Horsemanship is not about the destination. It’s not about status or ribbons or financial success, how fancy the horse is, how many horses we sit on each day, and it’s not about how long we’ve been in this business. Horsemanship is about the process of learning to better steward over our animals. 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 lifestyle. Our love for the horse and our search for his freedom drive us to grow as riders and as horsemen. This is horsemanship.
So often as horsemen though, we find ourselves frustrated, overwhelmed, and anxious. We are competitive by nature, and we want to be significant in our field. Trainers want to move horses up the levels, managers want to run better barns, and vets want to have the most 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.
No one can deny that horses are humbling. Everyone has heard the phrase, usually exclaimed in exasperation after a failed attempt. But 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’s intention will not sugarcoat a failure and will not disguise success. This drama-free transparency forms an ideal 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 in 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 nutrition 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 and preferably faster than those around me. When I would make it up one step, I would find myself staring at just another mountain to climb. My finish line focus left me frustrated, fragile minded, and plowing through the process. I tripped over failures and disregarded successes. I was not learning; ergo, my ‘horsemanship’ was purposeless.
Thankfully, graced with some wonderfully humbling, kind, and forgiving horses, I stopped and reevaluated. I realized that 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 ribbons and status that come with it. I no longer feel anxious chasing the next level in order to check it off my list because 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
If we handle our horses with humility and open mindedness, then we find victory in day to day progression— we have purpose in our process. We can then look to the people beside us doing the same thing and realize… we are on the same team.
So often as riders and horsemen, we take an ‘us vs them’ perspective. Whether it’s in competition, between disciplines, between barns, or even between riders schooling in the same ring. We don’t intend this, but when pride flares up, the symptoms tear us down.
These examples sound so petty on paper, but I can attest that if we allow pride to blind us from purposeful horsemanship, we become insecure. From insecurity stems a need for constant validation, and to keep up with that need, we rationalize our own significance above others’. Even if we never speak a word out of this place, the perspective is set, and we become rifted from the people around us.
Like all other aspects of life, horsemanship is not meant to be a solo venture. With the humility that allows us to work in purpose, we can also learn from the people around us. When we let go of enough insecurity to look to our neighbor for perspective, guidance, and support, we can build each other up as horsemen. Pooled knowledge and experience go a lot further than individual perspective!
Pride can also surface in entitlement. Think about driving a car—anyone driving slower than me is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than me is a moron. If we’re not self-reflective, this mindset can manifest between horse people. Around more experienced or more privileged horsemen, we could easily lose confidence. At worst, we could become resentful and mentally disengage from these people to protect our own perceptions. On the other hand, around beginning horsemen or those who work with less education, we could become impatient and irritated. We expect them to function at a higher level.
When we soften to allow the humility in though, we realize that we are all in the same boat—knowing more than some, less than others, and holding a unique perspective. When we meet the ‘slower driver’ where they’re at, we may realize that they are going at their own safe, logical speed. Same for the horsemen in front of us. We’d better hope they show the same appreciation for our own slower speed. If they can teach us something then we keep moving forward, and we can help to educate those following in our path. When we learn from each other, teach each other, and recognize each other’s significance, we help each other grow and enjoy the process. And that is purposeful horsemanship.