A Bridlepath Less Travelled

Several years ago my Dad introduced me to M Scott Peck’s book, ‘A Road Less Travelled’. The immortal first line, ‘Life is difficult’ resonated strongly – life was quite difficult. However, once you accept that fact and stop wishing it wasn’t so, things become considerably easier to bear. It’s a bit of a mind bender, but as I understand it, so much of why we find things difficult is because we believe they shouldn’t be. 

One of the things I have learned during my life with or without horses is that no one promised you things were going to be easy. There is no law that says if you plan something it should happen. It’s why I hate all of that manifesting using positive thinking rubbish. I believe that we can take what turns up and try to make the best of it. It’s probably a whole lot better than what many other people are dealing with.

When it comes to horses and horsemanship a lot of people I teach really struggle with how flipping difficult the whole thing is. And I agree, it is. Being mentally present is hard. Learning new things is really hard. Recognising your many, many mistakes is a challenge. Trying to understand the needs of this prey animal you’re working with is tough. Managing your  body and emotions is never easy. Getting your head around biomechanics; discovering how it feels when your horse is in balance and when he’s not, well that’s not something that happens over night. But who on earth told you it was going to be easy?!! Did you think that you could learn how to ride a shoulder-in without hours or practice? Did your horse come with a certificate that says he’ll never get worried, or tired, or wish he could hang out with his mates?

I think many of us as teachers really want to give our students a ‘good time’, so we’ll tell them what they’re doing is correct, just so they feel OK. I understand the desire to do this. I can only apologise to my students that the path we’re on doesn’t really allow for this. I also understand the longing for things to be different or better than they are now. Why do you think tack shops are full of draw reins, and harsh bits, and spurs and other paraphernalia? It is undoubtedly much easier to use these things than it is to learn how to use your legs, hands, body and mind properly. I get it. I read a brilliant blog once about how the author envied a famous rider who used rolkur (hyperflexion, or as its now called, low deep and round). How much easier it is to hold your horses head and neck in place with physical traction (and pain)  than it is to learn how to develop things with a really clear understanding of how your horse feels, moves and thinks. Which in turn allows your mistakes to show up, and for the horse to demonstrate his lack of balance, or uncertainty or misunderstandings. It’s much, much easier to hold his head on his chest and not see any of this.

Almost everyone I teach thinks they have the worst luck with horses. Why is it harder for me or my horse? Why does my horse have physical problems? Why does my body do this weird thing I don’t want it to do? Why is it raining so much? Why am I skint, knackered, struggling so much with learning, poulticing my horses foot again etc. etc. etc? Because, my friends, you’re part of a very special community who are trying to do something really hard. Congratulations on that. And neither you or your horse are factory fresh. It’s hard for every single one of us. All of our horses have some physical challenge. All of us have something which we don’t find so easy. Life is difficult, and in acknowledging that, maybe we can actually find things much easier. 

Learning requires failure, that’s built into the deal. To get better there is only one route, and that’s purposeful practice. That involves many hours which might take you down some blind allies that you’ll have  to navigate  your way back out of. See you there. You don’t have bad luck with horses –  you have horses. If you want to see some of the things which Des has listed on his vets records (which include getting a stick stuck between his teeth, twice, in one year) I’m happy to share.

There will certainly be bad days, and some good days – they’re all actually just days. Sometimes your horse is lame, sometimes he’s sound. The reason I can keep horses sounder now than I once could, and know what to do more quickly when trouble shows up,  is because I’ve had so many disasters en route. I didn’t gain this knowledge by everything going swimmingly. 

I hope you have an enjoyable day with your horse, but whatever happens I hope you are able to remember that while life may be difficult, on the whole where horses are involved,  it’s rarely boring.
P.s The photo is one of my many dedicated students.  P.p.s I made myself laugh with the title of this.edit.