BOOKS: Horse, Follow Closely

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:

Horse, Follow Closely: Native American Horsemanship
by GaWaNi Pony Boy, with photographs by Gabrielle Boiselle
Bowtie Press (c/o Fancy Publications, 3 Burroughs, Irvine, CA 92618), 1998. Hardcover, 144 pages. $39.95.

Horse, Follow Closely: Native
American Horsemanship is sure to become a
best-seller among horse owners––novice horse
owners, that is. It is primarily a photographic
showcase for the author, GaWaNi Pony Boy,
with his horses replete in Native American
dress and paint. Seasoned equestrians, critical
readers and maybe even a few historians will
be concerned by the lack of sound content.

Pony, as he prefers to be called,
describes himself as a “mixed-blood Tsa-la-gi,
full-blood human.” After graduating from an
unnamed college in Boston, he traveled with a
Native American drum group, during which
time he claims he consulted tribal elders from
many different nations on the “old ways” of
horsemanship and compiled their “ideas,
methods and techniques” in his book.
These begin with nonsensical broad
generalizations about Native Americans, horses
and harmony. Pony concedes that the various
tribes who encountered horses had mixed
reactions when they arrived with the Spanish
more than 400 years ago, but emphasizes the
celebrated Native American love of horses
without mentioning that many tribes outright
rejected them, correctly anticipating that
adopting a horse-centered culture would accelerate
their destruction by white settlers––who
traded horses and weapons to warring tribes to
enable them to annihilate each other.
Nor are Native Americans, as a
group, notably kinder to horses than anyone
else. The Navajos in Arizona and the Utes in
Utah routinely sell wild horses from their
reservations to slaughter, and a Hopi group in
Arizona docks the tails of their horses in tribal
The tradition of horsemanship Pony
claims as exclusively Native American was
actually adapted from European methods.
Survival being the order of day, Native
Americans who had horses used them to pull a
travois loaded with food, clothing and the family
teepee, hunted and fought from horseback,
and, if necessary, also ate horses. Pony refers
to his method as “Relationship Training,”
which he defines as “creating the right environment
in which two beings can understand
each other.” But the classical school of horsemanship,
which dates back more than 400
years, is founded on essentially the same idea.
Francois Robichon, Sieur de la GueriniËre,
an eighteenth century French master of training,
wrote in Ecole de Cavalerie about the use
of affection and reward to encourage the horse
to learn. Antoie Pluvinel, a 16th century
French scholar of horsemanship, also theorized
developing a deep understanding
between horse and rider. In fact, we can trace
the central theory of “Relationship Training”
back 23 centuries to the Greek horseman
Xenophon, and his opus, The Art of
Horsemanship, in which he counsels equestrians
about everything from the proper grooming
of a horse to the human responsibility to
acquire a deep understanding of the equine
Ultimately Pony resorts directly to
classical training when he discusses Cavaletti
work, longeing, lead changes, engagement,
and balance of the horse.
One point Pony advocates, which is
neither classical nor a very good idea, is riding
bareback. Observing the efficiency of
European riders, Native Americans did, in
fact, use saddles whenever they could get their
hands on them: saddles made riding more
effective, especially at high speeds during a
hunt or in battle. Riding bareback does not put
a rider in a balanced position, as Pony claims.
Bareback riding forces a rider into a “chair”
position, which is anything but centered and
balanced. If a rider were to force herself into
the proper centered position (a straight line
from the top of the head to the shoulder to the
hip to the heel) while bareback, the two points
of her seat bones would dig unmercifully into
her horse’s back. Bareback riding can be
exhilarating, but for the sake of the horse
should not be done on a regular basis.
In fairness to Pony, he loves horses
and speaks out against cruelty, especially the
use of severe bits. However, he has nothing
new to offer experienced equestrians. He has a
good gimmick that will lure novice horse owners,
and after the recent success of the Horse
Whisperer there should be plenty to go around.
––Robin Duxbury
(Duxbury is founder and president of Project
Equus, POB 6989, Denver, CO 80206.)

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