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Stewardship or Horsemanship?

Many horse owners/riders strive to be the best horseman/horsewoman they can be. When they describe their goals in their involvement with horses, it can revolve around what they look like on a saddle, or how many buckles, saddles, trailers or money they have or can win.  Sadly, I rarely hear what they are wanting to do FOR their horses.  Do you strive for Stewardship Or Horsemanship?


  • The art or practice of riding on horseback.


  •  The conducting, supervising or managing of something: especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.

Stewardship Or Horsemanship?

Many horse owners/riders who fail in their stewardship take accountability when their horse’s performance is poor.  Many of the failures can be man made, but not often admitted by the rider or owner.  Typically the horse is to blame, and the excuses are as inventive as the imagination of the rider/owner.

It is quite easy to assess one’s stewardship, or the lack thereof.  Remember it only takes money to acquire a horse.

For example:  the teeth have not been floated in years, the feet are dished, overgrown, quarter cracked, riddled with empty nail holes, or diseased.  The coat is dirty, dry, coarse, dull or thin due to salt gall, perpetual white blotches or fungal infections on the wither.  The eyes are runny, surrounded by crud, dull and lack luster or sunken.  Under weight, ribby with grass/hay bellies, overweight near founder and the perpetual broodmare.

Bored, depressed and void of any sensory stimulation and many other emotional or mental deprivations. The horse is standing in 6″ of

manure, the stench of ammonia is both gagging and blinding, the wood fences are all chewed up, the list goes on and on.

All of the horses ridden, regardless of the size of the horse and conformation, get the same saddle because the saddle needs to fit the rider’s backside and not the horse’s back, right?  Or, ”It’s my lucky saddle!”

Stewardship Or Horsemanship?

There are a variety of tack gadgets (harsher bits, tie downs, sharper spurs, etc…) available which have replaced “horsemanship” skills to prevail over the horse due to the absence or lack of training, not enough money to hire a skilled trainer, wanting to train your own horse, not enough time, too many horses, all of which represents a “shortcut” at the horse’s expense.

Something to consider. The rider and tack should be no more than 20% of the horse’s weight!  Can the horse carry more?  Of course.  Can this cause physical problems for the horse?  Of course.  Put 20% of your total body weight on your back and work in 4-6 inches of sand and do not forget to run, quickly change direction, stop etc..  Easy to get a mental picture of this, isn’t it?  

If your main focus is going for the ribbon or buckle, but you are not honoring your stewardship obligations to your horse, perhaps you need to ask yourself why?  Is it having too many horses, too little time or lack of knowledge?  Monkey see, monkey do is very common, but that is no excuse for poor stewardship.  It is one thing to visit the world of “not knowing,” it is quite another matter to live in that world on a daily basis.

We have the “will do” people and we have the “gonna” people.  Where equine stewardship is concerned, horses thrive with the WILL DO people and horses just live with the GONNA people.  There is a difference with a distinction between living and thriving and we owe it to our horses to be a WILL DO kind of person.

Stewardship Or Horsemanship?

I have often times heard horse owners rationalize….”It’s just a horse,” “I don’t believe in spoiling my horses,” “Horses don’t get pampered in nature,” “He didn’t deserve a treat,” “He doesn’t mind the flies,” etc… One’s stewardship is plain for all to see by looking at their horse, it is like a mirror.  Just as in life, talk is cheap, application on the other hand can be difficult and expensive.

There is a difference between “Horsemanship” and “Stewardship.  Being a great horseman or horsewoman is great and you should strive to be the best that you can be, but never let it take away from the Stewardship of your horse, strive to be both!  If I had to choose just one of the two, I will take Stewardship over Horsemanship every day, how about you?

By Dr. Mackie Hartwig, D.C., C.V.C.P.       Copyright © M.K. Hartwig, D.C., C.V.C.P.  All rights Reserved

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