I think that there is a lot of pressure in the horse world to learn everything. There is this concept that horsemanship is finite; there is a set amount of information, knowledge, and skills that can be learned. I see this most from beginners who ask, “how long will it take me to learn to ride?”
I cannot begin to answer this question. What does “learn to ride” mean? Not even accounting for the fact that everyone learns at a different pace, there is no standard for “knowing how to ride”. This is simply an abstract concept that we each define for ourselves.
More advanced students understand the complexities of horsemanship a little better, but still often ask when they will have mastered something. They want to know when the learning is over. They want to know when they no longer need lessons.
As an instructor I feel that I am expected to know everything. I should have an answer to every question and a solution to every problem. I feel vulnerable admitting that I too am learning. Yet this humility is the first step to opening yourself up to the journey.
The last time I felt I knew how to ride I was 13 or 14. I had just started jumping and I felt like I could do anything. It was good timing getting my first horse who knocked be back to reality. I may not have appreciated it at the time, but I needed that reminder that horsemanship is more than just a compilation of skills. Horsemanship is a way of thinking and listening to the horse. It’s not something you learn, but a journey you forever follow.
Learning horsemanship is a lot like peeling an onion. People get obsessed with being right and not making mistakes so they dig through the onion trying to find the middle. Horsemanship takes patience. Instead of trying to find that Holy Grail that makes everything make sense you should take your time to learn each lesson. Peel the onion slowly so that with every step you learn just a little bit more. When you get to the middle you will realize that true horsemanship is submitting to being the perpetual student of the horse.
My job, as I see it, is simply to facilitate you on this journey. I don’t teach horsemanship or riding. I teach you how to learn. I teach you how to listen to the horse and respond in a way that he can understand.
As a trainer my job is a lot harder. Perhaps this is why I prefer to teach than to train. I don’t need to teach horses how to walk, trot, or canter. I need to teach them how to deal with us. This is often hardest with horses that have had lots of experiences with people. Trying to convince them to have a conversation with me is nothing short of a battle. So often we squelch a horse’s try that they just quit trying. My job as a trainer is to find this try and turn it into a conversation. Then I can teach the horse what people will expect of him and send him off to his owner, who will likely confuse and frustrate him with their poor listening skills. Luckily for us the horse is really quite tolerant of our shortcomings.
Even after years on this journey, I constantly reflect on how little I know. I am continually learning, refining, and improving my skills, yet I have tons more to learn and hundreds more teachers to learn from. I read articles, watch videos, and attend clinics when I can all in the name of learning. A year ago I knew nothing compared to what I know now and I hope that never changes. Every horse and every horse person has something they can teach you if you care to listen. Good luck on your journey and keep your head up – everyone has more to learn.