A recent discussion on social media got me thinking (dangerous thing that!) over the lack of horsemanship knowledge in general within the current equestrian community.
I am lucky in that I had an excellent Pony Club upbringing going through my exams including my AH (now A care). Through ponies and then on to horses having experience of pretty much every discipline I have learnt a lot through osmosis, soaking up whatever resources/people I have had access to, to improve my horsemanship skills be it from saddle fitting to spotting a lameness. BUT I know that I know a fraction of what there is to know and am always discovering new things. As I like to say every day is a school day!! But an awful lot of people don’t get those opportunities and have to rely on others be they friends or professionals to support them where their knowledge is lacking. To a degree there is nothing wrong with this, if everyone knew everything there is to know about horses the majority of professionals would be out of a job.
My thoughts though centre more about whether there is a hole in essential horsemanship knowledge? If you are going to own a horse you should have a basic degree of horsemanship. You should know what to feed it and perhaps more importantly what not (poisonous trees, horse sick fields etc), basic tack fitting and use, including knowing the fundamentals of the bit you put in the horse’s mouth and most importantly basic health care including spotting a mildly lame horse.
I think that final point is a bugbear for me. I regularly see mildly lame horses out competing. To be fair some older horses can have a degree of permanent minor unlevelness due to arthritis or similar but be happy in their job and as long as their work level is appropriate it isn’t an issue. Often though I see horses notably unlevel commonly bilaterally and the riders seem to be clueless. I have written for numerous judges who have had to be creative with their comments when a horse was unlevel but not quite unlevel enough to pull up and eliminate the combination. If they are not confident enough to say it is outright lame which can be hard on a surface they can be torn as to whether to halt the test and if only showing unlevelness occasionally such as in circles or in corners they will tend to give the rider the benefit of the doubt.
My thoughts then travel to how can this hole in knowledge be filled? Yes the BHS offer their exams but with them being aimed at those looking to teach or work in the equine industry they are bypassed by the average amateur rider. This leaves very limited options for the average rider and infact I struggle to think of options for them other than to find a willing instructor/trainer/knowledgeable horse person who is willing to take the time to pass on their knowledge and at this point they would be reliant on that person actually having a good level of knowledge as a scary number of so called professionals lack knowledge themselves.
Riding clubs do often run informative evening talks, (I know mine does) which can be a fantastic way to gain knowledge on a particular subject but a few a year on a couple of subjects will only allow for a slow expansion of a rider’s horsemanship.
There is never anything to be embarrassed about by admitting you don’t know the answer or don’t know how or why to do something the key though is knowing who or where to ask. The internet has become filled with experts unfortunately many are not. A quick question on a Facebook group could leave you within minutes with 10 different answers, potentially not one of them correct. Worse still those 10 people answering may all sound utterly convinced of their accuracy and you have no way to tell them apart right from wrong. I often find that those who know the most are those sadly least likely to answer as they often are overlooked by the ones who shout and spout!! The internet and more particular discussion forums are dangerous places for garnering knowledge, but are easy and convenient especially for those that don’t want to take the time or money to ask a professional or find and read the relevant book (rule book or otherwise!). Take every answer with a large pinch of salt and research afterwards to confirm validity.
After saying the internet is such a bad place, it is actually also now one of the best as long as you read wisely. Some of the worlds best horse people regularly write articles on a whole plethora of subjects. Never mind instant access to rule books and downloadable ebooks. We try and share articles on e-Venting’s Facebook page that we believe are worth the read, so keep watch and bookmark the sites we share for further content.
So I end asking are there any courses/exams I don’t know about out there? If so let me (and the rest of our readers) know. The best way to increase knowledge is always exposure to the best in the business, identifying the opportunities to gain that exposure is where difficulties can lie but with shared access to these resources we can help better educate the equestrian community.