Seeing beyond one‘s own nose - why an eclectic approach to horses is helpful

I have an eclectic approach to horsemanship (like in eclectic horseman magazine). I look at different trainers, different techniques and choose what works best for me and the horse. How about you? Do you pick things out like me or do you stick to one trainer/horseman and try to emulate him?
Over here in Germany, people tend to become fanatic about their riding grandmaster (especially in communities that are kind of closed in themselves). Like in: „You can never master it if you only do it once in a while and loose the overall picture“. Sure. But I aspire a different overall picture. Don‘t get me wrong. Mixing it all up all times doesn‘t work. I cannot teach my horse a soft feel on one day and ask full contact all times on the next day. But still, seeing beyond my nose, experimenting with what different people practice and teach has helped me a lot to stay open and broaden my horizons. Here‘s how. 

eclectic, beyond one's nose, horse training approach
In horsemanship and in life it all boils down to
perspective and horizons. I'd like to keep mine as
broad as possible. Picture: Nadja

1. In general: If I hadn‘t questioned „normal“ German riding (the style the main association FN promotes), I wouldn‘t be in touch with horses any longer. Their methods just don‘t work (for me). So by getting to know them, I could at least learn what I don‘t want. 

2. If you‘ve been involved with the system of Pat Parelli, you might know that you can boil down every horse problem you might encounter to one of his 7 games that is - in case of a problem - broken. So, for example, if your horse cannot be tied up, because he tends to then draw back in his halter, you can diagnose the issue using the so called „porcupine game“: Your horse does not yield to direct pressure when he gets emotional. So you have a clue how to fix it. I find that sort of diagnose tool for horse problems quite fascinating. Not to say ingenious.

3. By concerning myself with clicker training (as you might know I don‘t particularly like feeding horses treats), I‘ve become aware that a horse‘s learning experiences are closer liked to the environment they are taking place than I thought. Clicker people train the same exercise with their horses at different places to help disconnect the exercise from its location.  That is good advice for horsemen too.

4. Buck Brannaman puts lots of emphasis on the feel we deliver with our hands. Feel in itself does not have to be physical, it can be mental too. For me, the physical part was the most important part of the puzzle. Meaning we always have to ask the horse a polite question first and have a nice soft feel to our hands. For me, that exceeds the notion of Parelli‘s phase 1 by far. Plus: Firm does not mean hart. Firm can be delivered in a friendly way.

5. When it comes to biomechanics of the horse I turn to the academic art of Riding by Bent Branderup. What I like about his system is that it enables even old and physically challenged horses to live up to their best and become fitter and healthier (the cynic in me remarks that with FN-riding it‘s the other way round). Being taught by students of Branderup, I‘ve learned (and still learning) to locate physical braces in the horse and to feel a subtle horse in the hand. 

6. Leslie Desmond has taught me how important it is to have our emotions under control and be positive as a general way of life. Both affects our relationship with horses, and if we are in our own way we also make it hard on the horse. Leslie has a great eye for the details that are vital for good horsemanship (like rhythm, breathing or looks). She‘s drawn my attention to the little things (that sometimes outweigh the big ones). 

Well, the list is long and you might think I am quite jumpy and undecisive. That might indeed concern the approach. But the goal is crystal clear to me: I want a horse that is relaxed, content and healthy. The teachings of the horseman and -women overlap in different areas. I personally prefer to see where they complement each other instead of looking for contradictions. And I think their wisdom contributes to our personal journey with horses. It‘s worthwhile to give it a try and listen - and pick the best for oneself and the horse. 

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