For as long as I can remember I have worshipped horses. One of my earliest memories is of cantering my imaginary horse around a field while my mother had her riding lesson. I was four years old. I have lived and breathed horses my whole life. They are my sanctuary in a sometimes noisy and harsh world.
I had a difficult and abusive childhood and I have felt myself drawn to abused and damaged horses–the ones that no one else would go near or ride. Those horses with a lost look in their eyes. In those eyes, I saw my pain reflected back to me. In reaching them and helping them heal, I could heal myself. I became an expert at bringing such horses back. And yet I never had an instructor or trainer, no matter how famous, that understood me.
Those of us who adore horses are quick to talk about the abuse horses endure at the hand of man. We join groups to save horses from slaughter. We give money to rescue Premerin mares. We donate our time to adoption sites and talk to anyone who will listen about stopping the round up of the Mustangs. Yet there is a group that is overlooked. That group is the ever growing numbers of riders that have been abused, broken and cast off by the very people who said they cared.
I am one of those riders. Once lost, but now finding my way out of what I call “The Abuse of Modern Riding.” How could it have happened to me? Where did I lose myself? How could I listen to those who told me I was nothing? Why did I let others teach me in a way I would never teach another? Most horribly, how could I ever let my horse be trained in a way that I felt was against what I believed as a trainer? The answer is complex and yet simple.
I believe that what someone struggles with in life they bring to the saddle. To address this, you cannot just teach technique and theory. Coaches, Masters and trainers must understand the human condition. Yet how many truly bother with the inner workings of the rider? Success is in a ribbon, the perfect counter canter or a flawless course. Success is not measured in nurturing a rider’s dreams, applauding the tiny successes or guiding them through the rough seas of being human.
I once rode in a clinic given by a famous Master with a very prominent rider from Europe. He was quite a lovely rider, soft and intuitive. Yet over dinner when discussing our teaching methods, he said to me, “I do not want to be a therapist, I just teach riding. If they have troubles, I don’t want to teach them.” I was sad upon hearing this because I knew that most trainers and instructors feel this way. Instructors themselves carry their own baggage into the ring to their students, never realizing the damage they themselves cause. How can you be an effective trainer and instructor and not deal with the human condition? I don’t believe it is possible. It is often said: if you are having a bad day, then don’t ride. Take the day off. What if you are always having a bad day? What if anxiety is your constant companion and the voice in your head tells you that you are never good enough? Do we help with the human state of being or do we make it worse? Where does the commitment lie?
Coming next: A case study.