I have two reactions, at least, when I read that Robert Dover and George Morris are giving much heralded horsemastership clinics to young riders from the disciplines of dressage and show jumping.
My first purely gut reaction is that if the level of horsemanship of the kids in eventing ever gets so pathetic as to need remedial classes, then I hope the gods of old time eventing will come back from wherever they`ve gone, line them all up against a wall and shoot them. And while they`re at it, shoot the coaches who didn`t insist their charges were good horsemen first, and then shoot the parents who let the kids get so spoiled and lazy!
However, a gut reaction isn`t always the right one. Probably the first order of business is to try to answer the question, “What makes someone a good horse person?” It isn`t how well she rides. She can be a good rider and a bad horsewoman. Probably, the most accurate description would be it`s someone who puts the best interests of her horse first, and has the knowledge and the skills and the character traits to perform what`s needed to have a healthy horse that lives a life that`s not full of stress and fear and discomfort.
By this I mean having a realistic, not a Walt Disney-Bambi-Black Beauty concept of how horses function, and an understanding of what they need. It probably depends upon having a sense of obligation, first and formost, that this animal is dependent upon me, and his well being won`t happen unless I get it right. If a kid doesn`t care about her horse at a humane, fundamental level, no lessons will have much effect.
So caring is first. Then comes education, and this is where the several day clinic concept is very weak, because the kind of education that makes horse people takes years of close involvement to acquire. A good horse person can come in to do night check, and often may spot that something just isn`t right. The horse may be covered in shavings, an obvious sign that he`s been rolling. This will elicit a check on his hay and grain. It hasn`t been eaten. Warning bells are sounding. And so forth. A non horse person won`t be apt to spot this. A non horse person probably won`t be doing night check in the first place.
There are thousands of things kids learn, big ones and little ones, almost by osmosis, when they spend hours around horses. Not to leave bale strings mixed with the hay for the horse to ingest, not to leave a scummy water bucket, not to forget to slide back the catch on the stall door that a horse might rip his hip on, how to load a horse, catch a horse, clip, bandage, poultice, cold hose, feed, groom, on and on and on.
Most of America is no longer a semi agrarian society. Most Americans, statistically, live in cities and suburbs. Many modern horse kids either ride at boarding stables on someone else`s horse, or board their own horse where someone else feeds, mucks the stall, blankets, turns out, brings in, all the things the country kid with her backyard pony does herself. So in this respect, it isn`t the kids` “fault.” Many of these urban/suburban children would dearly love to live on a farm, but they simply don`t. Many would love to be allowed to spend long days at the boarding stable, but aren`t allowed to be barn rats, either because their parents don`t allow it, or because the barn owner doesn`t want kids swarming around, or may be afraid of legal liability. Either way, the chance to acquire horsemastersip skills just isn`t there.
Eventing is a hard, athletic, risk sport. In some ways, the risk element may, ironically, be its saving grace. A kid better spend time learning about eventing, or she shouldn`t do it. Coaches better make sure the children in their care know all the “pieces”, or they are putting those kids at even greater risk. Parents better be told that an unprepared child is a child in potential jeopardy.
Even so, gigantic demographic forces are at work against us, poulation growth, land loss, litigation, suburbanization, sprawl, so many aspects of 21st century life that drive wedges between riders and the care of their horses. Maybe we`ll be having horsemastership clinics in eventing, someday, too. What a depressing thought. So let`s, as a community, try to stave off that sad prospect, by promoting the idea that good riding is only a small part of the big eventing equation.