My Horses, My Teachers is an excellent book on Horses and how to learn from them. Alois Podhajsky tells about his experiences with horses and how they taught him how to ride and teach them from the time that he was a small child and for most the rest of his life. I especially appreciate this book because it is so much like how I learned most all I know about horses. Someone that is having problems with their riding instructor could use this book to tell what the problem is and someone wanting to teach can pick up some dos and don’ts.
The book is written in first person and told like Mr. Podhajsky is telling the reader in person about his life with horses. He tells the story about his first horse; the rocking horse that he cared for until his brother took it apart. I appreciated this because I had a little stick horse that I loved and played with before I was aloud to ride. The first real horse he rode was his father’s horse. The grooms would lift him up on the horses back and walk him around. Mr. Podhajsky said that the mare was gentle which was important because she did not make him afraid so he enjoyed his little rides. The first horse I rode was a very gentle western gelding that knew everything and did everything he was asked willingly. I started on him when I was five because that was the youngest that anyone would give me lessons and my family was not into horses. This first horse was really good for me because he never gave me any thing to be afraid of. This was good because I am always a little fearful when I try something new. The second horse Podhajsky rode liked to pitch him off so that he learned that he had to do something to stay on and that the horse could get rid of him whenever she pleased. The second horse I rode was under a different instructor who did not own a saddle except a western parade saddle. She only used that for special occasions and I had decided by that time, I was six, that I wanted to ride English. So I rode bareback on a somewhat spirited mare, named Nellie, for the next couple of years. I learned to jump on her and fell off of her a couple times. I also got a lot of time on the lung line, which I really enjoyed. She taught me the value of a good seat and balance because I did not have a saddle and she liked to give a good spook every so often.
Podhajsky had instructors that were encouraging and some that were threatening, in this way he learned what kind of instructor he wanted to be to the horses and to other people. I had one instructor that yelled a lot but also managed to be encouraging in spite of the fear she inflicted. A Dressage instructor I had was always critiquing and I wondered if I could ever do anything right even though I liked the hard work she put me through. The instructor I had that yelled a lot developed good relationships with her students and I thought that I would like to teach like her with out loosing my temper and yelling. I have really appreciated all the instructors that I have had and some of them I have modeled my teaching after. When it comes to teaching the horse though I have found no better teacher then the horse himself.
One horse Podhajsky rode, Juno, taught him how the rider could influence the horse with his weight (Podhajsky 31). Juno liked to buck all his riders off but Podhajsky learned how to ride out his bucks by shifting his weight back (Podhajsky 31). Juno also taught him how important it is for the rider to be confident and eventually Juno behaved very well for him (Podhajsky 31-32). The young hunter / jumper horses he rode showed him the importance of building their confidence before expecting them to gallop out on a hunt. One gelding I cared for for a couple years taught me how important weight was in influencing the horse. This horse was a 30-year-old gelding when I started working with him but he thought he was about five. He had the energy and attitude to make people believe it he was younger. He was very clumsy though that might have had something to do with the fact that he had been neglected in a pasture for about ten years, his tall big boned build or maybe just his age but he needed help keeping his balance. He taught me how to use my weight to help him turn corners and to keep his pace steady. My own horse taught me how important my weight was in a slightly more dangerous way. When I got him, he was a rescue horse, he preferred to walk on two legs and when he was on four legs it was because he was running. (It was quite a trick to get on his back, I guess this was why he was going to slaughter.) I had to learn to use my weight because the reins were all but useless. He taught me to turn him with my weight before he ran threw fences and to force him to rear until he was sick of it and wanted to stand still. (Whenever I tell about our first year together I always have to tell how we are best friends now. We have been together just over seven years and he has saved my life once or twice and will do anything I ask so I have to be careful what I ask.) Another horse I worked with was a timid hunter jumper but if you could convince him to jump he was a beautiful jumper. He taught me the importance of being confident to encourage the horse which was hard for me because I was rather timid to. He also taught me how much it helps to do a lot of little jumps before even going up to two-foot jumps to teach them that they can do well. This was one horse that I did not do so well with because I was as afraid as he was but what I learned from him has helped me with other horses like him.
Podhajsky grew in his knowledge of horses to the point that he could take a horse that everyone had given up on and train her to do dressage well enough to win at international competitions. This horse was Nora. I hope one day I will be able to train a horse to this level. Everyone had given up on my horse when I got him but I have not trained him to a high level like this.
The importance of confidence in the relationship of horse and human was demonstrated in the war by the Lipizzaners. When the air raid sirens went off and during the bombings took place in Vienna the stallions stayed calm and trusted the men that they knew (Podhajsky 190). Podhajsky said that the stallions would stand still and tremble but there was never a panic caused by one of them (Podhajsky 191). This kind of trust would be exciting to have with any horse. I am working on that with the horse I have had for a while. If we are alone together he trusts me that much but as soon as someone else is around, especially a man, there is a limit to his trust.
I read the story about Maestoso Borina and the singer, Maria Jeritza, who rode him in the opera The Girl of the Golden West (Podhajsky 65) in one of Margaret Henry’s books The White Stallions. I thought that it was neat to see it again.
One of Podhajsky’s horses, Otto, gave him some trouble when he was trying to teach him how to carry his head (Podhajsky 81). Otto liked to carry his head low but Podhajsky wanted it higher, Otto did not appreciate it (Podhajsky 81). Otto had been very willing but when he was asked to raise his head he would not want to go forward and when he got excited he would come above the bit or rear (Podhajsky 81). Podhajsky had to start all over with him, let him carry his head and neck long and low and use his haunches to carry him self (Podhajsky 82). Otto had a week back and Podhajsky had to wait until he was more developed physically and in his training by then Otto’s back was rounded and he could be taught to raise his head by increasing the action of his hind quarters (Podhajsky 82). This reminds me of a horse and rider I used to watch. The rider was training a fairly green Dressage horse. He was do really well he carried himself long and low but he used his hind quarters very well. The girl working with him decided that he was ready to start raising his head and started asking him to by increasing the action his hind quarters and doing circles and other figures. He was doing so well and I really enjoyed going out to watch them work together. Then an internationally know Dressage clinician came to the area and the girl decided to take the horse she had been working with. The clinician had her work more forcefully with the horse and instead of riding him up into the bridle, he had her set his head by holding it in place at the halt and then trying to ride him forward keeping it there. This made the horse rather frustrated and mad. After the clinic the girl continued to ride the horse the way the clinician suggested to her. Some of us, her friends, suggested that she go back to the way she had been working with him because the poor horse was getting so frustrated but she didn’t. The long-term result was that the poor horse decided that he would not do Dressage and there was not much the humans could do to tell him otherwise. Today he is a hunter / jumper and enjoying his new job because he does not have to carry himself so collectedly. I had a similar experience with my horse. He came off the racetrack and did not understand why his job description should change at age 12. He liked to run around with his head and neck stretched out and most of his weight on his forehand. I tried to do a quick fix and force him into what I thought was the proper position and he rebelled, tossed his head, bolted and reared. I worked for a while patiently with him, even though I was forcing him into position. My horse finally got discouraged because he wanted to be good but I was asking him for something that he was not able to give yet and the only way he could show me was through his naughty behavior. I finally got the hint and took a slower rate. I taught him to carry his weight over his hunches by doing a lot of transitions and eventually he held his head on the vertical too. I tried to turn him into a Dressage horse but he loved jumping too much so I let him keep jumping which has made him a very happy horse.
Podhajsky tells about teaching his horse Nora how to do flying changes. He taught her by striking of into the right lead of canter then the left and shortening the intervals until she was going from one lead right into the next with out stopping. I tried to teach my horse to do flying changes using simple changes through the trot but he always got all excited and strung out. Someone said that I needed to do it through the walk I tried that and I just got a couple rears when I asked him to walk and he would get behind my leg. I tried different things trying to find something that he understood and did not make him to excited or frustrated. I finally settled on the simple changes through the trot on a figure eight and then I came to college. He is doing well but of course I don’t get to work with him much. Last time we worked we were down to two trot steps before picking up the other lead. We can’t go to many times around the figure eight before I give him a break to think about something else because he gets to excited. I wish we could do the changes going in a strait line but he can build a lot of speed in a open ten acre field (we don’t have an arena) so I am keeping him on a circle until he is comfortable enough to go strait. I am thankful that he is intelligent enough that he does not forget anything and we can always pick up where we left off.
Podhajsky had a horse that remembered well too. Nero had very brittle hooves and they often had to lay off their training for a while to let a broken part of the hoof grow back out (Podhajsky 90). When he was ready to be ridden again he would still remember everything and they would be able to keep right on going (Podhajsky 90). Nero could not jump very much either because his hooves would break (Podhajsky 88). He was afraid to jump anything that he did not have a good chance to look at and watch another horse go over but he learned to trust Podhajsky. He learned to trust him to the point that after not jumping for a year to protect his hooves for the Olympic Games he went over the jump that was necessary for the victory (Podhajsky 88). This trust was proven when after he was retired Nero would gallop ahead of the Lipizzaners with Podhajsky and jump what ever they came to (Podhajsky 88).
The trust and friendship that Alois Podhajsky had with his horses is my goal with all the horses I work with. This book would be a great encouragement to any horse lover who rides Dressage or hunter / jumpers. I believe that it could be helpful to Western and Saddle Seat riders too because anyone could benefit from Podhajsky’s humble approach to everything he did with the horses. This is defiantly a book I will read more than once.