Farriers of a certain age often bemoan the lack of horsemanship among many horse owners today. These shoers have lived it, so they can speak to it through their collective experiences.
While I was at the early November Cornell Farrier Conference, I had dinner with five farriers: Kalam Blessings of Willseyville, N.Y.; Roy Bloom of Drummond, Wis.; Dave Farley of Coshocton, Ohio, and Wellington, Fla.; Steve Kraus of Trumansburg, N.Y.; and Jack Millman of Worthington, Mass. With the exclusion of Blessings, who is a couple of years out of Cornell University’s farrier program, and myself, there still was over 150 years of farrier experience at the table. So when they spoke about horsemanship, I don’t doubt their words.
Each of the four seasoned farriers agreed that there is less horsemanship today. Millman says that “40 years ago, horsemanship was something a person lived.” The mid-1970s really isn’t that long ago, so what has changed between then and now that affects horsemanship? And what has changed specifically about horsemanship? How does one document and measure horsemanship competence? I don’t have any of the answers, but have plenty of questions.
One theory I often hear concerning poorer horsemanship blames the declining number of horses. To me, a decrease in the horse population doesn’t necessarily result in more owners, trainers, etc., less committed to horsemanship. Wouldn’t fewer horses “weed out” the inexperienced? The American Horse Council, tracking the U.S. equine population since 1900, shows the sharpest decline of horse ownership prior to 1950. Maybe it has more to do with human population concentration and the growth of suburbs?
Kraus, the head farrier of Cornell University and instructor for its farrier program, shared one theory.
“No one has time to be a horseman anymore,” he says. “They’re so focused on their job, especially the riders. And this new generation is relying on the ones that they delegate to — primarily the barn manager or the second trainer. And it trickles all the way down to the grooms. The communication you have with that end user, that end rider, is really lost.”
Occupied time is the root cause of this breakdown. Whether horses are the owner’s business or hobby, why is there less time committed to improving horsemanship? Is the barn a different labor environment, resulting in specialization and delegation? Is there an attitude that prefers being a jack of all trades and a master of none? Longer hours at work? Too many bright screen distractions?
Furthermore, if there are fewer hours, it doesn’t seem to have dampened the passion of horse owners for their animals. While passion for horses and horsemanship aren’t the same thing, why hasn’t passion sparked more commitment to improving one’s skills with the horse?
What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree that horsemanship has declined over a 40-year period? If so, what do you believe are the reasons? Please share these below.
We’ll feature more from the conversation with these farriers in the January/February issue of American Farriers Journal.