Whether it be reining or cutting, dressage or jumping, the fundamentals of all riding disciplines begin on the ground level, and this past weekend youngsters of the 4-H Saddle Tramps Club of Dawson Creek got a taste of the basics from one of the region’s masters of horsemanship.
Glenn Stewart, a Fort St. John native with over 25 years of experience handling and training horses and riders, instructed a two-day clinic at the Lakota Centre guiding students on the ‘tricks of the trade’ from the ground up.
“On the ground there is four [skills], there is on line, which is what we did this weekend,” said Stewart on Sunday. “We stayed on the ground with lines and halters on our horses to see if we could get their hind quarters to move and their front ends to move.”
Stewart knows a thing or two about horses. He is a decorated western rider, having won the Calgary Stampede’s Extreme Cowboy Up Challenge in 2010, and is trained as a Parelli Professional – a premiere school for horse training and horsemanship.
Stewart and his wife, Dixie, instruct clinics regularly across Canada, the United States and in Brazil, and host month-long camps at their ranch in the summer.
“I call it horsemanship, or natural horsemanship, which means the same to me but it’s just about understanding the horse a little bit more and having control of the horses speed and what it thinks – you can see what’s going to happen before it happens,” explains Stewart.
He says horsemanship begins with breaking in the rider – not so much the horse.
“Even though some of them might have been riding for ten years, they might not have any ground skills,” says Stewart. “There are habits that we have to break – it’s easy to teach the horse – it’s getting the [riders] to overcome tendencies they are born with that get in the way of training the horse.”
He explains that proper horsemanship can get as technical as holding the lead rope too tight or too loose.
“What I’m trying to teach is that there is four areas to learn – it’s not all about in the saddle, not all on the ground – there are different areas that have to be learned,” adds Stewart. “You have to walk before you can run.”
“The exercises are designed to not only get the horse better but designed to give the people the skills they don’t have – or break the habits they do have – that will really serve them well with their horse.”
Mastering horsemanship allows any rider to literally hit the ground running.
“It doesn’t matter the clothing, what you wear, how you dress your horse up, or what breed he is, horsemanship covers all disciplines, and the better you understand how the horses think, and how they operate, the discipline is not a challenge,” says Stewart. “If I can get my horse to do this or go there, and he is mentally stable to do it, then it’s no big deal.”