"When I'm with my horse I feel as though I'm
riding in God's grace, that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be
doing." J. Berto
One of the most difficult
journeys you will ever begin is the path of classical horsemanship. The
time, focus, determination, physical ability and dedication to achieve
and translate knowledge to ability is beyond most of our capacities.
But that doesn't mean
that we don't try. There are millions of horses available for our
equine partnership. Yet few of us will ever develop enough skill
to bring even one of them to its potential. If fact only a small
fraction will ever even ride a horse that has been trained to its
fullest by another. The reason there are so few horses to carry us
on our journey is because there are so few skillful teachers!
"T o understand this secret , you must first understand the distinction
between training an animal and educating one. Trained animals are
relatively easy to turn out. All that is required is a book of
instructions, a certain amount of bluff and bluster, something to use in
for threatening and punishing purposes, and of course the animal.
Educating an animal, on the other hand, demands keen intelligence,
integrity, imagination and the gentle touch, mentally, vocally and
physically." J. Allen Boone, Kinship With All Life
So where does one start?
How does one begin? To be an excellent rider there is a special
skill set required that goes far beyond time spent in the saddle or
games played from the ground. The key to expert riding is called
FEEL, and to obtain feel one must first have KNOWLEDGE. To obtain
knowledge you can read books, but without the aid and tutelage of a rare
and unique teacher who can expose you to a patient and trusting horse,
you will never achieve enough knowledge to develop feel.
"Horses should be trained in such as way that they not only love their
but look forward to the time they are with them." Xenonophon 400
a horse does not have to be about horse shows or competition. It doesn't
need to be about racing. It is not about riding for
ego, although a beautiful
horse, softly ridden, is a gift to behold. Riding a horse can be
about an experience that transcends easy description. To achieve
this requires trying to attain a level of horsemanship that appeals to
the spirit, the true self. And this spiritual
horsemanship has such true beauty that even non-riders are caught up in
its spell. It is also about patience in a society that has no time
for such things. It is the agonizing wait between learning
epiphanies. It is about the discipline to allow riding to happen,
rather than make it happen. It is a oneness with the horse that is
extraordinarily difficult to find, yet is so simple when you are there.
Like Love, it cannot be defined, but when you are in it, you know it
truly. But unlike Love with a human, to capture "This Feeling"
requires the permission of a dumb animal, a horse.
"We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how
they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words."
Finding the road to that acceptance is wrought with frustration and
discouragement. It requires a careful balance of intellectual
understanding and kinesthetic feel that is very, very difficult to
obtain. It requires a single-minded determination to learn something
that is bewitchingly elusive. It requires a level physical fitness
and flexibility that is
far beyond what is apparent. Fulfillment of the riding passion can
overwhelm self preservation, financial, physical and emotional.
And when you
figure out most of the big pieces, it turns out the little details are
just as important, so the process is seemingly never ending.
"(admire) those who are
at that place, even through the moments where desperation gnaws at that
promise unfulfilled. It is a hard place. It would be
harder still to be lead on by a willowisp into bad country. Seeing
and feeling do not necessarily translate into the passion of doing ...
and thank god as the doing of things requires an absolutism that removes
B. Drummond 2009
Where is my Journey going?
Master said, God had given men reason, by which they could find out
things for themselves; but He gave animals knowledge . . . which was
much more prompt and perfect in its way, and by which they had often
saved the lives of men. (Anna Sewell)
If you are very fortunate, then you may experience
one ride or one moment, one excruciatingly fleeting second on a horse will
happen to change everything.
For some it is just an indefinable sensation that overcomes you while
you are astride. It may also occur when you watch a exceptionally
ridden performance. This emotional moment can occur after one year
of riding or forty. This feeling is a sensation of extraordinary
consciousness, an awareness of connection, vibrancy, spirituality.
Time will slow to a crawl, or stand still. You will, for a
fleeting instant, be one with another sentient being, the horse you are
riding or watching. You may want to laugh or cry, you will never
forget the sensation. Unfortunately the instant you acknowledge
it, the sensation will vanish. The return to self will bring with
it the sadness, and will make you realize that everything you had been
taught added up to nothing. Because nothing in your skills can
make that feeling re-occur.
My wife and I own a 100 acre ranch near
Medford, Oregon, raising horses and keeping hay fields harvested.
This encompasses all the joys and pitfalls of farming and ranching these
days. In addition to this
my other career is as firefighting helicopter pilot. This can be a
very exciting career, sometimes overwhelming in its demands for focus
and precision. Flying a helicopter in this fashion is an extreme
profession that is truly the opposite of harmony with horses, however
one of the things that is the same is that both require a 100%
commitment to be successful. Committing to one, and then stopping
and re-committing to the other makes it difficult to do well in both.
Whatever your profession in this modern world, you may find the same
difficulties, because few jobs intermesh smoothly with ongoing
peacefulness required to achieve kinship with the sentient being, a
horse. Unfortunately without a job (unless you are wealthy),
fulfilling the passion of horses is unsustainable. Because of this
seeming incompatibility it very hard to find a personal balance.
Achieving this balance is something that I have not fully resolved to
this day. I do know this, although I enjoy the drama of
flying, I love to ride horses even more.
love affair with the horse began more than 15 years ago. At the time I
had no concept as to the complexities of this decision, or where this
journey was taking me. Like most American men I had thoughts of
Westerns and cowboys when it came to horses, and at first I had a big
paint gelding. And like most beginners I had my share of problems.
Riding was not what I thought. It was uncomfortable and time
consuming. And despite the fact that my wife rides for pleasure and
introduced me to it with fun as the key ingredient, I just wasn't having
much fun. After several other horses, I was about to give it up.
It was about that time I was given a young black Andalusian colt by my
wife, and decided to give it one more try and fortunately for me, at
about that time, I saw a riding performance where a horse was ridden in
a way I had never seen. Perhaps it was the fact that it was an
Andalusian horse, perhaps it was just serendipity, but this display of
riding skill resonated in a way that I didn't quite fully understand.
Joyous, artful, peaceful, something was different. What I most noticed
was the way the horse moved, like it had a harmonious connection with
the rider. It is this connecting with a horse that I have been
striving to achieve ever since. Ultimately I discovered High School
Classical Riding, in Portugal, and
although it is not the only place where you may discover it for
yourself, it is where I had the most success in grasping this slender
am never afraid of what I know." (Black Beauty)
As I became more involved with horses, the need for more knowledge
began, so I started to go to horse clinics. I even started several
Equi-tee Farm and Fence, which makes horse fencing, and
Shake'n fork, a revolutionary
auto sifting manure fork. The marketing of horse related products
often took my wife Dianne and I to horse expos', and watching the
various performances was always entertaining. As a beginner I was
enamored with the "natural horsemanship" style of instruction. It
was easy to learn, almost like teaching out of a book, and seemed to
produce near instant results. Having a horse follow you around,
riding with no saddle and only one rein or even bridle less, all these
"circus" performances seemed like real horsemanship. Between operating
the ranch, my job flying and starting a business, there wasn't really
much time to focus on any more than the basics of horsemanship, but at
least it was a start. And I was having so much fun with my new
colt that I looked forward to every day with him. As I learned
these methods and read and learned about
other types of riding I became a more informed horse owner.
And it was now that I was discouraged to find that there was an apparent
disconnect between this "horsemanship" being taught by Expo clinicians,
where ground handling or games is the emphasis, and the "Horsemanship"
taught by the Masters, where astride expertise was valued.
this chasm of knowledge (or lack of it) that I found was so difficult to
cross. Did riding well mean that the fun was gone, or
conversely, does riding for fun mean that you couldn't achieve riding
excellence? From my point of view it seemed that natural
horsemanship allowed for poor riding ability, provided you could handle
the horse well on the ground. I couldn't see where natural
horsemanship was building a connection with the horse once astride.
In fact the more I saw of it, the more "disconnected" the rider seemed
to become from from the horse. This lack of skill was made up with
bigger bits, longer spurs and an exaggerated riding style that was
nothing like I hoped to emulate. I began to notice that the riders
I admired didn't use any "natural" horsemanship. I also noticed
that practitioners of natural horsemanship were not beautiful
riders. I guess it took me a while to admit I didn't want to be
"natural horsemanship" level anything, because it didn't fit my idea of
what skillful riding should be.
So I determined to start learning all over again, but this
time with my goal as Kinship with my horse. It also became clear
that learning to ride well was going to take a great deal of time, focus
and years of studious work because it was now obvious that real
horsemanship talent is a clever disguise for people who just work
very hard at their art. The horses I most admired were the Iberian
breeds that were ridden using classical methods, and since the classical
masters all seemed to originate in Europe, it was there I decided to go.
I visited many countries, including Spain, but found that it was in
Portugal where the Art was still most evident. It was the
Portuguese horses and certain Portuguese riders that started me down the
road I so fervently embrace. It is this path I am sharing with
"You would have to look a long, long time to find a dishonest or
cruel horse. ...nearly every horse is pure of heart". (N.Y.T.
I was lucky because I did not have a foundation
in other types of Horsemanship that I had to overcome. Once I
was introduced to artful riding it opened my eyes to the possibility of
School Trained riding path. I discarded my new age books and began
reading classical books to see if I could validate what I felt.
Through the classical works of the Masters I discovered that not only
was "the feeling" well known, this sensation was universal and had been
occurring between horses and riders for thousands of years. I then
began searching out instructors or methods in an attempt to re-tune in
"the feeling", to teach me what I had been reading about. This turned
out to be much more difficult that finding well written books.
I was surprised to find out that very few instructors were aware of what
I was talking about, in fact I began to be embarrassed to ask about it.
Few of the trainers even remotely display that touch. Worse
still, most of the horses I was put on to ride were not anywhere near
the point that they would share their spirit. "Broke" is not just a word
either. Learning the "High School" style of riding is not
only difficult to do, it is difficult to even find teachers.
But I did find a few. All of them had decades of
experience, none were beginners. All had amazing humility
regarding their own skills. When introduced, most were reluctant to talk or teach, not
because they didn't know how, but rather that they weren't sure of my
intentions. Indifference to their passion hardens them to unknown
students. In time though, most find great satisfaction in finding a student
willing to learn. Long lengths of time went by with only tiny breaths of
"the feeling". The more I was taught, the more I understood the
principles that they were sharing, the same ones that I had read about
from the great authors. And it has made me aware that
"Classical" horsemanship is not just a word, it is a lifestyle, and
the School style of riding is its epitome. School riding is a tool
to help you and you horse connect in a way that can be
a life changing
experience. For me this is experience is still occurring to this
day. In Portugal Portugal the principles of classical riding are
more visible than in other places. There I was no
longer embarrassed by my search for the sensation of connection, rather,
I was put on exceptional horses that were eager to share their spirit
and strength. Moments of
joy stretched into seconds, seconds into minutes. And as the years
of instruction take hold, I have begun to be able to reproduce some of
the guidance here
at home into my Stallion, who has grown into a magnificent
Andalusian in every sense. As I taught him, so he has taught me. Together we
have rides that are light, intuitive, inspiring, magical. When I
am not riding, the way of classical riding still guides me, for leaving
its gentleness requires a re-connection with the feeling that is not
easy to find once lost. What
I find most interesting abut classical horsemanship is that is is an
amplifier of the inner self. If one is in balance and peace,
riding can be full of wonder and kinship. If one is feel
angry or fretful, then there is rarely harmony with the horse. It
is virtually impossible to feel poorly and then to ride and come away
satisfied. However, if one is at peace (especially in times of
turmoil), then riding in harmony and joy with a horse is not only
possible, but routine. This requires a commitment to conducting
ones life in such a way to remain at peace, and this is the reason why
riding well is so difficult. It is because life itself is
difficult. I love to ride, I only regret that the first 40 years
of my life I was not aware of His gift of the horse.
PS I work with the
Morgado Lusitano Riding Center
because they have the
horses and the way of going that allows us to share in "The Feeling",
perhaps for the first time, perhaps for a revisit. I return to
them over and over again, and each time is like laughing with an old
friend. I have enabled hundreds of clients to visit, and the
excitement that the clients share tells me that I am doing the right
thing. Classical horsemanship is special and for the few that make
the journey, the reward is beyond words.
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