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You cannot make a horse respect you; you can only be the sort of person a horse will respect!
Quote Mark


The Difficulty of Learning




The ability to work with equines is something that must be earned and something that must be learnt. 


The subject of learning is really interesting. I have come across a large number of people who profess to want to learn, who are keen to understand more, who are willing, they say, to put themselves up for more learning; but learning is uncomfortable and this can be demonstrated by imagining situations where people are asked to learn.  In a classroom situation, when asking for volunteers, quite often people are reluctant to volunteer, because they fear ridicule, making a mistake and being laughed at by other course participants. However, by volunteering and taking part in exercises they would expose themselves to the greatest learning opportunities.  People are often reluctant to ask questions in a group environment, so hindering their learning, purely because they want to avoid the physical discomfort of learning.  People often fail to express their opinions, their ideas, their thoughts, their concerns on a subject purely because they are nervous of how they will be perceived and how other people will react to their statements. By these actions people are actually proving they fear the process of learning they want to learn but learning is hard work.


To truly learn to work with equines, one has to experience the physical discomfort of learning, the feeling of knowing less than one should. Making mistakes is essential to any form of learning and therefore, we should seek to make as many mistakes as necessary to learn the subject that we have chosen.  However, mistakes should be small, safe and not detrimental, in this case, to the horse's welfare or ours.


I believe that no part of horsemanship is in isolation and therefore, learning must not only continue while working with equines, but also in our everyday life with family, children and with ourselves, because our personality affects our ability to become proficient at training equines.  We each possess a unique mental map of the world.  This view of the world determines how we interact with our environment, whether we see the glass as "half full or half empty"; whether we can see the try. Whether we can recognise the effort that is involved in learning depends upon our childhood conditioning from family, friends and from ourselves.  As an example, an owner may describe their horse as being "nappy", as when they go out for a ride their horse often does not want to go. The animal becomes difficult to ride and wants to return to the familiar environment of their field or stable.  Often, this behaviour is seen as being unreasonable, deliberately difficult and certainly disrespectful. 


I would suggest that an owner who has continued to learn about horsemanship and behaviour would possibly look at this behaviour and see a horse that lacks confidence.  They would understand that the horse is keener to be in a familiar environment with its herd mates than he is to being with their human. This is a difficult realisation for most owners.  One perception leads the owner down the path of domination, force and misunderstanding. The other leads the owner down the path of increasing trust, building confidence and developing their relationship with their equine.


During the process of learning, one has to embrace the discomfort of truth and the nagging doubt created by mistakes.  In order to learn we must take responsibility for our mistakes. However, we should avoid apportioning blame, as blame is destructive while responsibility is constructive.  It is really common to see an equine owner being too hard on themselves for making a mistake with their equine companion.  By punishing ourselves we avoid situations where we might make mistakes and we stop trying to learn.  However, if we can take responsibility for our mistakes, accepting that we have genuinely done our best to learn, we can gain a great insight and we can truly begin to increase our knowledge and develop wisdom with regard to our equines


We are conditioned by our education system to believe that learning can be marked, can be assessed and certificated. This may be true of many aspects of our education and of practical skills but true wisdom cannot be measured by comparing certificates or even by measuring one person against another.  Learning is not a competition, so success cannot be measured in time taken or in volume of learning.  Wisdom must be experienced in the soul, bringing calmness, a confidence and a "laying to rest" of the ego.  So, for correct learning to take place we must understand initially what it is we wish to learn, is it a skill, is it knowledge or is it an attitude? Each one is learnt in different ways.


A skill may be taught through practical application of information. Through repetition of practice, a level of proficiency can be achieved.  The more correct practice that takes place, the more the skill will become finely tuned.


Knowledge may be learnt from the study of facts. Through the use of memory we can become extremely knowledgeable on any subject that one desires to learn about.  We can become knowledgeable about equine behaviour through reading books, attending lectures or by the observation of equines themselves.


Attitude, however, is an internal mechanism, a process of self-belief; of understanding; of coming to terms with our processes of thinking.  To learn new attitudes, one often has to overcome old attitudes or prejudices.  To learn an attitude one has to question our thinking and our core essence of who we are because our attitude determines our perception of the world and of our equines, and our attitudes determine how we will use our skills and knowledge.  So, when deciding to learn a new topic, start by deciding whether it is skill, knowledge or attitude.  Wisdom may be born out of an understanding of the difference between skills and knowledge and the preparedness to truly be uncomfortable in learning a new attitude.


N.B  Learning a new skill or knowledge may cause the physical discomfort of having to study, to use our memory, to practice new muscle movements but the learning of a new attitude may cause us the mental turmoil of questioning our existence, of previous learning - the very core of who we are - and this is often why the learning of new attitudes is neglected.

© Ben Hart  2005


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