Student Reflections on the College’s Horsemanship Program

“When Virgil calls Messapus a ‘tamer of horses,’ he is telling us much more than just that Messapus has a particular skill in a high degree; he is saying something about his character: that he is self-controlled, balanced, and generally strong in the cardinal virtues. Horsemanship has shown me how older cultures that . . . depended on horsemanship for everyday life had a built in education in virtue that most people in our culture lack. They lived in a reality that they could not deny or manipulate.”

“When I read Book 5 of the Aeneid, which told of young Iulus and his comrades performing their own quadrille for the men of Troy[,] I knew exactly what those boys were doing and felt much more in touch with the book in that moment than in other parts. . . . Knowing the emotions and thoughts that someone thousands of years ago was feeling and thinking made those characters much more human and relatable.”

“Horsemanship has given me an understanding of why epic poets such as Homer and Virgil make it a point to say a certain man was a breaker of horses or a good horseman. In order to successfully communicate and work with horses, one must be virtuous – patient, clear, perceptive, perseverent. That a man can be called a good horseman is a simple phrase which can reveal a lot about the character of the man himself and not just the work he does.”

“Over and over I’ve been reminded of Plato’s Republic and the philosopher king and the idea of justice. Justice first to the horse, in what you expect of him and how you respond to what he does. The Greek idea of leadership, of using the higher knowledge you have to protect and preserve the people under you, has really come alive to me in a way it hadn’t in any outdoor trips. But almost more importantly I’ve struggled with the concept of justice towards myself. Working with an animal who will give me instant feedback but never hold a grudge has been kind of mind-blowing, since I feel like I do neither of these things with anyone, but especially myself. That straightforward, clear-sighted simplicity reminds me of the philosopher king, the only one who isn’t afraid to look at things (including himself!) as they really are, in the light of truth, with nothing hidden.”

“Horsemanship has . . . helped me to clearly see the similarities and differences between sensitive and rational souls, which we’ve been learning about in PHL, and the relationships between God, man, and creation which we’ve been touching on in THL.”

“There is no formula for how to address a particular situation but a variety of tools that can be added to your ‘tool kit.’ [Horsemanship] reminds me of an early dialogue in which Socrates states that you can’t use the same method to teach every person. They each have a unique character and a teacher has to learn how to recognize different souls and what works best for them.”

“Towards the beginning of the semester . . . we were just getting into all the attributes of God. I had no place mentally ‘put’ such a being whose essence was infinite, had no parts, was not created, etc. Yet this ‘person’ is my God & so I . . . [needed] to have a relationship with this Being while at the same time not being able to comprehend Him or what a relationship with Him looks like. I experienced a very similar thing with horsemanship. . . . I had no place in my mind to put horses as well as no idea what a relationship with one would look like. And yet I had to have one. It . . . helped me realize that it was just something I had to do and could do (as horsemanship showed me) even though I didn’t yet mentally understand or might never.”

“Especially in math and horsemanship I’ve been learning how to correct mistakes immediately when they occur and to have the patience and perseverance necessary to problem-solve. This mode of thinking has also helped me in all of my other classes by pushing myself to not settle for a plausible answer but to keep working until I find the best answer.”

“I have thought . . . how the [horsemanship] class reflects the idea of the school (i.e., freshman year you have a lot of guidance/you are building the foundation to be more free senior year). . . . We started the semester needing help and creating a foundation on which we are able at the end to do a quadrille. Horsemanship supplements the outdoor program and the curriculum nicely because unlike those two things, we are receiving constant feedback which triggers self-reflection.”

“How do you lead a horse if you do not have a clear idea of where you want to go, and what you want to accomplish? The answer is, you don’t. What is most likely to come of this situation is a falling prey to the whims and desires of your horse – inevitably leading to a loss of control in the rider, mounting frustration, and confusion in the horse. You cannot ride without self-discipline, and a resolve to follow-through. I think experiencing this with my horse this semester was incredibly beneficial in revealing a lack of these things in myself. I discovered that I often relinquished control and gave in to Moonshine’s whims because I could not give him clear direction – I did not have any within myself. …I’ve discovered a strange lack of self-discipline and direction in myself in other areas of my life – academic and spiritual – that I don’t think I would have realized without Moonshine’s help. There is an ever-present tension in and between what is prudent and what is comfortable/easy. In being put in a position of responsibility and authority over an animal who is only happy to test my boundaries … I have learned a lot about recognizing my own will and how to stand firm and resolute in it. I have learned more about the difference between passive/active education – and ran into the hard truth that it is impossible to really learn anything if you remain passive in the process or are too afraid of failure to try at all. This semester in horsemanship was rich with opportunities of humility and challenge, opportunities all rooted in tangible reality. One may sit in a classroom all day long and talk about what is prudent and just and moderate – but these virtues do not really exist in the person until they throw themselves into the world to exercise them. Doing so with a horse demands only that much more virtue from the rider, because horses are simple (though very smart) creatures whom we are charged to care for….”

Horse Training in Line“In all the epics such as the Iliad or the Aenead, we often make a spectacle of when they lose their control over their emotions. They cry out in indignation and wrench hair from their head. At the time it seemed all a bit ridiculous, probably because we think we have complete control over our own emotions. But the horses are hyper-aware of our body movement. Early this afternoon I thought I could trick my horse into thinking I was fine and not stressed out. I used my voice . . . thinking he would calm down. But he was not fooled. . . . Horsemanship has given me a newfound respect for communication through means of [body language].”