Equestrian Life
Bridging the gap with Ken Faulkner

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Ken Faulkner. © Ken Faulkner

 © Ken Faulkner


Ask a Dressage rider what they have in common with someone in a cowboy hat in a Western competition and where the disciplines may cross and they will probably look at you strangely. But, ask the same question of one of the leading exponents of natural horsemanship and he will say the links lie in what we learn from each other and most importantly, how we treat and train the horse.


When I was asked to write about bridging the gap between Dressage, natural horsemanship and Western riding, my first thought was …why?

But then, I got to thinking about what defines each discipline. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of each, how has each one evolved from its early form to now and how does society impact on each discipline?  What similarities do they have in common?
What follows are only the thoughts of a horseman who has dabbled a little in as many disciplines and sports as possible in order to advance my overall knowledge in an attempt to earn the right to call myself a horseman, rather than being a single event competitor. So, I am thinking about each discipline in an attempt to find a conclusion, or at least to lead me to more questions.
When I think about Dressage - a word that literally means horse training - I automatically think of the English style of riding.  I think of Dressage as a competition, of the English hack and of the many other versions of this style of riding. I think of the unique and largely complementary dress code and the different types of English saddle - showing different seats and balances to complement the discipline. I wonder how and whether the plethora of different seats and thigh pads help or hinder the balance and movement of the body.
I think with wonder and a little concern at the huge difference between classical Dressage, so-called modern Dressage and now competitive Dressage. But, whatever we think of the differences shouldn’t we all agree that the passion should be evident by the softness, the pleasure and the ease of communication between the horse and rider? And, isn’t it  a joy to watch a ride - any ride - that doesn’t look like mental, emotional and physical warfare between the horse and the rider.


Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD. © FEI/Liz Gregg

Dressage stars Isabell Werth and Weihegold.

© FEI/Liz Gregg

Now we can see a new player on the block, “Cowboy Dressage”. It is ridden in western costume and displays both English and Western manoeuvres. Because the increments of the task – but not the whole task - is trained, it is making this discipline very popular.  It seems to me that the further we get away from the master the more diluted the message, which opens us up to a lot of individual interpretations. So, we now see many different styles of the same Dressage. Some are good and some not so complementary. But, we have a choice.
When I think about the discipline called natural horsemanship, I remember when the term was coined. It was a way to encourage people to study the innate characteristics and psychology of the horse as a prey animal. I was fortunate to meet and learn from some of the originators of this movement. They were inspirational, thoughtful people whose horses had purpose. I wonder how similar these men would have been to the old English masters?  I think modern society, with its demands for a softer, more thinking, agreeable style of life that is looking for partnership, has made it possible to embrace natural horsemanship within any discipline. I have heard it called rope twirling, or airy fairy. In some cases that has been said for a good reason. But, this style of horsemanship has now been around long enough for people to be able to choose the type of natural horsemanship that suits them as well as the style of teacher that fits best.  Because of the different aspects of study (liberty, online, freestyle and collected riding) it makes  natural horsemanship attractive to people who like to cross train.
As with English riding, natural horsemanship and Western riding alike, I wonder why some people - both men and women - have to look and act like bullies while addressing their horses. I don’t think horses eat meat, so we don’t have to train them like they are tigers.
Western riding, like Dressage has a lot of different aspects of riding rather than being lumped under one heading or description. Yes, the dress code is uniquely western, with the cowboy hats and boots. The saddle is Western, but it comes in a lot of different styles - Pleasure, Cutting, Reining and the Wade saddle.

And, because reining is sometimes called Western Dressage, I wonder if that explains why we see so much roll cur and horses that hide from the bit at a reining show? After watching a well-ridden horse, they sure are easy to spot.
I guess we have all seen well-ridden horses and poorly ridden ones at all disciplines shows. But, one thing common to them all is that most are doing their best within the guidelines of their discipline and with the education available to them.

Personally, I tend to use a lot of classical training techniques as well as the so-called natural principles to train my horses. I do the Dressage, reining, roping and cattle work as well as the bridle-less riding that my wife and I like. I have noticed that when your horse gets more advanced in your chosen field, if the chosen style of foundation training is good then you won’t see much difference between well-trained horses.  Lets face it, all disciplines at a high level are looking for a horse that is flexible, soft in your hands and soft off your legs and emotionally well-balanced enough to handle competition pressure.  Isn’t it interesting that a well trained horse is usually quiet, but a (I use the word loosely) “quiet” horse is not always well-trained. I wonder at the definition of quiet. Maybe lazy is a better word.
From my experience, most riding styles use the same basic principles. If they are not used, I think it is the fault of the individual who is usually trying to cut corners. I like to think that if I changed my discipline ‘hat’ I could do a fair to good job with my horse in any discipline.

I also think it’s healthy for your horse and the horse industry to be a multi-event rider and it will help us see more points of view and appreciate the good aspects. The masters of all the fields believed that by understanding bio-mechanics and physics you should be able to ride without any contraction or brace in the horse.

Let your horse keep its dignity and good luck with your endeavours.

For further information: www.australiannaturalhorsemanship.com
About the author:

Ken Faulkner has been involved with horses from a very early age and was starting horses from the age of 15. His horsemanship has ranged from rodeo, breeding, training and showing. Ken then studied for 10 years with leading exponents of natural horsemanship in the United States. He brought his knowledge back to Australia and has been running courses and training using this method since. His expertise has taken him to New Zealand, the United Kingdom and more recently, Japan. At the Australian Natural Horsemanship Study Centre, you can learn young horse starting and find solutions for problem horses. 










© copyright. Equestrian Life. Wednesday, 26 January 2022