BY WARREN WECHSLER
Learning by Chance is presented in part by The Natural Gait, near Marquette,Iowa, the ideal place for recreational riders. www.thenaturalgait.com
Welcome to the inaugural article of “Learning by Chance.” You’reprobably wondering, “Who is this man and what does he know about horses?” Goodquestions.
I could say that I was born on a ranch and learned to ride before I couldwalk. I could say that I caught horse fever as a youth and have spent thegreater part of my life around horses. I could tell you that I have bredand showed horses all over North America. In truth, I would be a liar ifI asked you to believe all of that, because none of it is true.
The only thing I knew about horses for most of my life was attending thoroughbredraces in college and deciding what horse to bet on. I was a city kid, achild of the 1950s who only knew about horses from what I saw in the moviesand on television during the golden age of Gunsmoke,Bonanza, and The LoneRanger.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties, when my older daughter wasnine and asked to take riding lessons, that I actually had the opportunityto spend time in the close presence of real horses. And what I found isthat there is a passion that awakens in some people (yes, I’m hooked)that can be a life-changing experience. It has been for me, to be sure.
My initial education began as I helped my daughter prepare for her weeklylessons. Our trainer was committed to the concept that her students learnabout all aspects of horsemanship. Not to be left behind, I read everythingin my local library and then started buying horse books. I compared whatI read to my weekly personal experiences and slowly began to understandhow horses communicate and how to speak to them in a language that theyunderstand. My focus was always on safety for the horse and rider, bestpractices in working with horses, and later, how to educate people as tothe wisdom, energy, and emotional strength of horses. Five years later,I bought a small ranch and began acquiring my own horses. When I becamethe owner of Chance, an eight-year-old Arabian gelding, my education asa horseman truly began. It’s these lessons I’ve learned withChance, often by chance, that are the inspiration for this column.
In future articles, I’ll write about different aspects of horsemanship.We’ll learn that horses are massive, immensely powerful, beautiful,and graceful creatures that are also prey animals that prefer to run thanfight. We’ll know that horses are clear communicators that telegraphtheir thoughts and next moves. We’ll discover that they have longmemories and a forgiving nature, that most horses prefer slow, predictablebehaviors from humans and are frightened by quick, unfamiliar movements.Once we begin to understand the nature of horses and how they view theworld, we will become more likely to develop the style of communicationthat will result in both horse and human knowing the rules of interactionand how the game is played.
The stakes for humans and horses are huge. If someone speaks Greek toyou and you only understand and speak French, there’s no chance ofcommunication. The same principle applies to the way humans communicatewith horses. Too often a disconnect exists between the way horses preferto communicate with humans, and the way humans tend to communicate withhorses. An old saying made by beginning riders, “Kick to go and pullthe reins to whoa,” is potentially a recipe for disaster and is noteven close to the reality of riding horses.
I’ve been approachedby too many people with too many stories about their own or their acquaintances’ badearly experiences with horses. Or they bought a young, inexperienced horsefor a young, inexperienced child when they themselves were inexperienced.It ruined their relationship with horses for a long, long time, and sometimesfor life.
In this column, we will discuss natural horsemanship methods thatare based on fairness and clear expectations. From early NativeAmerican horse whisperers to today’s modern horsemen andhorsewomen in the mold of Buck Brannaman, Monty Roberts, SharonCamarillo, and others, we will discover why they never had to “break” horses,and instead learned the communication patterns of horses and workedwith the horse’s natural language.
My goal is to explore what horses can teach us and how we can forge betterrelationships with them. My hope is that ideas will emerge that will betterboth humans and horses.
Please join me in this journey. I know you’ll enjoy the ride!