Last weekend I went to a clinic with the ever-talented Terry Church. I’ve worked with her a lot over the years and always look forward to bringing her my greenest, most challenging horses to help sort out. This year I didn’t have a particularly challenging horse to bring, so I brought my 4 year old OTTB, London, whom I had barely started working with.
Throughout the clinic I worked with both my horse and a variety of other horses, which allowed me a lot of opportunities to learn. My biggest takeaway from the clinic was that as horsemen we need to trust our gut. Of course there are situations that we aren’t prepared for or truly don’t know what to do, but overall we tend to hesitate, ask too many questions, and quit when a little observation and listening to our gut would have shown us the correct path.
I think most people see me as a fairly confident person who has everything sorted out. However, I am a terribly unconfident mess that has gotten really good at faking it. Although that is all fine and dandy, it means I don’t really realize how much I know and am constantly second-guessing myself.
The crazy thing is, horses are more sensitive to intention than cues. Therefore, it matters more what you want or expect to happen than it does what you are physically doing (not that you shouldn’t learn the correct mechanics for clarity and safety). If we focus on our goal instead of wondering how to accomplish it everything is a lot simpler.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you are on the ground asking a horse to yield his shoulders in order to begin a circle to the right. You use the tail of your rope to swing at your horse’s right shoulder to move it over. If you are concentrating on making sure the rope is aimed at the horse’s shoulder and second-guessing your skill, the horse might not move. If instead you focus on your intention to move the horse’s shoulder, but your rope is swinging more towards the horse’s flank, he will probably still move his shoulder. The horse in the second scenario is reacting to the energy of your rope and your intention to move his shoulder versus the physical location of your rope. This is something that horses are very good at, which is why it is so important that we trust our instincts and rely on our intention when we aren’t sure what to do.
Another thing I learned this weekend is that no matter how slow you think that you are going you can always go slower. I love getting lost in the really slow close work. I find it fascinating and addicting. However, I am always on a timeline to make it to a lesson, work another horse, or get to a certain place with a horse. Unfortunately, that is the nature of training horses for a living. It’s hard to give yourself the time and space to really take it as slow as you might want when you have a bunch of horses to work and owners who expect to see results. Many owners don’t take to it very kindly when you spend weeks seemingly doing nothing instead of riding their horse
However, the slow way is always the fast way. This weekend I had no worry about time, which was a wonderful break. I was able to do lots of close work and make some big changes in the horses I was working with. I realized that I really need to do a better job of advocating for the horse and taking my time to do the close work I feel drawn to do. It makes an incredible difference in the horse and really saves me lots of time in the long run, even though it seems slower in the beginning.
The final thing I was reminded of at the Terry Church Clinic this weekend is that you should never forget to have fun. We all started working with horses and riding because we love them and enjoy the way they make us feel. I think we tend to forget that when things get difficult or we get stuck. Remembering our love for horses reminds us to not take things as seriously and to have fun with the journey. This change of attitude can also help our horses have fun and enjoy their training or riding sessions. After all, our goals are secondary to our love of the horse and the horse should enjoy the work as much as we do.
If you ever get a chance to go to a clinic with Terry Church, I encourage you to do it. I learned so many valuable lessons and continued to grow as a horseman. If you didn’t get to come out last weekend, hopefully I was able to bring a bit of Terry’s wisdom to you. Meanwhile, I will have more confidence in my knowledge, take it as slow as I feel I should, and remember my love for the horse.