Sunday, 30 August 2015

Presence and Parables

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him 

find it within himself.”

― Galileo 

In a previously life a was a nursing student, and at some point I saw this quote and jotted it down on a mini post-it note and stuck it on my laptop.  Years have passed but this sticky little piece of paper has endured. Through several house moves and life changes, I could never bring myself to throw it out.  For the last few years it's been stuck on a bookshelf in my kitchen (now supported by sticky tape as it no longer has the ability to adhere on it's own) in an attempt that maybe my children would read it and learn from it.  Or so I thought.  I've now come to realise that that's not why I've kept it.  I kept it as I had no clue what it actually meant.  Of course I understood the literal meaning, and I'm sure I thought I knew what the deeper meaning to this message was all about.  Wrong.  I now realise I did not have a blind clue.

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently, who although enjoyed one of the clinics, found herself frustrated by the storytelling that Buck does.  She said she found herself thinking, "Oh why doesn't he just get on with it".   Hmm, that got me thinking and my response would be this.   Buck's stories are tales of his experiences over the years.  They not only serve as fascinating stories in their own right, but if you really listen to him, they are parables to illustrate a point or particular detail of your horsemanship.  If you do not listen, you miss the subtle nuances of his teachings.

Since this exchange I've gone on to think how many of us are in the room, or arena, or indeed in a conversation, but not actually present?  How many of us think we are listening to someone or our horse, but we are actually humouring the pause in our own diatribe, desperate to start our own talking or doing again?  How many of us are presented with a wealth of information or an experience and consciously or unconsciously ignore it?

I'm not talking about enthusiasm here, we all can get a bit carried away when it comes to talking about or doing something we love.  I'm talking of a complete lack of respect of who we are with (human and equine) and also a lack of respect for ourselves.  Why do we not value our own potential for development to actually absorb as much as we can, especially in a teaching situation.  We are there by our own choosing, because we want to learn, we want to be better.  Or do we?  Or do we just want to be there, and expect our horse to try, when in reality we are not actually present, therefore not trying OUR best but expect the best from our horse?

This kind of horsemanship is really about pushing the envelope in our own ability.  No one can do it for you.  If you truly want to progress and for your horse to progress, you have to be present, you have to take in as much as you are personally able to, you have to go beyond being a mechanic, you have to WANT this.

To be present, to be open, to be able to give it a go, to listen, to walk away thinking yes I got as much as was able to take from today. To TRY.

To have respect for the clinician, the other participants, your horse and YOURSELF.

Yes this is a journey, and don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying you have to be an expert and think you have it all mastered before you begin.  What I am saying is if you want to chase and hone the qualities it takes to be good with horses, feel, timing, precision, then you need to start by being present.  Feel your horse, listen to him, experience the ride.  Otherwise you will be so busy getting on with it, you'll miss both the journey and the destination.

So back to my post-it note.  I'm finally beginning to understand what these words mean.  I'm finally finding within myself what Buck is trying to teach us, and it really does have to come from us.

All of us learn differently.  The 3 main learning styles are visual, audible and kinesthetic, and I appreciate that parables may not be everyone's cup of tea, however, if you dial in mentally at Buck's clinics, what unfolds across 3 days is a rich tapestry of life, skill and experience.  Not just his or yours, but everyone's who is there, both human and equine.  It's a bounty of learning.

It is exactly the same with the horses.  Buck sets it up for them to find the answer themselves, he doesn't force them or do it for them.  He also does the same with us, and his tales are just another key to help us unlock that door.. all we have to do is listen.

See you on the flip side xx

Friday, 14 August 2015

Adventures of a Flat Footed, Buddhist, Drag Queen

I think it was on day 2 that I asked Buck a question about my horse being obedient but I felt he was mentally elsewhere.   He was responsive and respectful to my aids, but he didn't quite feel 'in the room' with me.

Buck told me as nicely as he possibly could that I needed to be more interesting for my horse.  Essentially, Tuff has to tune me out to tune something else in (this also applies to horses that like to make war/crabby expression with other horses).

Hmmm, now I knew this in a roundabout way before I asked the question.  I am very aware that I need to keep Tuff's attention, as with too much head space he makes up his own fun, but I never really considered that I needed to be more interesting, and more to the point what would classify as interesting to my horse?

Forever in the aim to become more horseman than horse mechanic I came home and really have sat and thought about this.  Am I ever interesting when in the saddle?  Or do I play out the same exercises in an attempt to make us both feel like winners?  In one regard, refining feel and softness, but sometimes paying the penalty of being considered regimented and dull to my horse?  What was lacking here (apart from wine dissolved brain cells)?

There is no doubt the exercises Buck showed us at Aintree have definitely helped spice up things in the menage, giving us both another level of communication, but I could not help feel I was fundamentally missing something.

Then it clicked.. whilst having a conversation about a cardigan, that in my husband's opinion made me look like a monk...  Tuff needed a purpose and I needed to try something different.  My cardigan had a purpose, and it fulfilled it well.  However it was not my usual look, but it felt good.  This is what I needed to apply to my horsemanship.  I'll get to the drag queen bit later...

So I made a commitment to take my riding out of the arena, and find purpose out on the trail.  Fairly simplistic in idea, but interesting in execution.   There are potentially a lot of distractions out hacking.  Be it other horses, riders, cars, sheep, cows, killer cyclists and ramblers or even the distraction as a rider to completely switch off and hand over the reins to your horse.   Never a good idea, but as a tired and harassed mum, is sometimes tempting.  So for a full two weeks I set off with Buck's voice in my ear and to begin with a simple ask of my horse... feel my focus and follow my feel in direction and speed.

So this exercise basically required Tuff to be on a loose rein and go in the direction I wanted him to go at the speed I wanted him to go.   My job was to not micromanage and only pick up the reins once he made a mistake (or if we were in mortal danger)  oh and to have lazer like focus.  Now focus is one of those things I am supremely good at when needed to be (i.e in mortal danger or if there is only one piece of cake left) but I can sometime be a very lazy rider, and once I start nattering, switch of completely and be a incompetant leader.  Tuff has the attention span of a gnat and is the nosiest horse I've ever met, so I was expecting a fair amount of correction both of myself and with him in the beginning, but what I found out about myself and my horse is when I upped the ante, so did he.

Treat them how you want them to be, not where they are.  There it is again.  This Buck fella knows his stuff :)

So Tuff and I continued our adventures, and I found myself introducing more and more of the exercises covered at Aintree, out on the trail.  But more importantly I was using them for a purpose, not just randomly implementing them.   They started to make sense to Tuff on another level.   Soft feel and getting to those feet proved useful when riding out with dear Clara, an older slower lovely mare.  Moving the front over particularly useful for avoiding gigantic rabbit holes, back up and moving the front and hind with precision for the many gates we encounter, following my focus is indispensable for many a situation, particularly when going through narrow gaps with your feet up on your horses neck!   Of course it was not all rosy, there were times Tuff was worried but I found he trusted my judgement, and that his feet were becoming mine and I can start to take them anywhere I need them to go... also short serpentines are invaluable when coming across killer soya bean pickers!

But the highlight for me, someone who has struggled to trust my riding and judgement for so long, was the long fast controlled trots on a loose rein, over open countryside, with my horse feeling totally one with me and moving in complete synchronicity underneath me.   Together in gait, speed, aim and focus.  Complete joy.  Buck is still teaching me long after the clinic has ended, as is Tuff.

So why the flat footed drag queen?  Well in the spirit of change and with a family holiday looming, I dug out my sandals and painted my blue-white toes a shocking shade of coral in an attempt to look 'normal' for a week.   Apparently I look better in my riding clothes... and like a drag queen in anything else...pass the wine!

See you on the flip side x