“Horseman.” This term, in my opinion, describes a person who understands and respects horses. He or she is completely comfortable handling, riding, teaching, interpreting, using and caring for the needs of a horse. This person navigates him or herself around the equine species with an aura of confidence and respect for the animal. A true horseman never has to characterize him or herself as such; that quality is immediately evident and recognizable to anyone who knows what it takes to be one. A horseman commands respect from his or her peers by action, accomplishment and knowledge, which places this person in a unique strata – apart from the general crowd in the horse world. Simply put, he or she stands out and apart from the rest.
Problem is, there are too few horsemen in the equine industry today. Many call themselves horsemen, but few actually grasp and express the concept, and even fewer possess the work ethic required to reach that plateau.
Just because you hang your shingle out as a trainer doesn’t always equate to your being a horseman. Far too many trainers lack respect for their charges, and they use shortcuts in technique or drugs to achieve results in the arena or on the racetrack. Many self-anointed “horsemen” are willing to go to any lengths in order to accomplish success, to gain the recognition, accolade and pot of gold at the end of the equine rainbow. They laude themselves as patient teachers of the horse, while behind the scenes they’re actually abusive and crude in their methods. Oh, they put on a good show for all the public to see. But they’ll never fool all of us.
A genuine horseman sees straight through a man or woman who stoops to inhumane or questionable “training” tactics. We wouldn’t send a horse to that trainer – not in a million years. But not everyone has the same level of experience and clarity as those of us who’ve been around long enough to know. And that’s where the real harm lies. Those masters of the shortcut are interspersed among our industry’s authentic professionals, and from the general public’s perspective, they all look pretty much the same. They’ve all got trophies and ribbons back at the fancy curtained stalls, which makes it almost impossible for an owner to decipher the truth from the fiction – or the pseudo horsemen from the real horsemen.
Ours is a business mostly gauged by show success. It’s about the titles and black ink. Therefore, it’s only natural that an owner is enticed by a training program’s end results. It can be tough to see beyond the temporary dazzle of trophies, buckles and ribbons. Owners get wrapped up in the moment and seduced by a pretender’s gift of gab. Ego takes over and all that wonderful applause drowns out the niggling whisper, “How was all this success attained?” Some people wake up. Sadly, others reach a point where they no longer care. For them, winning far outweighs some outdated notion of “real horsemanship.” The horse becomes nothing more than a means to an end.
We’ve all heard the saying that “cheaters never prosper.” Unfortunately, that old adage no longer holds water in our equine world. Today, there are far too many “trainers” circulating in this business who reach a level of success, while operating unbridled and without constraint or respect for the rules that govern the various and sundry disciplines within equine competition. The real scapegoat in all this is the animal – the horse – that has no recourse or escape from the clutches of the unscrupulous person who claims legitimacy under the guise of being a “horseman.”
So the horse suffers and the breed or competition organization receives a black eye. Decent owners get fed up, and public acceptance wanes. What’s more, the real horsemen – the ones trying to do a good job and do right by the horse – find their futures more and more uncertain. They might even reach a point where they swap what they know is right for what is more expedient. And the moment a horseman trades in his or her respectable and humane training methods, another small piece of our horse industry rots away.
So what can we do? We can reverse the status quo by becoming proactive and insistent with the organizations that rule the atmosphere in which we breed, raise and compete with our horses. You know when you see something that’s not right – in-person or on a YouTube video. Don’t just stand there – demand results! Accept no excuse, and insist on answers to why there is inaction regarding the welfare of our animals. Horses are not tools or objects to be used to reach temporary glory. They are living, breathing animals that can be developed into wonderful, successful equine athletes that will be enjoyed by the masses for their true prowess and goodness – in whatever discipline – for years and decades to come.
It just takes a horseman.
As always, I remain