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Let’s Talk Horsemanship, with Richard Winters



richard and studentWhen I can, I am always anxious to help young people as they pursue their passion and education in horsemanship. Recently a young college student of equine studies asked for my help in regard to her research project. I believe that some of our correspondence could of interest to you as well.

The following is a list of questions I was asked along with my responses.

Q How long now have you been working with horses?
A I have worked professionally with horses for over 30 years.

Q What inspired you to use these methods of working with horses?
A As a young man I had the opportunity to work for a horseman who introduced me to the higher levels of horsemanship. It was at that time, in 1980, in which I realized that horseback riding and horsemanship are two very different things. Horseback riding can be simply mechanical. Horsemanship is an art. It is a craft that can be studied for a lifetime.

Q My love of horses is foreign to my parents; there is no history of horses in their families. I would be interested to know where your passion for horses started and is it still as strong today?
A My situation is similar. No one in my family was involved with horses. My parents knew nothing about horses or the industry. I have one sister and she had no interest in horses. Ever since I was a little boy, all I wanted to be was a cowboy. I never wanted to be a fireman or policeman. It seems like this is a passion and interest that you are either born with, or you are not. My interest is just as strong today as it was when I was a little boy.

Q My horse, Texas, works in a bitless bridle and an English saddle ““ are there any tips that would make a difference?
A Good horsemanship is universal. It really makes no difference whether you are an English rider or Western rider. All horses still learn in the same manner. Whether you ride in a snaffle bit, hackamore or a bitless bridle the principles of training are the same. Your horse needs to learn how to yield to pressure rather than resist. That’s why our feel, timing and balance is so important. We are trying to condition our horse to follow the feel much like a dancing partner follows the leader. It is important to remember that horses do not respond to the pressure that we apply. Rather, they respond to the release of pressure. A rider needs to be aware that it makes a difference every time you pick up on a rein. And it makes a difference every time you release.

Richard Winter Fencework


Q Unfortunately I cannot work with Texas daily, But I am there 3-4 times a week. What should I notice in the first hour or what should I see to acknowledge I am making progress?
A You are the leader. You are the one who must have confidence in every situation. Horses are prey animals. Their instincts tell them to be perceptive and aware of any kind of changes in people, places or things. Some horses are born more laid-back. Others are born with a more fractious nature. Just like people have different temperaments. Ultimately, you want to teach your horse to have more confidence in your leadership than the fear he has of things around him. Some riders often inflate situations. In other words, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. It is your job as the leader to make a molehill out of your horses perceived mountain.

Q Would you recommend a time limit for each session I spend with Texas, i.e. an hour, less or more?

A Five minutes of the wrong this is too much. Three hours of the right thing could be just fine. That is why you cannot put specific time frames on training. Horses are learning from the moment they wake up until the moment you take off their halter and walk away. Twenty minutes of productive training could be more than enough for that day. Tomorrow, a three-hour trail ride could be just right.

Q Watching your DVD’s, it is clear that one of the keys to training a horse in our situation is repeating exercises over and over again until they understand the principle of “˜right things easy, wrong things difficult’. We have been advised to undertake training exercises (i.e. the Desensitizing with Flags’) before riding. Will this make the horse lose focus when I do something different, i.e. will he be more focused on the training exercise rather then the riding?

A Your question refers to groundwork before riding. This can be a very important step in the training process. Much like a pilot goes through a preflight checklist before taking off. Preparing your horse mentally, physically and emotionally before getting on can be very valuable. Many people have gotten hurt because they’ve gotten on their horse prematurely, before the horse was mentally and physically warmed up. Not all horses need extensive groundwork before riding. However, many valuable lessons can be taught from the ground that will help you be more successful when riding. Everything should be done in a balanced manner. Although groundwork can be very good, there is no substitute for riding. At some point we need to get on and be the confident leader our horse need us to be.


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