Humility & Purposeful Horsemanship

Horsemanship is not about the destination. It should not be oriented around status, ribbons, or financial success. It’s not about how fancy the horse is, how many horses we swing a leg over in a day, and it’s not about how long we’ve been in this business. Sustainable horsemanship is about the process of learning to better steward over the horse. Once upon a time, we fell in love with a pony and found freedom on his back. As we grew, we wanted to go faster, do more, be better. We realized the responsibility and fulfillment in managing horses, and the infatuation grew into a way of life. Our hearts pump for the horse and our search for his freedom drives us to grow as riders and horsemen. This is horsemanship. 

So often as horsemen though, we find ourselves frustrated, overwhelmed, and anxious. We are type A and competitive by nature; we want significance in our field. Trainers want to move horses up the levels, managers want to run more efficient barns, and vets want the clients and the answers. This drive should propel an individual’s horsemanship and industry-wide education to the next level. However, unless we grasp the key that gives us perspective, peace, and stability in our process, this potential will remain locked. The key to horsemanship is humility.

Humility for the Horse

No one can deny that horses are humbling. Everyone has heard the phrase, usually exclaimed in exasperation. This may be the most valuable tool horses offer us. Think about it— horses are humblers because they expose the truth. No more, no less. The horse’s reaction to a person will not sugarcoat failure, disguise success, or mistake reality from intention. Horses simply offer us a mirror to look into. This transparency forms a platform for us to learn and develop from.

Unfortunately, we the people are often less transparent and naturally egotistic. Left unchecked, pride blinds us from the horse’s education. Revealing itself as anger, denial, exasperation, and anxiety, pride twists our perception and affects our judgement. For example—what happens when a horse begins to stop at fences? Does the trainer press harder? Does she write the horse off? Or does she address the issue in regard to the horse’s transparency, asking why? What about the horse that can’t seem to gain weight? Does a manager get frustrated and accept the situation? Hide the horse under a blanket? Pump more of the same feed into him? Or does she address a potential health issue/management deficiency, ask for help, and try a new approach to the horse’s program?

As a prideful soul by nature, I’ve had to come to Jesus over the past few years working with horses. Like many of us, I was destination focused, always anxious to get to the next level, preferably faster than those around me. When I would make it up one mountain, I would find myself staring at just the next, or worse off, the person already on that mountain. My finish line focus left me frustrated, fragile minded, and plowing through the process. I tripped over failures and disregarded successes.

Thankfully, blessed with some wonderfully humbling, kind, and forgiving horses, I stopped and reevaluated. At the end of the day, whether we trot cross rails or compete in the Olympics, own a small farm or an international sales operation, our drive is the same. We want to grow as horsemen, and we want to enjoy the horse. If we allow simple growth and enjoyment to fill our daily process throughout this journey, then the Purpose is the Process.

With this epiphany I proceeded with new direction, sustainable pace, and a peaceful relationship with the horses in my hands. My fulfillment now stems from the mission to improve the horse instead of the status that comes with it. I no longer feel anxious chasing the next level in order to check it off my list. I am already in purpose. It’s amazing how much we can improve when we allow the horse’s response to direct our efforts instead of directing the horse to respond to our efforts. When I stopped expecting the horse to read from my script, I stopped getting frustrated, and I started getting better.

Purpose = Process. Process Requires Humility

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