‘Horse Sense For the Modern World’: A Conversation With Chris Irwin
Biz Stamm takes a closer look at Horse Lifestyle TV’s new production featuring the unique and pragmatic Chris Irwin, and speaks with the trainer about his approach to horsemanship.
It’s winter time and it’s likely that someday in the not too distant future you’ll find yourself hunkered down inside with a cup of cocoa and a hankering for something horsey to watch. HorseLifestyle.tv is a media company dedicated to providing horse enthusiasts around the world with entertaining and educational video content. With several trainer and breed highlights there is sure to be something in their media library that catches your interest.
In its latest production, Irwin Insights:Horse Sense for the Modern World, HorseLifestyle covers trainer Chris Irwin and his unique yet pragmatic approach to horsemanship. The artistically-shot footage utilizes a minimalist setting, allowing Chris and his subtle interactions with the horse to really shine through.
Between clips of training and explanations of equine body language, Chris tells us about his unconventional start in the horse industry, and how his life before horses prepared him to be a better horseman today. The transitions between the biographical and training segments filled with pragmatic insights are seamless and well placed, making for a truly engaging watch. I walked away itching to test out some of the concepts on my own horse.
After watching the production, I had the chance to chat with Chris about his particular brand of horsemanship and the current state of the horse world. Before the interview, I went over to his website, chrisirwin.com, to do a bit of research and was immediately struck by his logo.
Being a certifiable science freak, I see variables and equations and I need to know what they mean! So I asked Chris about it.
“My definition of a good logo for branding would be that it would provoke thought. My work is based fundamentally on the biomechanics of a horse and how the biomechanics of our body affect the biomechanics of their body, and how the shape of their body, specifically the shape of the spinal column impacts physiology, affects the biochemistry that’s happening in the brain. So the frame of the body affects the frame of the mind and that results in behavior. What that logo represents is a formula for the frame of the body.”
He then went on to explain that we as riders need to stop identifying the inside and outside aids based on direction of travel, and instead identify them based on the direction of bend. This problem is highlighted when a rider is posting on the “correct” or outside diagonal when the horse is in fact counter bent. “When you look at that logo, the capital B is for balance and balance equals correct diagonal to the power of two.” The two diagonals he is referring to are posting diagonal, where most people post with the outside leg regardless of the direction of bend, and the fact that turning a horse away from the direction of bend will disrupt balance.
While it’s safe to say that the moving parts of Chris’s training program are based in a solid understanding of biomechanics, the heart and soul of his training philosophy are centered around a single phrase: “You can’t control your horse, but you can control how you respond to your horse.”
Chris told me this was a concept that became clear to him through experience in other sports. “There are a lot of parallels between riding and skiing. There are a lot of parallels between the horse’s mind and sailing a boat. What sailing and skiing have in common with horses is that you have to learn to work with natural forces. You can’t force the wind to blow the way you want it to blow. You can’t force a mountain to change its shape. I can’t control these natural forces. I can only control how I respond to them.”
Before ending my conversation with Chris, I asked him if there were any final thoughts he’d like to add. “I’ve been in [the horse industry] for a long time. The industry is changing. It is getting better. It’s very easy for altruistic advocates of the horse to focus on the dark, to go on YouTube and watch videos of aggressive trainers jerking around horses. I have seen fundamental changes for the better. It’s happening.”
Chris was an absolute delight to speak with, and as someone who has grown tired of trainers full of gimmicks with limited substance, I found him incredibly refreshing and insightful. To learn more about Chris be sure to check out his feature production on HorseLifestyle.tv. I will certainly be keeping my eye out for any clinics he is offering in my area.
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