The Good: Succinctly Said

My first mentor was a crotchety old man, who hardly spoke to me the entire time I worked for him and when he did the words usually came out as grunts and mumbles; mostly of approval, a couple times of disappointment. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, he was a brilliant horseman. I developed a basic set of equine philosophies that I still believe in today and I honed my skills of observation, as well as the ability to decipher Caveman talk.

My first (serious) riding instructor was a crotchety old German woman. She didn’t talk much either and when she did it was a mix of English and German.  I typically only understood every third or fourth word. The more German words in a sentence, the more frustrated she was with me. And when the entire sentence was German, well, that basically meant I was on my own; sink or swim. (I sank a time or two.)  I couldn’t have asked for a better riding instructor at the time; that was when I stopped being a passenger.

Both proved (to me) that you don’t have to write a novel or orate endlessly to teach effectively.  Indeed, that might not be the best way at all.  (It might also have proven that I was a willing student.) 

There are many greats, whom none of us will ever have the privilege of attending, but we can still learn from them because they have left behind gargantuan nuggets of wisdom about horses and horsemanship expressed in just a few words.

“When the human calls the horse dumb, stupid, stubborn, etc…, they are working from where they are, not where the horse is.” – Ray Hunt

Nothing drives me crazier than when a person labels a horse ‘lazy’. I want to smack them upside the head with something a lot harder than a baguette.  It seems, though, from Mr. Hunt’s words that I should be sticking a cattle prod up their derrieres instead.

“My horses are my friends, not my slaves.” – Reiner Klimke

I prefer to use the term partner to friend, but I definitely agree that a horse shouldn’t be viewed as a slave, and yet I see that all the time.

“It is the difficult horses that have the most to give you.” – Lendon Grey

This quote resonates with me more than any other. Two of the most difficult horses I’ve owned were, without a doubt, my greatest teachers. If you really want to learn, embrace the challenges.

“No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle.” – Winston Churchill

Clearly a man who understood the allure of horses and what they give us.

What are your favorite quotes or words of wisdom?

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19 thoughts on “The Good: Succinctly Said

  1. It’s amazing what a horse will do for you when he understands what you want. It is also quite amazing what he can do to you when he doesn’t. Bill Dorrance

    But my overall most favorite, which was something Ray Hunt said all the time, but may have come from Tom Dorrance to Ray, I don’t know, “It’s simple, but it isn’t easy”. I think we forget that, we have a few simple rules from most of the great masters, timing, feel, balance, for ourselves and from our horses. And yet none of them are easy to accomplish.

    How many of us in riding lessons concentrate on foot falls, on subtle shifting of weight that allow the horse or even force the horse to rebalance themeselves. We can talk about relaxing and taking a feel of the horse’s mouth, not enough weight to be pulling, but just a touch to say, I know where you are, I am here. How many of us can truly stay relaxed and keep that feel (contact) without it becoming pulling, or balancing on the reins or throwing it away suddenly as we try to move with the horse. If we can’t balance ourselves in the saddle (in the Sally Swift building blocks aligning and supporting ourselves sense) at walk, trot and canter, how can we expect our horses to balance themselves to achieve collection. Just remembering to breathe. Go to a clinic with someone who is attuned to when people stop breathing, and reminds everyone, spectators as well as riders, to breathe, and see the horse’s reactions. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.

  2. People always thought I was crazy when I told them my horse was “laz–I mean she’s really mellow.” It was true, though! She lacked forward while we were first working. It didn’t take her too long to figure out going forward could be fun and now there is no way I could call her lazy! She is still very mellow though. 😉

  3. I dont know if its a direct quote but people always blame the horse and it is never ever ever the horse’s fault. Everything the horse does wrong is your fault, hard on the ego but true. People take credit for when the horse does something right they need to put blame where it belongs too.

    • I tell my students the attitude I want them to have is that “Everything the horse does, you either allowed it to do or you asked it to do.” I don’t discount the animals’ capacity for originality, and I do point out that some things we ‘ask’ for unintentionally; the point being more that I want the riders to be attentive and take responsibility for all of what is happening. It is really not all that daunting once you realise all it takes is to ‘do’ the riding.

    • I used to tell my younger students (who didn’t know better than to shit talk their lesson horse to me.) “I know this horse personally. I know that he can do everything you’re trying to ask for on his own in his pasture.” I think we, as humans, get a bit of a complex thinking we are actually teaching the horses how to do things when, more often than not, we are just teaching them when to do it.

    • Hear hear. I recently wrote a very long, detailed response to someone on a horse forum complaining that her horse was being a “brat” and an “idiot” by refusing jumps and needed to be smacked multiple times with a crop in front of each fence. Tried to suggest, politely, that it was unlikely that the horse was doing it to be bad, and much more likely that there was a physical pain/discomfort issue, a rider problem, horse was being overfaced, or some combination thereof; and multiple smacks with the crop were neither acceptable nor productive. Came back to find the topic deleted because, I assume, the original poster didn’t care for that advice. Sigh. I remember having those thoughts about horses being “bad” too… I’ve come so far since I learned to let that go and put the blame on myself.

      Maremother… when I was a youngster I once snarked to my coach about the lesson pony I was riding, after I had been dumped into the dirt. The coach, usually very sweet and much admired by young me, went red-faced-livid-mad and lit into me about how this was a good pony, how privileged I was to have the opportunity to ride at all when so many people would be happy to change places with me, and how my coming off was entirely my own fault and not the pony’s, and how she did not have to allow me to ride her ponies if I couldn’t appreciate them. That made a huge impression on me as a youngster, and over the years I have turned and given the exact same speech to any kid that I catch bad-mouthing a lesson pony. My attitude about horses has been greatly shaped by that chewing-out from an admired person at a young age, so I know it’s possible to change attitudes if people are called out on them at the right time.

  4. “It is the difficult horses that have the most to give you.”
    Yup, I’ve learned the most from an extremely difficult gelding and difficult mare (you all know the one). The gelding really taught me a lot about schooling in the saddle. Did I absolutely hate every second I was in the saddle with him? Yes. Did I hate every fiber of his being? Yes. Did he hate mine? Yes. But we taught each other a lot. My relationship with my mare is far better but she’s still difficult and is teaching me lots.

  5. “We must work in lightness or we agree to a massacre of the innocents” (Oliveira).

    “The aim of the art is not only to ride a well-conformed animal but to get the very best out of those that have been less gifted by nature” (Ludwig Hunersdorf 1743-1813).

    From: Common Sense Horsemanship (1951) by Captain Vladimir S. Littauer
    “When schooling your horse never forget to:

    h) Occasionally stop to consider what your horse thinks of you.”

  6. “I am not young enough to know everything.” JM Barrie

    “If violence made a Grand Prix horse, there would be a million of them.” – Hilda Gurney

    “We find our energies are actually cramped when we are overanxious to succeed.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

    And my most favourite:
    “If you don’t ride the way you believe you should, you will end up believing that you should ride the way you do”. – Jean St.Fort Paillard:

  7. If you will indulge me I will tell you about the fellow who taught me to ride and the Summer I Learned To Ride.

    I was young, and had ridden a lot, but was lucky enough to get to ride a real cow horse, get him in shape for a drive. No show horses here, rough country. I rode “Buck” all summer, and often an old cowboy would come along with me. I was told later that this old cowboy, for fun, was taking me on the hairiest back country rides possible, sometimes on Buck, sometimes on my own horse. I later learned that I really earned his respect by never refusing a ride. He always went first, and to tell you the truth, sometimes I just closed my eyes and hung on! But here is my quote (from the old cowboy) “Anywhere you can walk the horse can go.” I put this to good use during the cattle drive, some of those old cows really knew the country. If I figured I could walk up or down a particular piece of territory, the horse could. I only came off once. A particularly ornery cow walked under a oak tree, and if you see oaks in cow country, they eat off everything they can reach so the tree is neatly trimmed. You are not supposed to dismount unless you go off the drive, so I grabbed the horn, swung myself over on Buck’s side and had him walk in under the tree to get her out. I miss judged where the tree ended, came up to soon and was swept off Buck’s rump. This old cow horse kept on the cow, (he really didn’t need me), and I ran and caught up with him and pulled myself into the saddle.

    I had a few group lessons, but don’t remember learning anything there. I am very lucky to have had this experience, real riding on a real working horse. Buck and the old cowboy were my teachers.

  8. “The horse is a mirror to your soul… and sometimes you might not like what you see in the mirror.” – Buck Brannaman

    “The horse knows. He knows if you know. He also knows if you don’t know.” – Ray Hunt

    “A horse does not greet the sun and say, ‘today will be better.’ It can only
    reflect upon days of past experiences. It is our job to create a positive past.” –Karen West

    And of course, it’s never the horse’s fault, always the rider’s. This particularly holds true if you’re the one doing the majority of the training!

    • FlyinOnTime, if the horse is a mirror to my soul, I have an slightly overweight, hormonal, pony……oh crap!!!

  9. Churchill has lots of great horse quotes, I’m sure there is just a book of them somewhere. I think I’ve seen a coffee table book of beautiful photographs and quotes from great riders and trainers, and I wish I had it. The simplest sentences can be infinitely inspiring.

  10. “A canter is a cure for every evil.” Because, let’s face it, it really is!

    And my trainer’s favorite quote about horses, which he repeats to us at every possible occasion, especially when we’re complaining about feeding or washing or grooming or mucking out or how much time we’ve put into riding and feel like we’re getting nowhere, etc etc! – “Getting the horse is the easy part!”

  11. “The day the horse sends in it’s entry, , gets up early, gets ready and drives itself to the show is the day you can call it “stupid” when it does a bad show in the ring…..”

  12. “It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.
    On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.”
    ― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

    Sometimes I really want to work on one thing, and drill it over and over. I try to keep this quote in mind, to remind me that the living being below me might not share my consistent enthusiasm for practicing sidepasses today and might like a nice canter around the ring for a change. He’s such a good boy, and it isn’t fair for me to treat him like an unthinking vehicle — and we both feel better after a break!

  13. My trainer always says “Practice makes permanent”

    If you practice something wrong over and over you are certainly not going to become “perfect”. It’s definitely difficult for someone to learn to do something incorrectly then have to relearn. We had quite a few teens come to our barn with mediocre instruction and it was pretty frustrating for them to have to relearn everything. That’s why it’s preferable to learn it correctly. 😉

    And I completely agree about instructors/trainers not needing to be talking all the time. When we show, my trainer sticks to hand motions (speed up/slow down) and talking when you are passing her. There are others in the ring who’s trainer will be instructing through an entire class for every little detail with incessant “Bridle!” “lead!” “pass!” and running up and down the rail… So many things a rider shouldn’t need constant reminders to be doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these people would blow classes if they couldn’t heard their trainer at all times.

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