The 12 Touchstones: The Essentials of Savvy
Every one of us has different levels of ambition and dedication. Every great horseman has understood the following essential pieces of knowledge. These are the 12 Horsemanship Touchstones:
- Horse Psychology & Philosophy
Using horse psychology has come naturally to all great horsemen. But beyond that, it was also their philosophy – to use communication, understanding, and horse psychology, rather than mechanics, fear, and intimidation (the “show the horse who’s boss” approach).
- Savvy & Safe
Great horsemen not only know how to stay safe, but just as importantly, they know how to keep others safe, and keep horses safe. Before I knew there was a natural way, I made so many mistakes; I got hurt, I got horses hurt, and I came to recognize how volatile the situation was. Now, after years of experience and invaluable time with my many mentors, I know what’s apt to happen; that’s what being savvy and safe is all about.
Every great horseman has recognized that horses have their own unique “Horsenalities” based on innate characteristics, learned behavior, environmental influences, and spirit. They may not have used the same terminology, but the understanding that no two horses are the same is consistent across the board. That’s why, when Tom Dorrance was asked a “What should I do?” question, his answer was quite often “It all depends.”
- Calm, Connected & Responsive
How do we get our horses to be successful, to optimize their potential? Well, they need to be calm, connected, responsive, and supple. Great horsemen bring those qualities out in their horses.
- The Four Savvys
In order to become an effective, versatile, well-rounded partner for your horse, you need to develop your horse in four distinct areas, two of which take place on the ground, and two in the saddle: On Line, Liberty, FreeStyle, and Finesse. But it goes beyond that; horses can learn bad habits in all four of these areas – the Four Savvys – if given the opportunity. It’s up to us to improve and educate ourselves in these areas first.
Collection is the sum total of four components: rapport, respect, impulsion, and flexion. We need to balance these four things. As I was learning to become a true horseman, I learned that rapport was number one; I realized that horses would run faster and jump higher out of heart and desire. Once I had rapport and I’d gained their respect, I could achieve true impulsion because I wasn’t bothering them emotionally. The more I learned about precision riding, about bringing out the best in the horse’s body, it became apparent that flexion was the final key to unlocking my horse’s top possible performance, no matter the discipline. That’s when my horses knew I was becoming a horseman.
- Fun & Gratification
If you aren’t having fun with horses, what’s the point?! When we all got our first horses, we had dreams of the level of fun and gratification we would be enjoying in no time. Unfortunately, many people get out of horses altogether within the first two years because of the Six F’s: fear, frustration, feeling like a failure, lack of fun, therefore a lack of funds. You’re not going to dedicate your hard-earned money towards an activity that isn’t providing any gratification or enjoyment. I don’t ever want that to happen to you, which is why this touchstone is so important.
- Ride In & Ride Out
In order to effectively ride outside the arena, with your horse totally under control, you must first develop your communication skills with your horseinside the arena. Every great horseman knows that a horse whose activities never extend beyond the arena will never become a true partner, because a key piece of their experience is missing.
And when it comes to riding inside the arena, how do you make that interesting and not boring – for you or your horse? There are patterns I’m going to share with you that keep your horse mentally engaged and help him act like your partner.
- Principles to Purpose
You need a purpose to your horsemanship, because a purpose gives it a meaning. This purpose may be a sport, it may be your job; it can be whatever gives you a goal, a reason for progressing. Similar to humans, if a horse never finds out what the purpose behind all the time and effort is, it’s very easy for him to mentally and emotionally check out. But when he understands the purpose, when there’s a real point, that’s when his heart and desire turn into exuberance.
- Balance & Posture
From your horse’s point of view, how does it feel to be ridden by you? Great horsemen are great riders. If you were a horse, you would know immediately whether your rider had natural balance and the appropriate posture or position for the endeavor. No matter what your level of riding experience is, we will help you become an even more effective, natural rider – both for your sake and your horse’s!
- Tools & Techniques
Every great horseman not only knows which tools and techniques support their goal of utilizing communication, understanding, and psychology, but also know which tools and techniques not to use, because they don’t align with that goal. The philosophy of the horseman states that we should always do things with the horse and for the horse, never to the horse.
- Ages & Stages
To become a great horseman, you need to know how to interact with all horses, no matter their age or their stage of development – even if the horse falls squarely into the “challenging” category.