by Laura Crum
I have a friend who regards herself as a perpetual student of horsemanship. (Uhmm, I guess it might be more accurate to describe her as a friendly acquaintance.) She goes to lots of clinics, takes lessons from various trainers, puts her long suffering horse in training from time to time…you get the picture. I am not going to comment here on whether I think all this “learning” is improving her horsemanship. Its debatable, in my eyes. But that’s not my topic.
This gal used to try to convince me to watch her newest, latest, and greatest video by yet another trendy clinician, or even go to a clinic with her. For the last ten years, since I quit training and competing, I’ve been hugely uninterested in this stuff, and she just doesn’t get it. “Don’t you want to keep learning?” she asks, and I can tell by her tone and expression that she thinks it would be an unfathomable sin for me to say, “no.”
So, I don’t say no. But I am stymied by what to say. Because what I really think she wouldn’t understand, and I don’t seem to have the skill to explain it to her. Thus, I am going to attempt to explain what I feel on this subject here, and perhaps you all can give me some feedback on whether I got my point across.
This “friend” knows me from the days when I used to train and compete, and she can’t understand why I gave it up and am uninterested in it now. She doesn’t see how I can be satisfied by peaceful, uneventful rides through the hills with my son, on our two steady, reliable trail horses. She can’t comprehend that all the cow work I am doing is just gathering the roping cattle and putting them through the chutes, as well as teaching my kid to work a cow (in the most rudimentary and relaxed way) on his retired team roping horse. She thinks I ought to want to do more.
The truth is that I don’t want to do more, but I am learning. I am just not learning things she would understand or value. And I am not learning “techniques” or even concepts from some other clever human, I am learning from my horses and the world around me.
I am learning how not to be in a hurry, how not to have goals that are more complicated than completing the ride we’re currently on. I am learning to watch a horse, or a hawk, and understand what I am seeing. I am learning to pay attention to the little things, and comprehend the language of animals…and plants and clouds. I am learning to be peaceful, and to interact with my horses in a way that’s rewarding for both of us. My horses like to be ridden, now that our rides are not stressful or too demanding. They meet me at the gate when I go to catch them. And I get ready to ride without that old anxious knot in my stomach. That knot was so familiar and constant that I took it for granted. It was part of working with horses, I thought. But guess what? Its gone. Now that I’ve taken the pressure off myself and them.
Am I learning new things? Yes. I am constantly amazed at how much my horses and I connect now, how much they obviously like me, how much information we can share. My horses always seemed fond of me, but there is a whole new dimension to this when the horse trusts that he is not going to be asked to do something he is heartily sick and tired of doing. Suddenly the partnership has a genuinely two-way feel. I am still the boss, but my horses throw in willingly with me because they like and understand our “work”. They would rather be ridden than not.
I am learning the ways of our trails, their moods at all seasons. I am finding the small ponds in the hills, and learning what the frogs have to say, as well as how many days it takes the muddy slope to dry out enough to be ridable after a rain. I am learning what my horses think as they take in the world around them. I discovered that Sunny thinks a coyote pup is interesting, not scary, and that both Sunny and Henry are far more eager to go out on a trail ride than to walk through the gate to the arena.
Are my horses and I learning new tricks? No. We don’t need new tricks. We’re happy observing the woods and weather and loping along with our friends. This is a joy to us all, and we don’t need more.
If my friend enjoys her clinics and her training and her “learning”, that’s great for her. I don’t think her horse is enjoying his life quite as much as my horses are enjoying their lives, but certainly she’s not torturing the poor critter. I’m not putting her down. I’m simply saying there’s more than one way of learning. I spent many many years pursuing the form of learning “horsemanship” that my friend is interested in, and there is definitely merit in it. But there are other ways of learning to be with horses, and it is those ways I’m exploring now. To be fair, I might not have the tools to explore this new way of learning had I not spent many years learning from trainers who were more accomplished horsemen than I was. So formal “learning” had its place in my education. Its just not the place I’m in right now.
I don’t know how to explain this to my “friend” when she hands me yet another clinician’s video. Perhaps I’m getting a little testy. Last time I said, “It ain’t about videos. At least for me.” And I don’t think she got that at all. Any suggestions?
I do understand that many horses enjoy their work and their “training”, particularly if the rider is knowledgable and sensitive to the horse’s feelings. My two little “bombproof” geldings are essentially lazy, intelligent horses who prefer a walk in the woods and a look at different country to repetitive work in the arena (they both used to be team roping horses). That there are horses who have other preferences, I’m well aware. That there are riders who don’t enjoy trail riding and prefer the challenges of more formal arena work, I’m also aware. Certainly for many years (like almost twenty years) I trained and competed fairly relentlessly at cutting and then team roping. So I really get that space. I’m just not in it now.
Again, I’m not trying to “dis” formal learning through lessons and/or videos—I think it has its place. I’m trying to explain that there are other ways of learning and interacting with horses that can be equally positive and rewarding. What’s your opinion on this subject?