I ran across this post from the other day at rodneyssaga.wordpress.com – where the author asserts that, “Horsemanship is not a creative activity.” She makes a good argument, and at first I was nodding my head along in agreement. Then I started thinking. Yep, that’s always dangerous for me.
Wikipedia defines creativity thusly: “Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has some kind of value.” The Wikipedia article goes on to explain that whether something is new or not and has value or not is essentially in the eye of the beholder.
I’m inclined to agree with Katherine – after all horsemanship essentially is only a small set of symbols and signals we use to cue our horses. The same way we cue each other through our limited alphabet of only 26 letters we use to write prose or poetry. The same way we cue each other through our limited numbering system and mathematical symbols to come up with equations to explain our existence. One main difference being that we don’t all agree on the precise way to communicate with our horses – maybe we can attribute that the same way we do to differences in penmanship.
So while the day to day issues of riding and working horses may not create much newness in the grand scheme of things. (We’re not creating a new alphabet.) There is certainly an element of introducing new concepts to the horse or rider. (Think new vocabulary.) There are certain moments though, where things are created. It may be a new or deeper or strengthened trust in horse or rider. (Oh, that’s what that means.) To the point where we do create an art form with our horses. A dance of sorts. Is dance regarded as a creative medium? In certain cases it even goes to the point of performance art?
Generally too, most of the creative moments are between the horse and the rider. Thankfully most of the bawdier jokes my horses have told me have been in private. It’s hard to explain to some people why you are laughing hysterically, damn near wetting yourself over the way your horse just flicked his ear and tipped his jaw. Or, why you have to stop in the middle of a ride, again in fits of laughter because the horse had bucked – just a little, to tell you he would like you to sit in this spot on his back, not that one. To me it was funny because this horse knew the meaning of ‘buck off’. And jokes (even puns) are a form of creativity.
A few, like Freestyle Dressage or Freestyle Reining, are seen by a fair number of people. I’ve seen some pretty creative freestyle runs. Complete with original music and costumes. The maneuvers may all be the same, but the order can be changed. Does that not count as horsemanship? Here’s one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlQkbe0lsr4. Who thought to do the Conga with their horse? For funsies, Google Stacy Westfall and watch any of her bridleless (some bareback too) runs.
The Airs Above the Ground maneuvers of dressage were a creative interpretation of the maneuvers supposedly used by war horses on the battlefield. Not new today, but certainly a new interpretation of those cues during the Renaissance. For that matter when I’ve watched a friend of mine who used to be a head rider for a (the?) Lipizzaner show touring the states and saw choreographed performances that I thought were hysterically funny – because the horse was trying to create something new at a spot where the choreography didn’t call for it. But then there’s always something funny about seeing a friend almost biff it off the back of a horse in front of a large crowd. So when the horse was just positive that this was the time to do a Corbette, but my friend wasn’t planning for it, all sudden like I can see my friend is only still on the back of the horse because he had managed to slide his spur under the girth at just the right moment to hang on. (Note: he was not spurring the horse at the moment, he literally had slid it between girth and belly of the horse like a thumb hooked in a belt loop.) People sitting next to me couldn’t figure out why I was sniggering. To me, that’s a funny joke. The horse is cruising along knowing it’s part of what’s going to happen and he keeps asking, do I do it here? What about here? Here? Now? Here? Until finally the horse made an executive decision and said, “dammit we are doing this here and now!”. Am I only one to see the humor here?
What do you do with a horse that tries to stomp the witch’s hat out on a trail course? He’s trying to make sure she’s dead, right? Is that intersection of horse and man spawning creativity from the horse then? (An aside to help that make sense – I was riding an Appy with a wicked sense of humor at a trail course at a show close to Halloween. The course was set up all Halloween spooky, complete with what looked to be the Wicked Witch flattened under the bridge. The course took us to one side of the bridge where her hat stuck out. It was supposed to be a thing to have a horse spook at, if it was inclined to shy away. This horse looked down his nose and set his hoof right on that hat, twice. I had my back to the judge but was told he about fell out of his chair laughing. Meanwhile, I was trying not to laugh but instead to get the horse to move through the obstacle and on to the rest of the course. This is the same horse that knew what “buck off” meant.)
Katherine states at the end of her post that there is nothing new under the sun. I’ll agree with that. It seems that everything old is new again. There is a law somewhere that matter is neither created nor destroyed, it just shifts somehow, right? So NEW new, no. But, new – a slight change on an old theme, a barely perceptibly more brilliant shining of an execution of a maneuver, a different combination of footsteps to those moving their feet? That can all be new in that instant. Never-ever seen before anywhere, anywhen? Maybe not so much. Then again how often does a horse stomp a witch’s hat at a trail course at a show?
That’s my take on whether horsemanship is creative or not. Where does anybody else weigh in?