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Humanship, It should be a word!



dena-kirkpatrick-web-tSeveral months ago I had a discussion with a fellow writer and laughingly said that “humanship” needed to be a word. We use the word “horsemanship” to describe a person’s ability to handle, train, ride and manage horses. However, there isn’t a universal word, like horsemanship, that describes the skill level that a horse either learns or possesses naturally, or that describes a horse’s ability to ‘read’ humans.
As I write these articles and have daily conversations about barrel horses, I am always trying to efficiently describe the level of education that a horse has achieved. I have the same problem when I am teaching. In contrast to referring to horsemanship from the rider’s point of view, describing a horse’s skill level under their rider can prove really frustrating. It takes several words or complete sentences to get the point across, and most times I don’t think it is really explained. This dilemma might not seem so bizarre to me if it weren’t so easy to describe a rider’s skill level. Horsemanship is a very comprehensive term that can be used to describe any part of our talents and skills, both physical and mental, as riders. I feel that horsemanship, like most other words, should have an antonym.
Why wouldn’t Webster’s Dictionary recognize a word that means the horse’s level or ability to read, interact and respond to human direction? So the more I thought about this, the more I decided humanship should be a real word! After all, if Webster can add four letter slang terms and even fiction, movie-born fantasy words such as “Muggle”, which describes a person who lacks magical abilities, from the Harry Potter Series, then surely a word like Humanship should exist!
Ok, seriously does Webster’s’ have a word that would describe the horse’s ability to take direction and understand human beings? Well, the answer is no, they don’t. I find it interesting that we have this void in our language, since it is quite probable that the English language has more words than any other language in the world and man’s relationship with horse has been recorded since the beginning of time. In fact, the survival of the human race has often depended on the horse and man’s relationship to him.
I have put a lot of thought in this and decided to research the concept. My grandmother always says, “there is nothing new under the sun”(Bible Quote Eccl 1:9), and she is right. I am not the first or only one to try and measure in one word how a horse responds to training. You can find several books written by horseman who have referenced “humanship” but all lack a clear meaning or common definition. So I decided to describe what I think ‘humanship’ could mean to barrel racers and other horseman.
Horsemanship vs. Humanship
Horsemanship (hôrs”²mÉ™n s̸hip”²) noun 1. skill in, or the art of, riding, managing, or training horses 2. the skill of riding horses; equitation
Humanship (ˈhyü-mÉ™n s̸hip”²) noun 1. Level of skill a horse has learned from being ridden, managed or trained. 2. the horse’s ability to understand human teaching
Sentence: A horse with good humanship will take to the barrel pattern quick and easily, even with a novice rider.
Horses are as individual as people are, and some are born with innate humanship skills while others are not. Some foals are gifted with a natural understanding, interest and reasoning to humans. Some horses, like people may be super smart but lack what we call common sense. What we call common sense in people could also parallel to a horse’s humanship. Also, horses with good humanship take discipline better than others with poor humanship.
Some horses have better humanship skills than others, just like some people naturally have better horsemanship skills than others. Over all my years of training, I have seen horses bred the same and raised in the same environments, but have very different reactions to training and discipline. For example, we owned a little cow bred mare that was unbelievably sweet. All of her foals, except for one, were just like her, sweet and easy to train. The one that was different was so afraid of humans that we actually never got him halter broke, and his breeding and environment were the exact same as his siblings. I know this is an extreme case, but his ability to understand humans (his “˜humanship’) was the only difference.
It is not as if everyone can’t learn to play a piano, but the ones that are more talented and naturally musically inclined, will rise to the top quicker. Some horses, even if their riders are novice will automatically be successful and seem to just pick up on the barrel pattern much faster than others. It can’t be that they are simply smarter than their stable mates, because exceptionally smart horses can be more difficult to train and season.
These are the reasons I believe humanship should be a word. It has a real basis in our world of performance horses. To me humanship is a measured assessment that I look for, past their obvious intelligence level. For years I have subconsciously measured a horse’s humanship levels when looking for barrel prospects, when trying to help students communicate with their horses, and especially when training my own horses.
Horses can be trained many different ways. We could put them all through the same steps and for the same amount of time, and just like people some will rise to the top and some will not. But I don’t, however, think it is sufficient enough to say one was just smarter than another or just more athletic. We know that even with children we take assessment of their learning tendencies to great lengths, calling some gifted and adjust their curriculum accordingly. I believe we should take analyzing our horse’s minds one step further and identify their humanship levels. If we can establish their breeding, intelligence and finally humanship, we could adapt our horsemanship accordingly and give them an even better chance at a successful career in the barrel pattern.

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