Horsemanship is not a method; it is not a set of actions or a technique that, if executed perfectly, the horse will fully participate and strive to be the best it can. Horsemanship is an approach in which we take actions—some clear and precise, and some not. However, accuracy is not what matters the most; what matters is clarity. If I am clear, first to myself and then to the horse, we can optimally communicate. I can understand my horse, and my horse can understand me. It still doesn’t promise success in the show pen, but it promises the ability to engage with horses and train them to a certain level.
There is no such thing as two horses that are exactly the same, just as there are no two humans that are exactly the same. Each one of us is a unique being, living with a different personal state and experiencing life differently. High-level horsemanship demands us to put away the method and focus on our approach. There is no right or wrong; there is no wished outcome. It is about a future vision and past experience coming together into the present happening—being mentally in the moment, feeling your horse and yourself. Making decisions with full conviction and acceptance. It is never personal; Coco, my 5-year-old mare, doesn’t behave the way she does to upset me; she is just being Coco. Kelly, a 2-year-old gelding, is an angel, not because someone taught him how to behave but because that’s just the way he is. We make it personal when we look back and forward, thinking about the time, effort, and money we spent on this specific horse, into this “project.”
"Looking forward with expectation,"
we were raised with the notion that hard work pays off. That is not exactly true; you don’t get paid for hard work, and you definitely don’t get lucky. What you get from hard work is skill. And skills make a difference in this world. If you are skilled at something, it means you know how to act in the present moment—mentally, physically, and technically. Your horsemanship brings into action your skills to the optimal point where your mind and body meet. You don’t need to think too much, and there are no emotions in the action itself (could be an emotional experience before or after), but at the execution level, you are just being. Your body is doing its work, and your mind is leading the way, allowing the body to work in an optimal flow. The horse is not good or bad; it is just trying to deal with your commands to its current limit.
Gabriel Borges always shares with me his insights about the time it takes to train a horse and that you cannot rush the process. A “broke” horse, which means a well-trained horse, is a horse that is fully participating with the rider and willingly guided. In order to reach that level, the horse needs to “know” what the rider wants from it, to understand the rider’s cues. The riders have a future vision ahead, however, the horses don’t. Horses have only past experiences and present dealings. Therefore, a well-trained horse is a horse that went through a process of learning the rider and participating with them. Pressure and release are the communication forms, since horses think from their body to their brain; they first feel and then they think.
Approach means the way a human condition itself to take actions. Approach is the energy reflected in our behavior and actions—a reflection of our technical skills and mental state. Most riders practice on a daily basis. In each ride, you, the rider, work with your horse. Sometimes you teach, sometimes you exercise, sometimes you prepare to show, and sometimes you showcase the connection with your horse in front of the judges. Each of the mentioned realities doesn't reflect much difference in your riding skills. However, in each ride, your mindset is different. The "approach" is the reflection of your mental state through your behavior, through your riding.
You might think that it is not only dependent on the rider but also on the horse. But that’s not the case because the horse has no intentions to improve; it is just there, living its life. The horse's nature will define how easy or challenging the training process will be. But the quality of your horsemanship is only yours; you are in charge of the approach.
The essence of focusing on our approach lies in the reflection of our mental state in every movement within our method. When our actions align with our mindset, we establish the approach we are taking. Train your body for clarity and simultaneously cultivate clarity in your mind. It's not about achieving perfection; it's about embracing clarity. Mental clarity is rooted in awareness, understanding ourselves, and conditioning ourselves to be present—one day, one ride at a time.