These four types of horseman affect each equine differently. Which one are you? How are you affecting your horse? How can equine bodywork and cranial sacral help?
The careless rider/horseman. When I say horseman I mean anyone who owns, rides, or takes care of an equine creature. Some of us ride competitively, while others spend their days doting on a family pet. Either way, you can be any four of these types or a combination of.
Careless is one type of horseman we want to try and stray away from.
We have all been there- watched some awful human/horse encounter and thought to ourselves "my God!". Or maybe even tried to intervene. The truth of it is: these types of horsemen are out there. Maybe you used to be like this. Careless means to not have the intention of caring. This can be shown to the horse in many ways. And none of them are helpful.
One can be the way we approach the horse with body language. Careless riders tend to make horses brace. Bracing for a horse with a careless owner becomes their lifestyle and way of coping. A lot of these horses become shut down. Bracing is a way of preparing for an uncomfortable situation. This can manifest physically by making muscles tense, the poll area a haven for nerve impingements, and affect the stomach with ulcers.
Some horses brace as a way of dealing and others fight back against it and then the real trouble begins. To a horse, peace is always the best option. When a careless human is forcing a horse to become aggressive, you know there is a real issue. The liver can be affected by this as well as harm to the animals central nervous system. These are two vulnerable areas anyways, but with fear and aptitude for anger, a horse can get into trouble internally. When a horse becomes aggressive people tend to use harsher treatment.
Not knowing what you don't know is the downward spiral of a careless horseman. There are varying degrees of carelessness, but most of us can point out a careless horseman when we see one.
To help a horse that has been handled with carelessness (let's say an off the track thoroughbred for instance) I tend to come to them with not only a ton of empathy but I let them be who they are. I don't correct them or make them stand as still as let's say a horse I know can behave. Why? Ok so my first objective is to gain trust but also to understand that this takes time. If I am straight away correcting the horse who already knows how to fight, it's not going to get me anywhere. I want them to feel free to move around me.
There is a high degree of horsemanship skill that every equine bodyworker should have. Dealing with horses can be dangerous. Reading signs is one of the biggest and best parts of doing this job.
Horses who are aggressive need to be shown through multiple acts of kindness that we as humans will not continue this habit of neglect. I go to the "feel good" areas first.
There are a couple of powerful acupressure points I start off my work with. Horses who are stoic or shut down from years of carelessness tend to only let go of this after almost my entire session is done. Why? Because they have to be proven that what I am doing is not trickery or a gimmick for something else. Horses need honesty, and if they are treated with carelessness, they don't believe you.
It brings me so much joy to work on a shut down or untrusting horse and see them open up for the first time. And when I come back a second time- they are very eager to start work. Starting their equine bodywork session with cranial sacral is vitally important. This modality speaks to horses like none other I've seen.
For the Careful rider and horseman- I see fear-based evaluations of the horse and life in general. The careful horseman is one who doesn't want to put a foot wrong in fear that they will mess up or do the "wrong thing" by their horse. This is a great act of kindness in theory but horses don't really understand this approach. Horses with a rider who is always tip-toeing around an issue will create a couple of problems in the horse mentally. The first is that the horse has no regard for boundaries. Boundaries and structure are really important for a horses natural survival. The second is they take on that humans fear. If you have a horse that isn't truly spooky, but you are so careful to never walk by the "scary tarp"- guess what? The tarp becomes an issue and in no time is scary to the horse.
The careful horseman is one I see a lot of. People who seem to want to help their horses but are stuck in their own head and own realities of fear. Careful horseman tend to over think and over judge themselves and their equines. This type of rider is very typical in amateurs working with trainers. They want to overcome something, and sometimes they don't quite know what it is. This is why they need constant guidance. A trainer and program for anyone who is a careful horseman is a great approach for learning and growing. You should be proud of yourself if you realize this is you and you have a trainer who guides you and helps you and your horse. It will save you from accidents and arguments with your equine partner.
One way that I can help a horse and rider through bodywork is to break down exactly what is being affected and give the careful rider steps for when I am gone. For instance, if the horse has a tight hamstring, or an A-symmetrical trauma pattern (left front/ right rear tightness for example), giving the rider some tasks to continue my work is crucial (such as stretches or backing exercises). This helps the careful rider to realize they can have part in the horses healing. It also breaks down logically how a horse works.
I also tend to talk a lot with these types of riders about their own feelings and apprehensions. Sometimes all anyone wants is an ear. And if they can talk through a fearful situation, it might just not be there anymore. Most of my bodywork session with a careful rider are more about them and less about the horse. And isn't this true? It is OK to realize that your problems are being projected onto your companion and partner the horse. Finding ways to undo this is key.
We all know this rider. The carefree rider! We think "wow you are so brave" or "I would never do that" or "How do you know it will work out?" . The carefree rider is one who rides with no inhibition and sometimes not a lot of planning. This can be great for a horse who is just as brave and carefree. But can be very detrimental to a horse who needs a lot of guidance and courage. One of the biggest issues with a carefree rider is their inability to take advice or forgetfulness of that advice. Usually these riders show, compete, go to clinics and pretty much do it all- but they are slow to truly progress in their horsemanship. Why? Because these riders usually do before they think. It can be a great thing for anyone wanting to conquer the world on horse back. But very few horses carry this same mentality.
When you are a carefree rider, you must be aware of what type of horse you are on. Many carefree riders are trainers because they have taken chances and been successful. However, if you look carefully you can also see that this has been to many a horses detriment. To be honest, horses cope with so much and we often ignore the signs until it becomes bad- such as colic, lameness or even death.
How can I help this horse and rider? First of all the best way to show anyone is through action. So helping the horse reach a goal by making them feel their best or at least keeping them from going lame can be a huge signal to this type of rider. Another way is to come up with a strategy for success. For the rider this might mean a goal for winning a class or completing an endurance ride. For the horse this means giving them tools to cope and advance their physical health.
Hopefully the carefree rider takes in some advice and understanding about the bigger picture. The bigger picture is this: sustainability and wellness for the equine. You are truly nothing without your horse. If you have a goal to win a race- go buy a motorcycle. Horses are not machines nor are they intended to function as such. The one great thing about the carefree rider is they are usually willing to dig in and try anything to get where they need to go. And some horses who are on the same level as a carefree rider are unstoppable. These are the real champions.
A caring horseman is really all a horse needs. OK so caring is an obvious word, but what a caring horseman really is- is intentional. Everything has a plan and a reason. There is kindness and understanding behind everything they do.
Pull out your horse on a windy day? Do they buck and play? The caring rider not only has a plan for preventing a mess but sympathy for the horse. They might let them buck a bit on the lunge line, then have a long warm up on the trail. Perhaps followed by a private lesson where they can get one on one attention. They work on their own fitness and skillset so that they never have to blame the horse. A caring rider makes sure that everything else in their horses life is there for a purpose and to uplift the horse. Where they live, who handles them, how they are shod, what they eat and if they are getting regular bodywork.
A caring horseman takes care of themselves as well. realizing that their actions play a huge role on the horse. At a show they might scratch their last class of the horse was a super star. They might come early to the show to hand walk the horse. At an endurance ride, the caring rider might learn to get off and run to save the horses legs. They might take a solid second place finish instead of racing in for first.
How I help the caring horseman? I support them and their needs. Having real conversations about what is happening in the horses world and where things need to be adjusted. They are eager to learn form me and help when needed. When a horse has a slight drop in the hip or a tense day, the caring horseman sees it. They let me know and we assess things before they become worse.
The best horse for this rider is one who needs a little extra help. If your horse is brave and secure and you are a caring horseman, that horse might be ready to then go on and help someone else. If you have a horse who has any sort of PTSD, or is coming off an injury or bucks people off, they might just need you. Some people need horses and some horses need people.
Becoming a well-rounded horse person takes a lot of years, patience, practice and eagerness to learn. I am always striving for this and pointing my clients in this direction. Think seriously about which tendencies you have.
Every rider has certain traits as does every horse.
Are you and your horse a good match?
What tendencies can you acquire to help your horse?
If you are reading this, you are already on a great path.
Getting your horse regular bodywork is not only best for them, but you as well. Goals can only be attained if you are realistic and honest with yourself.
I am a mixture of a carefree and caring horseman.
I used to be more carefree and in some instances careless.
I have come a long way since my childhood years of riding and showing. Through competitive endurance seasons and finishing Tevis a couple of times, my horsemanship has developed just how it should. Through auditing clinics, being open to criticism, training horses and learning multiple disciplines I have learned a lot.
And now as an equine bodyworker I take my horsemanship skills very seriously. Always learning and doing better for the horse. I am not perfect, but the horse doesn't need perfection.
Just be open to change.
That is the goal!
What are your goals for improving your horsemanship this year?
Caring, Careful, Careless and Carefree...