I was just discussing flexions with one of my students today and I recalled that Jean Froissard says that in order to perform flexions well, we must have both innate and learned equestrian tact.  Who am I to disagree?  But I do. And I can get away with it, because everyone knows that for every two horsemen, there are three opinions.

I do love flexions and I love Froissard (I received his book Equitation on my 13th Christmas).  But while I think that success with horses is largely dependent on tact and timing, I’ve come to believe that nearly everyone can develop timing….and have a good shot at developing tact.

I’ve always liked this definition of equestrian tact from one of my instructors, Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.  He says that “tact is the ability to use the right aid at the right time with the right strength and the right duration.”

Unfortunately, before we can achieve tact, we have to get our egos out of the way.  In order to learn, we must acknowledge when we have failed.  In order to get sharper with our timing, we must accept that we have been too slow or too strong or too quick or too slow to aid or release.

If we’re dedicated, our successes will eventually outstrip our failures, and that’s when training horses gets a whole lot easier.  Tact enables horses to understand us better and respond to us more positively.  When they do, we get to refine our tact.  Our horses are our best teachers.

Underlying equestrian tact are the intangibles which go by a variety of names — “sixth sense,” instinct, feel.  Maybe it’s just the ability to notice things that might otherwise be overlooked.  Or sensitivity.  Whatever we choose to call it, this ability is within us and within our reach.  If we tap it and target it, it will help us.

With enough tact and talent, doors can open to help troubled horses.  Here is Klaus Hempfling, showing us how:

With tact and experience comes confidence.  One knows where the boundaries are, where they must be and where they can be eliminated.  Fear is dispelled through knowledge and trust.

I had a horse who enjoyed rearing at me while free lunging. For him, standing on his hind legs and showing me his belly was an expression of joy and playfulness.  He respected my space and my safety.  He could also be counted on to make at least two dressage queens at a time scream in terror, especially if they saw him coming straight at to me in a medium trot, and without a single walk step, halting square in front of me with his head towering above mine.

But we understood each other.  And he understood what it meant that I didn’t move out of his way, that I wasn’t afraid of him, that I was ready to respect him but that I also respected myself and expected him to do the same.  How unhappy he had been when he was pushed away every time he wanted to play and what disdain he had for those who were nervous around him.  Once I accepted him for who he was, our relationship improved.  He taught me more about tact and timing than all the other horses I’ve ever met put together, because he broke all the rules but no one could break, or even reform, a bit of him.

I don’t recommend that you do what I did with my horse, and I certainly don’t do this with every horse.  In fact, I actively discourage it.  But there are horses out there who are different or difficult, highly sensitive or deeply troubled, and different rules apply to them.  Rough handling often backfires, but tact always helps.  It can be very difficult for horses like these to find the right home, and when they end up in the wrong home, the results can be tragic.

Luckily, most people never encounter horses like that, and there aren’t many of them.  But everyone encounters situations that are challenging with their horses.  Making it even more difficult is the fact that, in the midst of it, there’s usually someone around to tell you how dangerous everything is.

Yes, horses can be dangerous.  Especially horses who have no education and are confused.  The more tact we have, the more easily we can educate our horses and do so with clarity.  We become more confident and our horses become safer.  Here’s my equation:  Tact equals safer horses and more confident handlers which equals less danger.

That’s why I don’t think it’s the end of the world if your horse trots up to you in a field.  As long as your horse is polite, there’s no need to be afraid.  But be aware and be ready to move your feet if you have to.  Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.  

When your trust and your tying ability are perfected, you may be able to do some of what Klaus Hempfling does here:

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