The Natural Horseman – Bruce Lee

By Steve Stevens

Bruce Lee might have been the greatest horseman and nobody knows it.
Although I cannot find many pictures of Bruce Lee riding horses, his philosophies on life and martial arts transcend genres. And if you can read between the lines, his messages not only work in life and martial arts but also in horsemanship.

Bruce Lee was a pioneer of breaking stereotypes by teaching his ways—very guarded old world techniques—to outsiders while keeping his mind open to teach change.

That change and the never ending learning curve of life must always stay open. What we today call mixed martial arts, most popularly with the UFC, is athletes training in all aspects of the martial arts: boxing, Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and so on.

Bruce Lee went on a journey a little over 40 years ago to learn how to combine the best of all of those techniques to make a perfect artist.
Martial arts, like horsemanship, goes back thousands of years and is grounded in deep world traditions. So for Lee, to challenge that was no easy feat.

Each style of martial arts believed their way was better than the others and were stuck in a “my way or the highway” state of mind.

Lee was the first to start to break down those walls and today it is shown that one style can not defeat someone who has the knowledge of all of the styles.

I feel like this has a correlation with horsemanship. Although today, there are many starting to understand cross training techniques in horsemanship, there are still many stuck in old way traditions and styles. Being an advocate for the horse, I think Bruce Lee’s concept of taking the best from each world would be highly appreciated from our fellow horse and not getting stuck with one idea if it is not working.

He also talks a lot about using the technique that is the most simplistic, not the most beautiful or impressive, just the most simple. We have a tendency to miss the most basic and functional of techniques because we are too busy trying to show off.

Staying simple is the quickest way to create harmony with your horse.

He also talks a lot about finding truth in yourself, and if one can’t admit their fears, frustrations and motive, they are doomed to relive it over and over again. Does this sound familiar with horse training?

This could never be more pertinent than in regards to the horse because to me, he is the giver of truth. He knows all of your emotions, whether you choose to admit to them or not. The problem lies in when you can’t be honest with your emotions and your truth. It becomes hard to make a breakthrough in your training, your horsemanship and yourself.

The greatest trainers I have ever known had understood and maybe not put it this way, but that horsemanship is an art form and it is a never ending opportunity to learn about your horse and more importantly about yourself. Once you have quit learning, to me you have nothing left to offer the horse.
So those horsemen and horsewomen who work every day at striving to become better themselves will in turn be better for the horse. There is no finality to it. The learning will never end.

Bruce Lee believed that to be the best artist, you had to be one hundred percent truthful with yourself so you could live in the moment with no ego.

That is the only way you can react and see the full picture clearly with horses and life. Tough to do riding horses, but I think it should be the goal of all horsemen and horsewomen.

Horses are our greatest teacher and I can promise you that if Bruce Lee worked with horses he would be their greatest student.

From Bruce Lee’s handwritten essay entitled “Toward Personal Liberation (Jeet Kune Do),” circa 1971—-

A learned man once went to a Zen master to inquire about Zen. As the Zen master talked, the learned man would frequently interrupt him with remarks like, “Oh, yes, we have that too,” and so forth.
Finally the Zen master stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man; however, he kept on pouring and the tea cup over-flowed. “Enough! No more can go into the cup!” the learned man interrupted. “Indeed, I see,” answered the Zen master. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”