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The Nature of the Sport

18 August 2011 No Comment

The Nature of the Sport
By: J. Ashton Moore

As riders and trainers, most of us like to think of ourselves as kindly, methodical, reasonable, and caring.

However it is a good idea to soul-search a little and examine our motives. The motives often determine the methods.

Why are we doing this horse thing?

For exercise
To prove our mastery and control over another entity, for its own sake – control
For the sheer unexplainable pleasure of working with “the noble horse”
For thrills
For accolades or awards
For money
Out of a sense of creativity – can we bend the horse, not break it (bend it to our will as a more-or-less willing partner, rather than break its spirit)

In an effort to reduce the potential for confusion, anxiety, aggression, brutality, and muscularity in the progressive training of horses (to whatever end), there are a few issues that need to be kept foremost in the trainer’s mind.

The Nature of the Sport (or Training Goal)
The Nature of the Horse
The Learning Process of the Horse

If the training process is approached intellectually and as a learning process for BOTH horse and rider, with the above points in mind, much of the muddle and stress that is so often encountered in training can be avoided, or at least reduced.

Riding (irrespective of discipline) is an oddity in the world of sports. There are few sports in which two living beings perform together as one entity – dancing in its various versions (ballroom, ballet, etc.) and ice dancing, and pair skating. One might add Luge, but that is perhaps stretching the issue a bit.

Riding is perhaps the only two-functioning-as-one sport in which one partner does not have a clue as to what is required, does not have a clue as to what is going on, and does not speak or understand the same language as the partner, and does not have the slightest interest in participating.

One might be tempted to make a comparison to dog training. However, as much as inexperienced horse-lovers like to think otherwise, horses, unlike dogs, do not “want to please.” They don’t particularly want to displease, they just don’t care whether you are happy or not, as long as the food keeps coming and the work week is only five hours long. But that is an issue to address under the heading of “The Nature of the Horse”.

Along with addressing the nature of the sport, we need to address the nature of the bizarreness of what we do to and with horses in order to pursue our respective sports. We do things that require the horses to subjugate their natural reactions and inclinations in favor of unnatural forms of behavior. We sometimes keep horses in conditions and environments which are totally foreign to their nature, for the sake of the convenience of being able to pursue the sport – keeping the horse in isolation and immobilized (in a stall), feeding at intervals (instead of constantly), gelding them, expecting them not to succumb to the overwhelming breeding urges, and on and on.

The nature of some sports is less intrusive on the nature of the horse than others, by being less exacting in control – racing and endurance riding, for instance, cultivate some natural inclinations in the horse, with a minimum of “control.” Other sport disciplines require a tremendous subjugation of the horse’s will (though hopefully not its spirit) in the name of sport – dressage, for instance, where the horse must hold its head just so, go at just such and such a speed, in just such and such a posture, without grinding its teeth or swishing its tail or looking askance.

One could even go so far as to say that just “keeping” horses is a sport. One doesn’t even have to ride them. It has rules, goals, expectations, and criteria. The mere act of getting the horse from stall to paddock, or into a trailer, or taking its wormer or shots, or being shod or doctored or bred might be considered a sporting proposition. The horse has the capability to do us mortal injury without even a moment’s evil thought in its head. A frolicsome kicking up of the heels, an inattentive swing of the head, stamping at a fly – all have potential for severe or mortal danger for the puny human member of the partnership.

Whatever kind of relationship we want to establish with the horse, there need to be goals, there need to be rules, and there needs to be consideration for the horse’s ability, because of its nature, to learn the rules, and there needs to be some reason for the horse to chose to abide by the rules. That is what distinguishes Sport from Mayhem or Abuse – whether we do it on top of the horse (riding), behind the horse (driving), on the longe line (vaulting), or just getting through the day unhurt.

When we understand the nature of the sport (and the nature and extent of our expectations – our motive, and the training goal), we will be better able to make use of an understanding of the Nature of the Horse and the Learning Process of the Horse to induce “correct responses”, as painlessly and profitably as possible for all concerned.

Part Two: The Nature of the Horse

About the author:

International Judge, and international dressage, jumping and vaulting clinician – J. Ashton Moore is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Dutch Warmblood Registry in North America as well as the Co-Founder of the American Vaulting Association.

A noted breeder of Dutch Warmbloods, Danish Oldenbourgs, and Holsteiners, he has bred many successful national and international competition horses. He owns the successful Dutch Grand Prix Dressage stallions Taxateur, Rubinstein, and Vosmaer. He has also been a successful breeder of Hannoverian and Trakehner sport horses. A former hunter, jumper and 3-day event competitor, Mr. Moore now concentrates on dressage and vaulting. He trains horses thru the FEI Grand Prix (Olympic) level at the private training facility “Osierlea”, which he owns with dressage luminary Elizabeth Searle in historic San Juan Bautista, California. He coaches national and international level dressage and vaulting competitors at Osierlea and at clinics throughout the USA and abroad.

Mr. Moore trains judges in several equestrian disciplines, and works to promote a better understanding of equine and human biomechanics among judges and trainers. He says “A better understanding of how horses and humans function – independently, and as centaur – encourages more insightful, more systematic, and kinder training methods, as well as more knowledgeable judging.” He gives seminars on related subjects: “Horse Biomechanics”, “Rider Biomechanics”, “The Learning Process of the Horse”, “From the Ground Up” (a training system that prepares the horse for stress-free breaking and ongoing training), “Training for Competition Riding”, “Training and Showing the Sporthorse in Hand”.

When not dealing with horses, Mr. Moore breeds threatened species of parrots, and runs a cattle ranch and experimental fruit plantation on the Caribbean island of Bocas del Toro.

Mr. Moore’s additional credentials and accomplishments include:

AHSA Senior Dressage Judge
AHSA Sporthorse Breeding Judge
FEI Official Vaulting Judge (Judge of 5 World Championships and World Equestrian Games)
FEI Training Judge for vaulting
Director of AHSA National Dressage Judges’ Forum
Director of National and International Vaulting Judges’ Forums
Judge Trainer & Examiner of the US Dressage Federation Learner Judges’ Program
Compiler/editor of “Glossary of Dressage Judging Terms” (USDF publication)
Editor of “Dressage Judge’s Handbook” (USDF publication)
Editor of “Dressage Judge’s Checklist” (USDF publication)
Producer of the training video “Showing Your Sporthorse in Hand” (USDF production)
Graduate “A” of the US Pony Club
AHSA Hunter Judge (retired)
AHSA Jumper Judge (retired)
AHSA Equitation Judge (retired)

All inquiries regarding Mr. Moore can be sent to: info@todayshorse.com.

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