Once upon a time, I was “lunging” my pony in the indoor arena.
“My way” is where I trot right along with him in a slightly smaller circle, maybe an arm’s reach away. We pace each other. Walk a lap, trot a lap, walk a lap, trot a lap…
During one of our workouts, one of the resident DQ’s observed us and decided to enlighten me. “You know,” she said condescendingly, “if you use a whip and stand in the center of the arena, you don’t have to run around with him.”
“True,” I told her. “But if I use a whip and stand in the center of the arena, I don’t get to run around with him.”
I wish I could describe the look on her face at that point. It was as if a little alien had popped out of my chest and urinated in her martini.
She and I didn’t chat much after that.
When it comes to horsemanship, I think I have two things going for me.
First, I don’t know much, but I KNOW I don’t know much. That means I LISTEN to EVERYBODY. If I hear a good idea, I’ll steal it. I don’t care where it comes from.
The other thing, closely related to that, is that I came to horsemanship as an adult, with a fair amount of life experience under my belt, including some teaching study and experience, and I did NOT have years and years of indoctrination into any particular equestrian discipline, or the equestrian “culture” in general.
As a result, I ask, what to some may seem to be stupid questions. Sometimes it pisses them off, too. That’s ok with me. I don’t mind seeming “stupid” or pissing somebody off if it means I get the answer to the question.
On the other hand, my approach is unjaundiced by presumptions, assumptions and biases, too, and that allows me to look for answers in places other people may not think to look.
So there’s advantage as well as disadvantage to entering into horsemanship with a “fresh” mind, something I learned from long experience in “martial arts.” Sometimes I do envy people who have had the opportunity to spend years and years with horses from the time they were kids. Yet, for me, I think this is the best way.
“When the student is ready, the master appears.”
Here’s something I don’t understand: if my horse and I are supposed to be “partners,” as it has become quite fashionable to say, then how come one partner is doing all the work?
Oh, yes, it’s a brains/brawn partnership, right?
The human partner puts up the brains and the horse kicks in the brawn.
There are two problems with that theory. First, the horse has far more brawn to offer than humans have brains, so even if true, it’s a tremendously lop-sided arrangement. Second, it suggests that horses don’t have any brains of their own, and if you think that, I think you should stay, far, far away from them, for their safety and for yours.
I’m not comfortable with that kind of one-sided “partnership.”
True, partners may have disparate talents, the combination of which should exceed the sum of the parts. And a partnership isn’t 50/50 at every moment, but fluctuates from 80/20 to 20/80, the way a unicyclist stays in continual motion in order to maintain his balance.
Nevertheless, it seems that a real partnership would be a lot more egalitarian than that between many horses and humans. If one “partner” is making all the decisions and the other partner is doing all the work, that arrangement had ought to be voluntary for both parties.
I’m not big on “do as I say, not as I do.” Seen too much of that, I guess. When I work with humans, I don’t ask or expect anyone to do anything I can’t or won’t do, or haven’t done, myself. If I want respect, I have to earn it, and I earn it by showing that I live by the same rules I’m asking them to live by. Say what I mean, mean what I say, do what I say I’m going to do.
Same thing with my pony.
Since reading a friend’s account of her first 50-mile endurance ride, I’ve decided I’d like to take a crack at that. If nothing else, it’s a socially acceptable reason to spends lots more time with my horse and lots less time with people. No downside, there.
I mentioned to a fellow at the barn that I was starting to train for endurance riding and off he went on a catalogue of things my HORSE would have to do to get ready. To be fair, some of them were good ideas, too. But he’d missed something important. I’d said that “I” was starting to train for endurance riding, not “we” or “my horse.” But nowhere in his idea of training was there any training for ME.
Now, the first thing I’M doing to train is to drop at least 25 pounds, probably more, without, I hope, sacrificing any strength. Since muscle weighs more than fat, that means I’m going to have to be leaner than I’ve ever been before. and it’ll be tough to do, I know.
But how can I NOT do it?
If I’m asking my pony to carry my weight for 50 miles or more, how can I possibly justify making that harder for him by weighing more than I have to?
How can I ask him to put out all that effort to get into endurance shape for ME, if I’m not going to make the same commitment MYSELF, to get in shape for HIM?
How could I possibly ask for or deserve his respect, let alone trust in my leadership.
Hell, it’s not like this is HIS idea (although, being an arab, a long ride might very well be his idea of a good time).
Sure, there’s leadership “technique,” how to stand, how to move, and so on and you have to know that stuff and know it well. It takes time and practice. I'm working on that every chance I get.
But there’s more to being a good boxer than learning an assortment of boxing techniques, otherwise some of the boxing-aerobics bunnies would be champs by now -- and all 2nd Lieutenants still quoting the manual, would command respect and loyalty of Napoleanic proportions.
No, there’s more to leadership than a collection of cheap tricks. "Techniques" are just moves that mimic what a leader does; it doesn’t make you one.
That’s something in the heart.
And my pony has a heart big as a mountain.
If I can’t at least match it, it seems to me that I should shut up, get off and walk.
Just my opinion.
Cruising 66 in the Ozarks By Cindy Shehan
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