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The Language of Horsemanship: How to Speak “Horse”by Dick Pieper


2014/02/02


Book Review by Leigh Ballard

In the introduction to his book, Dick Pieper explains the horse’s sensitivities, inclinations and instincts. Then he summarizes a brief list the things that a rider must do to get the maximum relationship with a horse. He says, “The rider must recognize and make intelligent use of all the horse’s natural instincts and responses. The rider must control himself to prevent being influenced by outside factors like anger, frustration, time schedule, emotion, or any other interruptions that the horse cannot understand. The rider must exactly duplicate his cues and actions each time he works with the horse. The rider’s interaction with the horse can have a calming effect if the rider is consistent and repetitive. Most importantly, the rider must respond to the horse’s part in the conversation.” The body of the book then explains HOW to achieve his list.

Dick Pieper is no flash in the pan trendy horseman.  In addition to being a world champion and a top competitor, he has also proven his expertise as a judge and clinician. His breeding, training, and riding programs are exemplary. He stands Playgun, his premier cutting horse stallion pictured on the front of the book, at his ranch in Oklahoma. He has been a past president of the National Reining Horse Association. He has a very long history of success with reining, cutting, and working cow horses, but his philosophy can be applied to working with any horse.

Pieper’s horsemanship philosophy is based on communication with the horse, which he calls a “conversation,” and on the idea that “The only way (the horse) becomes that willing partner is if I listen to his part of the conversation-even when I’m leading the conversation.” He points out, “Some people who think they are great riders don’t realize they’re only talking – and seldom listening – to their horses.” In other words, people have to know how to “speak horse” and “hear horse,” too. This book teaches the language.

In the first part of the book, Pieper explains some training foundations and takes the reader through the essentials of pressure, release of pressure, but he speaks of it in terms of “conversational courtesy.”  He talks about using consistency to develop a workmanlike attitude. He talks about physical and, equally important, mental conformation as it relates to the horse’s ability. He discusses such broad topics as tack, bits and other equipment. He talks about a horse’s initial handling, and then its first ride.

The second half of the book deals with training, starting with the foundation basics and then moving to “advanced conversation” like lead changes and spins.

While Pieper’s book is about conversation with the horse, there is a lot of action, too.  Pieper gives the reader a great deal of detailed information on how to train specific fundamentals like collection, moving off of leg pressure, circling, lead departures and the like. He explains the nuances of “conversation” that will produce the best understanding between rider and horse.

Pieper’s book is an excellent addition to the Western Horseman magazine series of books, and would be valuable for any horseman regardless of discipline. If you would like to meet him in person, Pieper will be a presenter at the upcoming Southern Equine Expo in Murfreesboro, TN on February 14 – 16.

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