Riding is an art, and those of us who pursue it with a level of focus and commitment are artists. While there is also a science to riding, training, and horsemanship, and as a more logical than intuitive thinker I am more drawn to the “science” elements of horsemanship, today I would like to discuss a few concepts I picked up while spending time with a friend of mine who is a traditional artist – a painter.
Just to clear up the definitions of art and science – when we speak of the science of horsemanship we are often referring to either learning theory or riding biomechanics or to the scientific aspects of conditioning and preparing a horse for performance. The science of horsemanship refers more to developing motor skills and learning balance and coordination – for both horse and rider.
The art of horsemanship can mean different things to different people. The art of riding may be discussed in regards to the application of learning theory and to one’s timing or to the feel and balance of riding. For some, the art of riding can also refer to other aspects of horsemanship, such as emotional control, mastering one’s energy, or even a level of spirituality.
As I mentioned, lately I've been spending a lot of time with a friend of mine who is an artist by profession. She paints commission pieces, mostly portraits of horses and other pets. My friend was talking about the “feel” in a painting that different artists create – there are the brush strokes on the canvas but then there is something deeper, there is that something about the painting or piece of art that captures the essence of a moment or an individual, or that brings out an emotional response from another person. This is the part of the artist’s craft that is harder to explain, and difficult to teach, but is no less real or important than the colors of the paint or angles of the lines in the picture.
Of course, there are almost endless different styles of art, artists use different mediums, like acrylic paints or water colors, and different types and colors of paper to create the look and feel of the piece they are working on.
There is really no right or wrong in art, while good artists are always looking to improve on their skills, perhaps by adding more detail to their work or improve the accuracy of lines and angles in the picture, the art is still going to be unique to the artist.
Lately I have been thinking that perhaps riding and horsemanship are not so different. Horsemanship is an art form. There are many different theories and training methods in the world today, and while it is interesting to debate the effectiveness of different exercises, theories, and methods, perhaps there is a level where there is no longer a right or wrong way to ride or train. Instead it becomes a matter of what works best for an individual horse and rider. After all, even someone who commits to a method and studies it carefully will eventually add their own style to the exercises and the theory.
Just as with any form of art, there are pieces of information and foundational skills that a novice must master, and any form of riding or training should assure the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the horse. This is where I believe that understanding the science of horsemanship can provide the foundation or framework from where an individual can learn and expand.
In a recent interview I did with horseman Mark Rashid, I asked his opinion on science and art within horsemanship, here is part of his response and like what much of what Mark says it is concise but carries a powerful message. “What the horse needs is what you should do. If you are too caught up in the science of it, then the one thing you could do to help the horse you won’t do.”
Friendly debate and discussion is good – it keeps everyone challenging their own ideas and conclusions and therefore growing and innovating in their work.
I know we all have a tendency to get stuck in our current mode of operation, but when we can remember that what we do with our horses can become a form of art we can better appreciate and learn from the other artists we are surrounded by.
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