|Common Sense Horsemanship|
"A horse is a thing of beauty... none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor." ~ Xenophon circa 360 BC
Clinicians Bern and Kay Miller are traversing the panhandle of Nebraska sharing a common sense approach to horse care with all who will listen. Their well-received demonstrations about Warrior Horsemanship are a fascinating blend of art, history and natural horsemanship. A reconnection with nature is the most important aspect of their philosophy and the principles discussed apply not only to the equine but also humanity.
"The natural horse clinicians, they're all into working with horses in a natural kind of way: bitless riding, bridleless riding, a lot of ground work, liberty work - where you put the horse at liberty without a rope on him. They believe we need to get back into natural principles." ~ Bern Miller
A central theme running through the movement is the assertion that teaching through pain and fear do not result in a symbiotic relationship that satisfies both horse and teacher. The kinder, gentler handling techniques are in direct opposition to the cowboy tradition of the American west. The harsher methods used by bronco-busters often obtain faster but less gratifying results. The naturalists believe it's better to have minimal rein contact with the horses mouth and they consider bridleless work the pinnacle of their training.
"I started seeing these clinics, and I noticed there were a lot of really, really outstanding horsemen - very very good. But, I noticed something was lacking. That was they didn't have a very good knowledge of their history or their horse history." ~ Bern Miller
The truth is - the idea of working in harmony with a horse in order to obtain cooperation is not new. Hippike (On Horsemanship) is an ancient text written in 360 BC by the Greek cavalry officer Xenophon. The manual provides detailed information on the subject of training war horses and amongst other points emphasizes praise over punishment. His ideas on horse management and training are still influential today. The discipline of dressage can trace its origins back to Xenophon and his cavalry training methods which required horses to be both obedient and maneuverable.
"I think it's important for people to know how these things evolved. What we call Western reining evolved from dressage. Dressage evolved from warfare. And so what we think as a show thing now is actually an item of war." ~ Bern Miller
The first use of horses in warfare occurred over 5,000 years ago. Since the reign of Assyrian rulers until the second World War, an army's ability to command horses has often been the deciding factor in the outcome of war. The flexibility, size and shock effect of a charging cavalry transformed Eurasian tribes into some of the most unstoppable military forces the world has ever known. Muslim warriors, Mongols and the European armored knight used the horse's tremendous bulk and speed to intimidate and instill fear in the enemy.
"We try to make it fun for the horse, and natural. I'll go out in the hills and work my horse on circles, or find a cow and push it around in a circle. Don't drill them; work out on the trail and out on the pasture and get them doing natural things. Make something have a purpose. That's why I like mounted archery because I can do circles with a purpose. Pretty soon the horse, he likes that." ~ Bern Miller
One thing horses don't like is the noise, smell of blood, and confusion of a gory battlefield. Intense training was required to help the horse overcome its natural instinct to get the hell out of that awful scene. In most cultures, a war horse was trained to respond primarily to the rider's legs and weight shift. Developing balance and agility was crucial because a horse was more than just transport for their masters. They became powerful weapons in battle as they were taught to kick, strike and even bite both human and equine foes.
Miller's clinics include a unique mix of the warrior horsemanship and a natural riding style. "We're starting to get people interested in what we're doing simply because they see we're doing different things than anybody else is doing. We can teach mounted archery, the sport of liberty, groundwork, English riding and more." ~ Bern Miller
During this digital age, the world has become much smaller. People can connect internationally with a single touch of the keypad. There seems to be an insane lust for speed, technology and profit. Despite the demands of a modern lifestyle, we must continue to search for a healthy balance between the artificial and the organic. Working with an animal naturally can therapeutically restore your sanity. It requires patience, trust and sympathy. There is no shortcut home.
Those who would like to attend a clinic or want more information on Common Sense Horsemanship can call (308) 262-0181. Miller has an indoor facility and rides all year long. Individuals can also check out the Facebook page, Bern's Riding Shack, for photos and more info.
|Natural horsemanship is kinder and gentler|
|Western Nebraska has a cowboy tradition|
|Working in harmony with a horse|
|"A horse is a thing of beauty..."|
|Horses respond to a rider's legs and weight shift|
|"We try to make it fun for the horse"|
|A blend of art, history and horsemanship|
|Riding bridleless is the pinnacle of training|
|There is no shortcut home|