May 14


Who is the Future of Horsemanship in the U.S.?

By barbaraellinfox

May 14, 2010

changing culture, horse's fault, Horsemanship, Land Conservation, riderattitude, trainer's fault

future_of_ridingMost of the old time horsemen have asked the same question during the past few years.  Where have the horsemen (and women) gone? I think it’s fair to say that horsemen beget horsemen, usually. But spend a little time around people involved with Pony Club or Fox Hunting and you’ll learn that the horseman is dying out and being replaced by Moms and Dads who’s enthusiasm for anything equine comes via their kids. And bless those moms and dads because where would our riders be without them?

From the County to the City and more
The change is blamed on the loss of land and the migration of families to the cities and suburbs.  I don’t doubt that for one minute  and I believe land conservation is a major issue for horsemen both now and in the future.  I encourage everyone to visit Equine Land Conservation Resource’s web page at .

Americans have become a disposable society that thrives on convenience. As time goes by we expect more convenience and we expect to reach our goals faster. A person can feed their entire family in less than ten minutes by driving thru any one of a multitude fast food vendors.  At the end of the meal, we throw the dishes in the trash. Have you ever sat in a line at Mac Donald’s and gotten angry because it wasn’t moving fast enough? How about the internet? Have you ever gotten angry that it was too slow?

Everything is high tech and faster.  And when the new high tech comes out we chuck the old one in favor of the new.

And what about the coolness factor, a particularly important issue with young people?
They have to have the right label, titles, style color and size of everything.  Is it a droid or an Iphone, a Mac or a PC?

Into the Horse World
All of this flows over into the horse world. We teach the crest release instead of the following hand to get into the show ring faster.  We count strides instead of developing an eye.  We believe bigger is better and anything with a foreign name is bound to be a winner. Then we strip 3 day eventing down to the qualities of a horse trials to make it suit our new choice in horses.

The two prevailing rules for a good horseman used to be:
1.      a good horseman always put the horse first.
2.     if things go wrong with the horse, it’s usually the rider’s fault.

Not so any more. The result has become most important and we’ll get there by any means necessary.  And if anything goes wrong it’s usually someone else’s fault.

Do You Know What You’re Doing? She was Asked
This was clearly illustrated in a recent facebook discourse. (But remember- Betty White says facebook is a HUGE waste of time!)

A teenager put a photo of her horse wearing a martingale, a shadow roll, and an elevator combination bit that puts pressure on the chin, tongue, bars, poll and nose on facebook in order to receive comments.

Someone asked if the horse needed all of that hardware and if she actually knew how to ride.  And the party was on.


I’d watched this young lady move up thru Pony Club ranks from the time she was 7 years old. The driving force behind her was a family who wanted her to achieve.

Chasing the goal to win blue ribbons and achieve ratings, the girl was moved regularly to “better” horses and ponies. When the better mounts were too much for the girl, stronger bits  and force were used. If the horses didn’t submit they were replaced with a new mount.  The girl never understood, accepted, nor used the principals of classical training.

Horses were a tool, a way to accomplish a goal.  No Partnership. No horse first.  If a horse wasn’t ready for competition, it went any way.    She described her horses as stubborn, jerks, idiots, %#@*!…well you get the picture.


Being a lover of “coolness”, at 12 years old her horse wore coordinated crocheted ear coverings. Later it was quarter sheets during warm up.  Next her horses all used the Mikmar Bit. Then the bubble.  She’d used the Myler Combination bit for the past three years on most horses, so I was interested to to find out what her response to the question would be.

And She Answered-

1.   I needed this to get the horse under control and then switched to the waterford for both horses (new coolness).
2.   We needed a quick fix
3.   We didn’t have the time
4.   He was stubborn
5.   He’s too big
And my favorite…6.   My trainer told me to.

I wish I could say this was an isolated situation but unfortunately I run into more young people with this new attitude about riding.  They miss the richness of being a horse person. It can be broken in to roughly 5 points.

1.   Young Americans follow the coolness.
2.   they want it fast
3.   they don’t have the time
4.   It’s the horse’s fault.
5.    It’s the trainer’s fault.

What Does It Really Mean?
Taking this interpretation one step farther, the 5 points above indicate:
1.   self esteem is tied to “things”
2.   perseverance is lacking
3.   the goal is more important than the process
4.   accountability is lacking
5.   there is an inability to think for themselves

Waterford Snaffle

Are we developing riders and not horsemen because we are losing the example provided by the old horsemen and women? While there is nothing better than growing up under the gaze of the real thing, I don’t believe we must have horsemen to teach personal worth, perseverance, enjoying the process, accountability, and critical thinking. Do you?

The real questions are: What can we do to help our young riders grasp the meaning of Horseman? Is this trend  inevitable? If it is, it becomes more important than ever to preserve the history of riding in the United States.

Thanks for reading U.S. Horsemanship,

Barbara Ellin Fox

  1. Barbara… very astute observations!

    What you see in the microcosm of all-things-horses is a reflection of your society in general, IMO. The US of A (I say that as I am Canadian) is at a very pivotal phase in its cultural development. All the points you make regarding the really glib and shitty handling of horses by self-serving pukes is truly only a reflection of your country’s general disposition towards Life. Personally, and with the understanding that your society was born in the fires of a Revolution, I think it’s time that the free-thinkers of the US of A band together and topple the status quo. I’m sick of the inane complacency afforded in Canada too. We really can not count on our collectively “dumb-downed” youngsters to do anything effective as they are too sucked into being… well… dumb!

    Anyway… for what it’s worth, I’m with you on your point of view and if the shit hits the proverbial fan in an inevitable next Revolution, I’ll be there – guns-a-blazin’ – on my Arab… in a proper seat… for the right reasons!!!

    Keep riding! George

  2. Thank you! My ten year old is “still” a D1 after 3 years. (That is the beginning level for you non Pony Club people). When she was seven, (and a very unphysical seven at that), I pushed her for a summer (I’m her primary trainer) and she wasn’t ready. My husband stopped me, saying if she wasn’t having fun and enjoying the ride, then I was doing something wrong.

    Four summers later, my kid is starting to jump. She has the same position on different horses and different environments. She’s having fun, and she’s now ready to learn to jump. She just wasn’t there emotionally before. (and she’s not always riding “made” ponies, so that lengthens the process a bit!). I feel like I have to defend my decision to take my time with her to others who ask why she is still a D1.

    As to your question, I’m doing what I can to promote good horsemanship in my sphere of influence thorough always giving the reason why I do things the way I do. I question (nicely!) bad horsemanship when I can (“Why? What’s your purpose?”) And educating my self, of course.

    Inevitable? Possibly. It takes a strong and dedicated individual to adhere to “old-fashioned” values, and policies such as “no texting/cell phones during meetings” aren’t popular.

  3. Hi George,
    Ouch! You certainly have a more colorful description than mine but I can’t disagree. This is the country of time outs instead of spankings, and education is a “sentence” rather than a priviledge. And hey, lets give them all good grades so we don’t hurt their feelings.

    The noisiest part of our society is “here for the party” and “the Obama money.” But while the “you owe me” segment seems huge, I believe there are still kids with work ethic, integrity and an interest in taking the time to acquire real skill. These are the kids we need to find and educate.

    And there are still plenty of us who share the original values that caused the Revolution of which you speak, we’ve just been sleeping. But the alarm has rung and the U.S. is waking up, so keep that Arab saddled up and ready to go. Patriots can only be pushed so far.

    Thanks for your comments. You made me chuckle. And thanks for reading U.S. Horsemanship

  4. Hi Julie,
    A wise husband is always an asset! And I like that your daughter is not always riding “made” horses. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing certain things yourself and a lot of lessons are learned on this path. Pony Club is one of the few places we can teach kids to think and reason about their choices and decisions. The race for the status of the rating teaches how to play the game as opposed to how to become a good horseman.

    You’re right. It takes a strong person. Tradition and doing things the long way are not hot topics among kids. Gee can you imagine one of them with a rotary phone?!!! You’re one of those strong people. Keep up the good work

    Thanks for your comments

  5. I love this piece. I just love it. At 45 years old I am still living the dream and still arguing with the “show’ world. It has gone from Lock (?) hats and Hermes saddles to needles, supplements and any quick fix out there, including riding horses all night to tire them out. Maybe players like me are partly at fault. Instead of hanging in there trying to teach good horsemanship, we gave up, went to office jobs and have kept primarily to ourselves. People say money is a huge driving factor, but I often wonder, if you set your standards in your business at the start, and stick to them, you might end up with the same amount of clients in the end. It is an exhausting business, but doing things right the first time saves time and money in the long run. Make the old new again. Show the kids what is correct, teach them. Most kids are like sponges and we can shape them. It is like good parenting or good business practices, stick to them and your employees or kids will follow suit. We all know sh*t runs down hill. Some how the catalogs and glam attire out weighs a good old arm aching groom or long hand grazes. Both of which your horses will enjoy.
    “Baby whose to say.”

  6. I would like to ad one more thing. Good horsemanship is good for both rider and horse. Things like gymnastics, hacks, safe trail riding, hunting and down time all make for a better team. Let them be horses, remove blankets on a sunny day and roll in the snow. Live. A good seat comes from all different kinds of adventures. Winter is a great time to shake things up while being stuck inside for 4 months. Don’t let it go to waste. Your horses will thank you for it. Keep it fresh.

  7. Hi Jae Jet
    Very well said. You are a person after my own heart. The economy of the horse world can make it very hard to stick to your guns but if we don’t do it we won’t have anything left. Integrity is an awesome quality no matter where you are and sportsmanship is one of the really super assets we can pass along. Fortunately for us the supply of horse loving kids does not run out. We need to be able to give them quality education and examples and get them on the path of love of the sport. We need to get them off the instant gratification/horses are disposable wheel in the hamster cage, or else we need to catch them before they start going ’round and ’round.

    Please hang in there. If we all do our part we can make a huge difference.

    Thanks so much for your comments and for reading U.S. Horsemanship

Comments are closed.

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