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REINVENTING THE WHEEL
March 16, 2018
Why do we sometimes think we need to reinvent the wheel: horses haven’t really changed that much in a very long time. They are still built the same way, still have the same gaits as they’ve had for longer than we humans have been walking the planet and still have the same prey animal instincts and mentality they’ve always had. The term ‘domesticated animal’ is a bit misleading as far as horses are concerned. Of the large number of foals I have bred during the past 25 years almost all of them popped out of the mare and were feral in that they immediately ran away from us humans, except for about three unique individuals who were very cool and came up to us for some inter-species interaction from the start; and one little blighter that came racing across the pasture and all-out attacked us with both hind barrels from day one of its life!
Riding itself, or the basic ingredients of the process of riding haven’t really changed that much either, except that we now don’t have the end needs of going to war or hunting for our food on horseback. Back then as now we still needed the horse to behave well, go, stop and turn how and when we ask. That hasn’t changed… Nor have the nuances of how we can influence the horse with our aids since, as already mentioned, basically the horse hasn’t changed.
There is some progress and some refinement, one would hope, in the way we interact with this most noble animal and that includes the way we ride… But is that really true? Centuries ago there were, as is evident by some of the great historical equestrian literature of old, riders and horseman of tact and refinement in a way that perhaps we have now to some degree lost and are trying to re-find… And this is something which we can all be aware of on our own journey, especially when considering a classical approach to our riding and training; or indeed if we are following a ‘truly’ natural approach, by which I mean working with the nature of the horse as we find it each day, as opposed to following a formulaic process defining itself as ‘natural.’
Considering all of the above, the fact is we don’t need to reinvent the wheel as far riding is concerned! The horse hasn’t changed, the way the horse does or doesn’t best respond therefore hasn’t changed, the laws of motion, biomechanics, balance, gravity and physics haven’t changed…
There are, however, a few provisos to the above view that things haven’t changed, here is a non-exhaustive list:
The way we want horses to look, shape and work changes with fashion! e.g. modern concepts and constraints of competition dressage.
Form has, in some instances, become more important than function. Certain breeds have been developed by humans through selective breeding to have particular traits e.g. for the show ring, where an unnatural head carriage set on a very high neck or a dished face might score more highly than a lower, less flashily carried head.
For many of us these days it is of primary importance that the horse is a friend, companion and partner, and only secondly a working or winning beast… A very real change.
If we watch and feel how the horse is moving, how we are sitting, how we and the horse are communicating together in each moment of united motion and how we are influencing each other we will surely be in the right ballpark. And what we do on horseback shouldn’t be much different to how it needed to be at any given time in the past because the ‘wheel’ is the same as it was back then.
People can get so tied into ‘the new this' or ‘the new that’ or ‘the new the other:’ these days there are many new systems and approaches to riding and it is great that so many fresh or refreshed ways of looking at riding and horsemanship abound, but it is very important to keep sight of the big picture and be open to the wider truths of riding, especially those founded millennia ago and which still survive today; as with anything which works well, it is likely to have lasted the test of time (as has the simple wheel) and anything slightly off-track will do what most things do in the course of evolution and fade out of existence… Looking at the horse you have to ride today, and learning from the great masters of old about the ways to work with the horse will give you the best chance to make a great job of it, without the need to reinvent anything at all… That doesn’t mean you don’t have those moments of great discovery yourself that make horses so exciting - one of the best things about the whole pastime - because you still have to take every step or turn of the wheel for yourself in the learning, challenging, exciting journey that is being a horseman or woman… ENJOY learning how to work the wheel, but don’t think you have to reinvent it, nature has already done that over the course of approximately 60 million years of the evolution of the horse.