Recently a very lovely client (who is completely committed to learning) said ,‘I feel like I’m on my trike with stabilisers and you’re way out in front on your racing bike’. And the double edged element of this is that on the one hand I have EARNED the right to take my stabilisers off – I work with very many horses day in, day out. I have got so many things wrong I can’t count. I have had some lightbulb moments which have changed the way I work forever, and I usually know a little bit more than maybe someone who just rides their own horse 3 times week. HOWEVER, compared to my mentors, teachers and the people I admire, I am still wobbling about and falling over the handlebars. It is never ending, this quest to improve. And once you can get your head around that you can stop focusing on the end game, as it always just slips out of your reach. You can never GET there. And that knowledge frees one up.
Here are some things that I have learned about learning and why I am no longer so afraid of getting things wrong .
*Trying new things is uncomfortable. It stretches us out of the places that are familiar and safe. Discomfort is not necessarily a bad thing.
* You can’t start with a finished horse. Well, you can, you can buy yourself a schoolmaster. But if you haven’t yet earned your own stripes regarding how to train horses, then it is likely that even the most highly schooled, kind-minded horse will begin to unravel.
*You can’t start out as Philippe Karl. There is no doubt that some people have a natural aptitude for working with horses. Maybe they have really great natural body awareness. Maybe they have spent some time working on their breathing. Maybe they have the kind of calmness that horses are drawn to. But ultimately, if you want to get as good as Philippe Karl, you are probably going to have to spend as many hours in the saddle as Philippe Karl. And ride as many horses as him. And spend as many days scratching your head and wondering what on earth the solution is (how many years did it take him to teach Odin clean flying changes – 9? I think it was nine years. That is a long time to spend working one particular thing out ).
*It is hard to learn something new. I know this. When I see people getting frustrated and telling me how difficult this is, I have to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying, ‘No shit Sherlock! Who promised you it was going to be easy?’ I only don’t as I can clearly recall Sarah leaving the school on at least one occasion as my frustration about how hard this was boiled over.
*You only develop the skills you need to more and more easily meet difficulties or challenges by meeting difficulties and challenges. The reason good horsepeople are able to seemingly do so little to achieve so much, is probably because they have spent time doing too much. Now they can fine tune things, but it is very likely they didn’t start with this level of subtlety. Trainers who never develop or change are questionable as far as I am concerned. If your trainer keeps on doing the same things at the same pitch year in, year out, maybe they gave up learning some time ago. I do understand that trainers who keep developing can be frustrating for students (‘But last time you said to do this!’) but them’s the breaks. Any trainer worth their salt will be learning and developing all the time and will probably tell you at some point, ‘You know I said do this, er, well don’t’.
And here is how I think it is possible to improve;
- You just do have to do it.
- You have to get things wrong.
- You have to use that knowledge to try to get things right, and accept that they still might go wrong.
- If things keep going wrong, try something else.
- If something goes well, enjoy it, establish it, then push on until you find the next place something goes wrong.
- You just do have to do it.
I have a young horse I am starting at the moment, and despite his rather odd conformation (the body of a 16’2hh on the legs of a 14hh) he is just wonderful. Sensitive, interested in learning, sensible, athletic - what a responsibility. In all honesty, when I had to put off backing him for several months I was slightly relieved as it gave me a few more months to get a little better. I am still not ready. But if I waited until I was good enough to start this horse I would be long dead, so he is going to have to work with what I have. He is now officially a ‘sat upon’ (quick, put him in Horse Deals as broken in!) and we are continuing to work with all those other important things; like balance, posture, how to learn, dealing with barking dogs etc. etc. I have fluffed loads of things up, but I have also got some stuff right. And I have got more stuff right than the last time I started a young horse of my own. And that’s all you can hope to do I guess.
I have also spent some time riding some schoolmasters, and lovely as it was after the initial, ‘Oh, look at me doing passage, or two time changes’ it is, well, a bit dull. What I LOVE is finally finding a way to show my horse where and how I want him to bend to the left without causing him to brace, or lose his balance, or run in the opposite direction. And believe me I did all of those things on route.
Finally, one of the key things about giving yourself permission to get things ‘wrong’, is that you also give your horse, (and others around you) the permission to get things ‘wrong’. Because, really as far as your horse is concerned, they don’t know what wrong or right is anyway, they just want to feel o.k about what they do with you.