Language of horsemanship mystifies and confuses, says researcher

Fourteen elements were found to form the essence of horsemanship competence.
Fourteen elements were found to form the essence of horsemanship competence.

The language used in horsemanship tends to mystify and confuse, a recently published research paper has concluded.

Author Stefanie Krysiak, who holds a masters degree in advanced studies in sport administration and technology, found much common ground among stakeholders within the equine community on horsemanship.

“However, the utilization of a diverse vocabulary of terminology and expressions tends to mystify the process and cause confusion,” she said.

Krysiak’s study of horsemanship competence was commissioned by the world governing body of horse sport, the FEI.

The FEI wanted guidance in determining whether the concept of horsemanship could be better defined, and it wanted to develop a potential baseline understanding of the necessary skills, abilities and attributes for horsemanship competence.

Krysiak conducted an in-depth literature review and interviews with 105 largely experienced individuals from 30 different countries and across eight equestrian disciplines. In all, 21 different stakeholder perspectives were represented.

She found that horsemanship competence could be defined as the use of the 14 elements:

  • Comprehensive knowledge;
  • Practical eexperience;
  • Growth mindset;
  • Respect for the horse;
  • Ethological empathy;
  • Effective application of learning theory;
  • Awareness and attentiveness to body;
  • Language;
  • Commitment to the priority of equine welfare;
  • Emotional intelligence;
  • Humility and integrity;
  • Adaptability;
  • Patience;
  • Selection and treatment of support personnel;
  • Development of a mutual symbiotic relationship.

Krysiak reported that, despite the 105 participants having a diverse range of equestrian backgrounds, they held universal values and beliefs about horsemanship. Only the words and terms used varied between them.

“It is important to note,” she said, “that this horsemanship competence is not simply reserved for the elite, particular equestrian sport disciplines, specific community roles or the number of years of equine interaction.

“It is the combination of all 14 elements that prove to be the ingredients for good horsemanship.”

She continued: “While there was a lack of consensus on the fundamental skills needed when first interacting and beginning to work with horses, the most frequently referenced were that of safety, horse handling, grooming and blanketing, horse health and riding.

“However, most participants would go on to emphasize the fact that horsemanship was a comprehensive concept and not purely defined by one skill or ability such as riding itself.

“In fact, being a good horseman was seen as someone who had base level knowledge in many different facets of the horse and was able to identify when another member of their support team was required to address a certain aspect that they themselves did not have expertise in, such as shoeing or veterinary care.”

Participants, she said, made it clear that horsemanship was not simply just a theoretical principle. Practical experience was essential as well.

“An exceedingly consistent theme that emerged during the research process was the idea that a good horseman must be able to understand and see the world from the horse’s point of view.”

The ability to be ego-free by admitting and taking responsibility for mistakes was an essential aspect of good horsemanship, according to those interviewed.

This centered around not blaming the horse or believing it was working against you, but instead looking in the mirror to question one’s approach and possible faults.

This tied in with having a growth mindset, that no matter how many years of equine experience one had, there was always room for improvement.

“A fundamental belief also held by the majority of the participants was that the love of the horse must come before the love of competition or any other aspect.”

Krysiak said three major trends in horsemanship were revealed in the interviews:

  • Industrialisation and technological change;
  • Increased emphasis on competition;
  • Growing criticism of equestrian sport.

“It is imperative to remember that this knowledge will not make you into a good horseman but will rather instead enhance your awareness of how to become one,” she said.

Krysiak said the outcome of the research was not groundbreaking knowledge, however it rendered a clear picture of the necessary skills, abilities and attributes involved.

Her work, she said, had provided a logical and comprehensible structure to improve horsemanship in all aspects of equestrian sport.

“Further research is necessary in order to fully understand and conceptualize each of the 14 individual elements in detail and to develop effective training and testing methods.”

The study can be read in full here

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