Western Traditional Horsemanship

Thinking Horsemen, exchanging Feel, expressing Naturalness, pursuing Unity.
What is the Scholae Artis Equestris I hear you think. Literally translated, it means the schools of the knightly arts or the schools of the equestrian arts. It is an institute and project interested to study, reconstruct, teach and advocate Western Traditional Horsemanship
Western Traditional Horsemanship comprises all forms of horsemanship that emerged in western societies before the modern period which started in the 19th century. It entails  the knightly Medieval Horsemanship, the Traditional Dressage of the ancient masters, the Iberian Jennet Riding and the Vaquero Horsemanship that emerged in the Americas.
Although  this might appear as an eclectic gathering of methodologies, these forms of horsemanship have more in common than you think. They are not only historically related, have many aspects in common or are highly compatible with one another. More importantly, they share a common goal: establishing a Unity between horse and rider by using an adapative and organic methodology that relied on principles rather than rules to establish qualities rather than external forms.
In essence, the Western Traditional Horsemanship can be characterized by four words:
  • Pursuing Unity: This is the highest goal pursued by Western Traditional Horsemanship. Although traditional horsemen such as knights, noblemen or vaqueros had different uses for their horses, they all required horses to carry out a wide variety of tasks under variable circumstances. Hence, they envisioned a horsemanship that allowed them to move their horses as if they would move their own bodies. In other words, they pursued a physical unity which in turn required a mental unity.

    This central tenet of of Western Traditional Horsemanship has not become less relevant nowadays - rather to the contrary - and the wisdom amassed in past centuries may prove more than helpful to improve our modern horse world an to accommodate the changing needs of modern riders. After all, every rider dreams of riding a horse that feels in perfect harmony with him- or herself. The only thing separating one type of rider from the other is how they desire that unity to be manifested.

  •  Expressing Naturalness: Natural Horsemanship has become a household term in modern day equitation. But it serves well to remind that the first natural horsemen emerging in the eighties did not invent a revolutionary new form of horsemanship. They were simply inspired by a very traditional form of horsemanship, Vaquero Horsemanship, in which they found answers for the problems of the modern horse world. For most part, Natural Horsemanship builds further on the buckaroo style of Vaquero Horsemanship as instructed by Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, mostly focusing on the mental aspects of the teachings of these buckaroo masters.

    What is more, the ideal of a naturalness expressed in the combination of a horse and a human is far from new. In the early sixteenth century, Baldassare Castiglione already launched the term sprezzature, which can be literally translated as 'naturalness', as the central feature of a nobleman. A quality that in his mind was best learned and expressed on horseback. The naturalness he was talking about implied that the horse and rider expressed a natural unity, meaning that the horse was physically trained to move untroubled by his rider and, more importantly, that they were both connected through a communication that so light it could barely be noticed.

    Although the term 'naturalness' was rarely transmitted in later traditions of horsemanship, its underlying idea was all the more prevalent. In much the same way, the masters of the French riding academies upheld grace as their highest goal and often used the image of the centaur to symbolize that grace which expressed the same sense of natural unity. This concept was likewise present in Jennet Riding by terms as pulchritude, accentuating the beauty conveyed by such a natural unity. It is therefore no wonder that also later bukcaroo masters as Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman adopted words as 'harmony','unity' or 'a dance' to express essentially the same idea, a concept which was subsequently recognized as 'natural' by one of the founding fathers of Natural Horsemanship Pat Parelli.

    Today, many enthusiasts of Natural Horsemanship often misinterpret the original meaning of this word 'natural' as the desire to ride horses in a way that  appears to be as close to their natural condition as possible. In this way, also the innovative trend of Natural Horsemanship is at risk of focusing more on external forms, stressing bitless or bareback riding, rather than stressing the original qualities of trust and communication. Furthermore, the most essential reality that riding horses is intrinsically unnatural, meaning that there are no natural preconditions in neither human nor horse to accommodate the one riding the other, is being ignored. That does not mean that a 'naturalness', as a term perhaps more preferable than the term 'natural', cannot be pursued in the interaction between both. However this naturalness will not emerge on its own, it is the reward of an intensive and profound training of both horse and rider. A training that targets the horse as a whole, focusing both on his mental and physical dimension and paying particular attention on establishing a light and complex establcommunication between horse and man. A training training that does not try to claim that that  equitation can be can be natural for the horse, but thatthat hopes to transcend the natural states of al alal both horse and man in a an organic unity that thatthat expresses naturalness. h e   a ut pay
  • Exchanging Feel: Central within the the idea of expressing 'naturalness' is the connection between the horse and the rider. It envisions a communication that is light, refined and complex. Ideally, the rider can move his horse by a slight sensation in his seat. It comes down to what Buck Brannaman would call 'an exchange of feels'. A horseman that correctly feels the entire mental and physical state of his horse at any given time, acts correctly upon that feel by returning a feel to his horse, on which the horse operate with the approriate action.

    This exchange of feels entails therefore the driving qualities of all horsemanship performed by the scholae: feel and measure on part of the horseman and connection on part of the horse. Certainly other qualities such as establishing confidence and obedience in horses or more physical qualities as impulsion, straightness or collection are an integral part of the scholae program, but it is important to bear in mind that none of these qualities can be trained without the ability to direct the horse. Therefore, all horse training will be limited by the degree the horseman is able to communicate with his horse. In its most perfected state, such a communication is light, refined and complex, in other words, an exchange of feel.

  • Thinking Horsemen: Feel stands central within the Scholae, but for the Scholae the notion of Feel is not something mysterious or vague. Too often conceptions of Feel and, by extension, horsemanship in general are represented as something incomprehensible to the human mind, something that cannot be explained. It is almost viewed as something cosmic or radiant by one, or applied to provoke fuzzy and radiant feelings by the other. Although such representations appear to satisfy certain very human emotional desires that have arisen in the horse world of the past decades, Feel has lost its true substance while becoming more of a feel-good self-legitimating notion on part of the human, whether student or instructor.

    The Scholae refutes such conceptualisations of Feel or horsemanship in general for that matter, mainly because they  assume that humans have an inborn talent to 'feel' their horses correctly, that is to perceive and correctly interpret the horse's entire mental and physical state. Surely, when formulated out-loud such an assumption seems to border on the insane. After all, horses and humans are two very different species for which natural evolution has provided no traits to interact so closely as envisioned by horsemanship. The human inborn 'Feel' of the horse is therefore a very human, but often fallible, interpretation of the horse.

    Does this mean that humans cannot feel horses? Of course not? But the only way to achieve such a feel, that means to correctly interpret the perceptions we get from our horses, is by coming to terms with the reality of the horse and subsequently how we can influence that reality. Luckily, humans have extraordinary minds and the reality of the horse, though complex, does not fall beyond the limits of human reasoning.

    Therefore, the scholae adopts the concept formulated by the most important chief rider and director of the Spanish Riding School Max Ritter von Weyrother, that of the thinking horseman. A concept  that has characterized the many ancient masters of Traditional Dressage who preceded him as well. This view upholds that a good horseman can only truly understand and feel his horse, when he is prepared to step beyond the boundaries of the human perspective and instruct himself in the actual reality of the horse and how he can influence it. Gaining such an insight in the horse leads to a true understanding and correct Feel of the horse as what he is, a horse, and avoids the unjust projection of human desires and emotions onto the horse.

    This does not mean that the Scholae considers theory more important than practice. Rather, the scholae views theory and practice not as oppositions but as conditional to one another. Practice can only be good if it is guided by theoretical insight in the real horse which is applied in qualities as Feel and Measure. On the other hand, theory without practice is meaningless and untested, it is nothing more than a phantom of the mind.d. dand , aningtheorn the