Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some Things Never Change

Xenophon's birth date is uncertain, but most scholars agree that he was born around 431 BC near the city of Athens. He is often cited as being the original "horse whisperer", having advocated sympathetic horsemanship in his "Xenophon On Horsemanship." He quotes some guy named Simon as being better then he was with horses, so his technique wasn’t new even then.
Since I’m neglecting you guys so terribly I thought the least I could do is share some of my research I’m doping at the paper.

These are quotes from “Xenophon On Horsemanship” which resonated with me.
I’m going to compare them to Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance’s books….kinda fun huh?
I conveniently ignored the part that said to put a cobblestone floor in your stall to toughen your horses feet and a few other horse keeping techniques which are real head scratchers.
Here’s some of the highlights…..proof positive saying none of us trainer types thought this stuff up. Not even Xenophon.

Xenophon says – “A good deal can be done by touching, stroking, patting those parts of the body which the creature likes to have so handled. These are the hairiest parts, or where, if there is anything annoying him, the horse can least of all apply relief himself.

“-if he knows how to let the animal connect hunger and thirst and the annoyance of flies with solitude, whilst associating food and drink and escape from sources of irritation with the presence of man. As the result of this treatment, necessarily the young horse will acquire--not fondness merely, but an absolute craving for human beings.

“The one best precept--the golden rule--in dealing with a horse is never to approach him angrily. Anger is so devoid of forethought that it will often drive a man to do things which in a calmer mood he willregret.

“This principle, though capable of being stated in a few words, is one which holds good throughout the whole of horsemanship. As, for instance, a horse will more readily take the bit, if each time he accepts it some good befalls him; or, again, he will leap ditches and spring up embankments and perform all the other feats incumbent on him, if he be led to associate obedience to the word of command with relaxation.

“To quote a dictum of Simon, what a horse does under compulsion he does blindly, and his performance is no more beautiful than would be that of a ballet-dancer taught by whip and goad. The performances of horse or man so treated would seem to be displays of clumsy gestures rather than of grace and beauty.

On the contrary, let the horse be taught to be ridden on a loose bridle, and to hold his head high and arch his neck, and you will practically be making him perform the very acts which he himself delights or rather exults in…

“For ourselves, however, far the best method of instruction, as we keep repeating, is to let the horse feel that whatever he does in obedience to the rider's wishes will be followed by some rest and relaxation.

“Whatever the kind of bit may be, the rider must carry out precisely the same rules in using it, as follows, if he wishes to turn out a horse with the qualities described. The horse's mouth is not to be pulled back too harshly so as to make him toss his head aside, nor yet so gently that he will not feel the pressure. But the instant he raises his neck in answer to the pull, give him the bit at once; and so throughout, as we never cease repeating, at every response to your wishes, whenever and wherever the animal performs his service well reward and humor him.”

16 comments:

phaedra96 said...

FIRST!!! Just goes to show horse sense has been passed on from time immemmorial. Wonder what the first men did when they domesticated the horse....

Promise said...

Too freakin' cool. Thanks for sharing!

Justaplainsam said...

Comment from the animal communication post... I read 'year at the races' (or somthing like that by Jane Smiley) And how the communicater in that says "Your horse talks to you every day, you just have to listen" Perhaps thats why the trainers you mentioned let the horse 'talk', some times most of us are too busy talking to really listen.

PS - Lucas is still progressing. I stopped picking on him, he started working better.

Half Dozen Farm said...

My Xenophon book is one of my most treasured books. I love reading it, and find something new to ponder each time I do. It's a must read for every horsaii!
Thanks for the reminder, Mugs. I'm going to pull it out tonight and enjoy it again!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I have Xenophon's book. It's right up there with Complete Training of Horse and Rider by Alois Podhajsky and the Official Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship.

Becky said...

I'm wondering if the "cobblestones" might be because they were not really good about mucking out pee spots, or if the stalls got really muddy during the winter? If you had poor drainage, then keeping the hooves dry with cobblestones might have actually been good advice?

Just a thought.

LOVED this post. Thanks!

Breathe said...

Love it. Weren't we all so much smarter then?

Bif said...

A neat book by Jesse Haas called "Working Trot" has a young man as a working student where they are also expected to spend a certain amount of time each day reading the works of riding masters through the centuries, including Xenophone.

Too bad we can't make people do this (or books on tape if they have reading difficulties) as part of a "license to own" that many of us feel would behoove our hooved friends (civil liberties, not so much).

I remember having countless non-fiction horse books shipped to my local library from the main branch over in my younger years, and even going to the downtown branch for all day on Saturdays to read the books that weren't allowed to circulate.

I think in some respects the best education and development of respect for horses is in NOT owning one but having to do everything you can to learn more about them. I was fortunate to have good horse owners as neighbors growing up, so while I didn't get to ride for the first 5 years, I did get to handle horses on the ground and really understand what it means to care for them.

glenatron said...

You might find something similar to the cobbles advice in discussion of keeping horses barefoot- not actually cobbles as we understand them, but hard standing and surfaces like pea shingle are often recommended for conditioning a horse's feet and encouraging sole growth.

I like Xenophon, I wouldn't say- as I've often heard - that it's all there, but certainly there is a lot of what people need to know and you can tell the guy really understood horses. I mean there really isn't much more needs to be said about the bit than he says there...

Fyyahchild said...

“The one best precept--the golden rule--in dealing with a horse is never to approach him angrily. Anger is so devoid of forethought that it will often drive a man to do things which in a calmer mood he will regret."

Love this line...how many times have we heard this? So true, and would be best applied to everything in life.

Lara said...

Off topic, but it has me wondering if this is where the "Simon Says" comes from...

TBDancer said...

Okay, so I'm on a hunt for a good used copy of Xenophon's book on horsemanship. In fact, I think that's the NAME of the book. I had a copy years and years ago, probably loaned it to someone and it didn't get returned because I have searched everywhere and cannot find it.

When it comes to doing what's right by horses (or anything else, for that matter), it's best to return to the Old Masters.

(And I too wonder if this is where we got "Simon says" ;o)

hwbowen said...

TBDancer, the Xenophon book is available new (or used, if that floats your boat) very cheaply on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

To Flatter and Coax - Xenophon (long frickin' time ago 444-365 BC)
The hand must neither be held so strict as to confine and make the horse uneasy, nor so loosely as not to let him feel it. The moment he obeys and answers it, yield the bridle to him; this will take off the stress and relieve his bars, and is in conformity with that maxim, which should never be forgot, which is to caress and reward him for whatever he does well. The moment that the rider perceives that the horse has begun to place his head, to go lightly in the hand, and with ease and pleasure to himself; he should do nothing that is disagreeable, but flatter and coax, suffer him to rest a while, and do all he can to keep him in a happy temper. This will encourage and prepare him for greater undertakings.
from XENOPHONS'S Treatise on Horsemanship.

Adventures of a Horse Crazed Mind said...

How awesome!! Thanks so much for sharing.

Shadow Rider said...

You can read translations of Xenophon's writings on the Internet Archive, all free to read or download.http://www.archive.org/

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