Are You a Horseman? Ten Points to Consider

By Tori Bilas and Jackie McFarland

When you hear the word “horseman,” what comes to mind? And what does it take to truly be one? 

With decades of experience and success in the hunter/jumper industry, Traci Brooks and Carleton Brooks (“CB”) Balmoral decided to take this topic to a new level. When we were all homebound during the pandemic, Traci and CB were busy putting their thoughts and knowledge down on paper. And a little over two years later they are ready to release their book, With Purpose: The Balmoral Standard. The focus? The importance of being a horseman and how to truly achieve it.

Amateur rider and knowledgeable horseman Phoebe Weseley has observed that there are many more riders than horsemen in our sport today. Wanting to take action, she joined forces with Traci and CB to offer a one-of-a-kind boutique clinic called Rider to Horseman at Weseley’s River Run Farm in Wellington, FL, on December 10 and 11 of this year. The journey of cultivating more horsemen in the sport is underway. 

Tapping into their mindset, we gathered the following…

10 Points a Horseman Considers Every Day

1. Insist that well-being is always #1. 

CB: Horsemen care for the well-being of the animal first. There are a multitude of decisions to make for each horse every single day. Decisions that make their lives better. Every day. It’s crucial to think about every situation from the perspective of what’s best for the horse. They can’t tell us with words, so we have to see, ‘listen’ and feel what’s right.

2.  Consider your  horse’s purpose. 

Weseley: Ultimately, a horse will tell you their purpose, even when they may not know the answer themself. The thing that really makes a horseman is putting the horse first. The horse’s well-being should always be our North Star. That’s hard. It takes a certain amount of knowledge, a certain amount of observation, a certain amount of spending time with your horse, thinking about what your horse does, and maybe why the horse does it.

CB: Every horse has a purpose. A horseman will guide them to their purpose. Along with their well-being, we make decisions to help them understand their job, and ways to help them do their jobs better.

Traci Brooks: A big part of what we want to get across—in the book and in the clinic—is for riders to learn a sense of purpose and do all things with that purpose. Not just follow along without thinking about ‘why.’

3.  Seek to understand The Why.

Traci and CB: The starting point is to ask ourselves ‘Why?’ with every decision related to our horses. 

‘Why do I ride in this bit?’ ‘Why is my horse shod in a certain way?’ ‘Why does my horse prefer one direction?’ There are always questions. We cannot be content with the status quo. Continue to ask why and how we can make it better, daily. 

Being a horseman is thinking about different ways to get the answers. There is no one-size-fits-all, and we must continually examine why something is or is not working because we are always learning. Be creative!

4. Find purpose in your ride. 

Traci: If you don’t have a clear picture in your mind of what you’re trying to achieve, how can your horse understand? Create a roadmap in your mind with small attainable goals.  String those together and you will naturally create progress. Identify micro goals that might happen during your ride or lesson. Consider if you’re not training, you’re un-training. If you’re not sure, stop. Try again the next day.

Ask yourself or your trainer, ‘What is the purpose of this ride and what am I trying to accomplish?’ It may be as easy as ‘going straight.’ What are the stepping stones to achieve that?

Note the steps might not all go exactly as planned. That flexibility of knowing when to deviate to achieve a goal is part of being a horseman. 

5.  Try to understand the horse’s POV. 

CB: Knowingly or unknowingly, most people want the horse to see things from their perspective. But a great horseman makes every attempt possible to see it from the horse’s viewpoint—see through the horse’s eyes and try to think of it as a horse would see and feel it, and respond accordingly.

Traci: Being a horseman is recognizing the uniqueness and individuality of each horse. A horseman seeks to understand how that horse best learns. They can ‘get inside’ the mind and emotion of the horse and be empathetic, and then communicate in a language that the horse understands. 

6. Be flexible with your communication.

Traci: In order to get desired results, you have to know what makes your horse tick and that may vary on any given day. 

Have boundaries, but don’t be too rigid with them. Sometimes those boundaries have to be a little elastic. When the horse isn’t on board, instead of fighting to fit into your boundary, try to go along and then ‘suggest.’ It’s a conversation versus a demand. There’s give and take, but it’s always best if it’s the horse’s idea!

7. Continuously improve. Keep learning.

CB: A horseman works to improve whatever they’ve already accomplished with the horse. There is always something to work on. Not demanding more of the horse, but improving and fine-tuning it. Horsemanship is always striving for more yet balancing that with what is best for the horse.

Weseley: Amateurs and professionals, all of us, need to think independently about our horses.

What do you feel? What do you observe? Think carefully through issues and problems when they occur. What is the horse ‘saying’? Listen to advice from experts—vets, farriers, trainers—but also consider what you think is in the best interest of the horse. Once again, the horse’s well-being is your North Star. 

8. Check your attitude. Think positively.

Traci: Your attitude—if you’re irritated, annoyed or anxious—is going to be reflected in the ride. It takes a lot of self-discipline, but if you can breathe and shift negative feelings into attainable micro goals, that is being a horseman. Horsemanship requires self-control and managing your own emotions.

9. Embrace and enjoy the journey. 

Weseley: Part of being a horseman is being long-term oriented with your horse. Think about the whole journey instead of just the next horse show, winning the class, or being champion. It’s important to pay attention to the process every day and not just your results in the show ring. It’s a journey you are on with your horse. The winning comes in many forms, and not always a blue ribbon.  

That said, with deter-mination, hard work, and education, you can achieve a lot of competition goals while prioritizing horsemanship. That’s something I’d like people to take away from the clinic. 

10. Be a thinker. Have an open mind.  

Weseley: I would like riders to leave the clinic thinking about how to be a better horseman, which changes your perspective. To not only learn, but to think about the how, the why, and perhaps consider what can change for the better. 

Traci talked about coming with an open mind. And I think that’s very important because they’re going to shift perspectives in this setting. I’m hoping we flip the horsemanship switch for everybody who attends. 

*This story was originally published in the October/November 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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