Today I received a message from a friend asking me for my views on questions related to my last post where I discussed principles. She asked:
- Why do people stagnate in their horsemanship?
- Why do people fall away from their principles?
- What causes people to not question their knowledge?
I tried to give a semi-detailed response to the questions, but as I wrote my answers I realized that most of the causes boil down to people making their horsemanship all about them. The bare-bone essence for why people behave this way is that the needs of a horse take second place to the need for people to fulfill their ambition of having their ego stroked. Our need to feel good about ourselves prevents some of us from questioning our horsemanship. If we do, we run the risk of discovering we are amateurs – and not good amateurs – and our horses are no more than slaves. Some of us – particularly some professionals – can’t handle the revelation that we are not as good with horses as we like to think we are.
But when we aspire to do the best we can by our horses, the need to appear to always be right loses its importance. Our ego and self-esteem can be sacrificed for the betterment of our horses. It becomes about making our work with horses foremost about the horses and less about us.
I wrote about this topic almost exactly 3 years ago and I think it might be timely to publish it again. I hope you think so.
As some of you may have guessed I am a keen student of horsemanship and all things horses. I’ve read a lot of books about training and horses in general. I have particularly been interested in studying some of the old masters of dressage. But these books never provided a window in the sort of approach to horsemanship that interests me nowadays. I’ve read some of the classics of horsemanship like True Unity, The Thinking Horseman, True Horsemanship Through Feel etc. All of them are excellent books and worth reading several times.
I remember years ago reading that Tom Dorrance recommended a book called Kinship with All Life to his students. Initially, I thought that it was a strange choice because it was not a horse book. But after reading a copy it is easy to see the parallels between the stories in the book and working with horses.
Yesterday I was looking for one of my favourite books on falconry among the disorder of my bookshelves. I came across a book I hadn’t read for a few years. I first read it when I was in my mid-teens and then re-read it at least once every decade since. With each reading, I gain new insights about the relationship with horses that a human should never forget.
The book is the classic French children’s book called The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It was written in 1943 and is definitely the first book I read that offered insight into what I was missing with my relationship with horses.
It tells the story of a young boy who lives on a tiny planet not much bigger than a house. He can walk from one side to the other and see as many sunrises and sunsets as he wishes. He shares his planet with a rose that is vain and demanding of the Little Prince and that drives him mad, but he takes it upon himself to care for the rose. He doesn’t know why, but he loves his rose despite how annoying it is to him. His other responsibility is to clean the three volcanoes that exist on his planet.
Eventually, he leaves his home to explore the universe. Along the way, he meets many interesting characters among the stars with their own tales to tell and allegories to share. But when he gets to earth he meets a fox. The fox tells him that the truth of what the eyes see can only be clearly seen by the heart. It was only much later that I started to understand what this meant.
But for me, the message that I most remember that stuck with me about working with horses was when the fox told the Little Prince “that you are responsible forever for what you tame” and “it is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important.”
Even with the first time I read the book, these two messages really caused my little brain to whirl around. I realized that a horse is important because I am responsible for it. The importance of a horse doesn’t come from it being useful or fun or pretty or talented. The importance comes from the fact that I am responsible for it.
Even more than that, it was a huge revelation to know that I don’t own a horse. I am just responsible for it. Just like a parent doesn’t own a child, but they are responsible for it. The responsibility comes from inviting a horse into my life (or as the fox would say “tamed it). It doesn’t come from a bill of sale or registration papers.
The fox taught the Little Prince about why that damn ego-driven, demanding, pain in the backside of a rose was important. And the fox taught me why each and every horse was important.
So when I was answering my friend’s questions I was thinking that some people had either not learned or have forgotten that when you invite a horse into your life, you are responsible for it in every way. When we make it about the horse, we are forever a student.
Photo: Antoine de Saint-Exupery