie “The Horse Whisperer,” Monty Roberts, for years.  Here’s why…

Monty Roberts is masterful in putting the principle we’re discussing to work.  While probably not the first to use this method of “entering” versus “breaking” wild horses, he has done well to articulate how it is done.  Monty’s desire to share it with others comes as a great blessing to the equestrian world and to virtually every sphere of human endeavor.

Fasten your seatbelts and be prepared to cover your eyes while watching this next video.  It portrays an age-old method for breaking wild horses, a method which, unfortunately, is still in use.  

Tragic, isn’t it?  Man’s conquest of the natural world has not always been achieved through gracious and entreating means.  I imagine that in times of dire necessity (such as the early pioneering days or in times of war) shortcuts are perceived as being optimal versus an approach based on compassionate leadership, but in times of plenty, can these types of methods be justified?  I use the example of horse training, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see the implications relative to raising children, to increasing productivity in the workplace and so on. 

Force may achieve a desired end, but at what cost?  Building trust takes longer, but in so doing nothing is diminished.  I thought you’d enjoy this example of what Monty calls “join-up.”  This is Monty Roberts approach to entering or breaking a horse. 

So what does this mean to you, relative to the way you work with yourself, with friends and family, with your peers, your clients and those who depend on you for leadership and guidance?  Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

1.  Never force anything.  There is a right timing for all things.

2.  The right timing implies that the “table is set” for what is about to happen.  The desired event can occur with the least amount of energy necessary to get the job done.  (Think about changing gears in a manual car, for example.  Timing is everything).

3.  Building trust requires consistency, constancy and steadiness in your expression. 

4.  Don’t go straight at the problem.  Work your way up to it by systematically disarming the land mines that invariably surround your goal.

5.  Beware of the approach that is based solely upon the logic “well, that’s just how it’s always been done.”

6.  Be observant.  Care genuinely about those around you.  Listen carefully and find the openings for helping others.  Learn to speak their language as Monty did with the horses.  Equus!

7.  Help others to lead as you do.  Mimicry is a complement, but when others take what you do and expand on it, that is progress!

I wish you well as you look to improve your leadership skills in the days to come!  Have a great weekend.


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As the founding stars of the spectacular show “Cavalia,” Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado have much to share about the equestrian arts.  I thought you might enjoy this passage from their book “Gallop to Freedom:”

“It is easy to forget what extraordinary creatures horses are.  In a way it has been their undoing that they are so adaptable…What people do not appreciate is that every time a horse submits to pressure, whether subtle or overt, he is diminished.  Probably the great majority of people who achieve their own ends by making their horse submit are not even aware of what they have done.  It is a sad fact that a horse can be made to do many things by breaking his will.  If he can be persuaded to give his assent freely and pleasurably rather than give into man’s pressure or clever techniques, he is not diminished.

To most people there is no distinction between these alternatives: two horses do a perfect volte or piaffe.  To the untrained eye they look the same but one horse has been brought to this point of excellence by rigorous conventional and repetitive training producing stress and tension, of which the trainer may not even be aware.  The other horse has arrived at the same degree of excellence as result of pleasurable work interspersed with games and never pushed beyond endurance or even beyond what he is prepared to freely give.”

More words to live by!  If you haven’t seen the show, Cavalia, you really are missing something special.  The result of such training is poetic, further evidence of that elusive quality called “kinetic beauty.”  Enjoy… 

As with most things in life, the video reproduction pales when compared to the live show.  What does shine through, however, is the ease and pleasure both horse and rider exhibit, regardless of the difficulty of the act.  This cannot be faked, for shortcuts in training inevitably result in tension of one form or another that cannot be completely hidden.

Take care that nothing in your sphere of influence is diminished this weekend.  Neither force nor demand anything, yet be alert to the opportunities for growth, development and pleasure.  Most spend their days busily arranging their circumstances in an effort to squeeze some life or joy out of them, but you have the opportunity – should you be so bold as to accept it – to infuse a healthy dose of joie de vivre in your life, exactly as it is configured now.

Do so and see what blossoms around you, my friends.

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Oft times the simple things in life are the most notable.  Plato once said, “Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.”  I came across a video clip recently of the famed ecuyer Nuno de Oliveira at work on a beautiful horse that I thought would brighten your day, whether you are in the horse community or not.  Enjoy the beauty, harmony and grace of this presentation.

Isn’t it wonderful to watch someone who loves what they do?  There is such relaxation, such ease, such command and clarity of purpose.  Course changes and corrections are taken and made with the lightest – if not invisible – touch.  Wouldn’t it be a different world if everyone were to carry themselves in their affairs as gracefully and proudly as Sr. de Oliveira upon his light and powerful horse?

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Ionic Frieze of Horse and Rider

The earliest of known works on selecting, caring for and riding horses, “The Art of Horsemanship” by Xenophon is regarded – 2,300 later(!) – as essential reading to any amateur or serious rider.  Great civilizations have come and gone over the centuries, but the fundamentals of the equestrian arts have remained largely unchanged.

Our knowledge of the Greeks comes to us via two primary veins: literary and artistic.  The use and love of horses is transmitted to us in both forms, though I prefer at the moment to celebrate the former, particularly Xeonophon’s work.  The famed rider Simon’s treatise on Horsemanship predates that of Xenophon’s, but only fragments survived through the ages.  Varro and Vergil resumed the examination of the equestrian arts much later, and similarly detailed works didn’t appear until the Christian era.

The Celebrated Rider and General, Xenophon

A student of horses and of life, a goal of mine is to discover and magnify the refined expression of excellence in any field of human endeavor.  A particular concept espoused by Xenophon piqued my curiosity and excitement about the possibilities of overcoming a set of persistent base human compulsions by working with horses.

Xenophon wisely stated that: “The one great precept and practice in using a horse is this, – never deal with him when you are in a fit of passion.  A fit of passion is a thing that has no foresight in it, and so we often have to rue the day when we give way to it.  Consequently, when your horse shies at an object and is unwilling to go up to it, he should be shown that there is nothing fearful in it; least of all to a courageous horse like him; but if this fails, touch the object yourself that seems so dreadful to him, and lead him up to it with great gentleness.  Compulsion and blows inspire only more fear; for when horses are at all hurt at such time, they think that what they shied at is the cause of the hurt.”

How often I have seen people who take an aggressive posture against horse (or spouse, child, friend or dog for that matter) in an effort to teach a positive lesson, for a so-called “good” reason.  Courage is not something that is pounded in or tacked on, rather, it is drawn forth through praise and constancy. Encouragement is a powerful aid as it gives heart to another.  Gently discouraging or even ignoring that which is inappropriate while positively reinforcing that which is can make an instant friend of a noble animal such as a horse.

Does your every word, your every deed build your horse’s confidence in himself and in you?  Aggression, shortness of temper, lashing out are all marks of immaturity and a lack of proper grounding in the correct principles of classical horsemanship.  Xenophon and many others since him have sought to convey the importance of this foundational principle, yet riders through the ages have tried in vain to short-cut the process and craftily dodge the inescapable repercussions.

The Author, with Galileo's Star

The semblance of proper relationship between rider and horse may be achieved through harsh demand, but it will not be sustainable as the cracks in the relationship or preparation will inevitably appear.  The horse or rider will give evidence at some point of the lack of unity and of integrity, typically through the expression of tension in some form or another.  In horsemanship as in all things, expediency instead of integrity brings failure.

Civilization has changed tremendously over the centuries, but basic elements of human nature have not.  This lesson, provided so generously through the ages by the patient, kind and noble creatures we call horses, is one that could stand thorough review by anyone seeking to be more effective in their particular riding discipline.

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