The Benefits of Teaching!

dsc_0197The best part of teaching is continually having to find ways to present material so that the students discover the correct answer on their own.  The toughest part of teaching is having the patience to allow students time to search for the answer.  This process can be quite funny in that it reveals who the “student” really is…  the teacher!

With the horse, I’m always trying to set up situations that encourage the horse to discover the answer for itself.  All I have to do is keep searching for the best ways to set up those situations and hope that the horse achieves even a little piece of the desired outcome.  The bigger picture is creating a horse who is a willing partner and who can think for itself.

By discouraging the horse from making wrong actions, I leave a huge open door for the correct choices to be explored.  When the horse begins to search and think about what I may be asking of it, everything becomes really soft and quiet.  The horse becomes more balanced and connected, and this relaxes both its physical and mental states.  The horse builds more confidence, and it learns to trust me during the tougher, unforeseen challenges ahead.  This creates a very intuitively engaged horse who becomes excited for new challenges and really enjoys the mutually beneficial relationship.    

One of the toughest aspects of any teaching experience is finding the sweet spot of engagement.  If you ask too much or never engage a horse in a meaningful way, they begin to shut down, glaze over, and tune out.  If you do not ask enough of other horses, they respond by finding other things to stimulate their minds or by using everything a rider does against them.  

As a teacher, I struggle to teach my students about my own personal breakthroughs. That is the fun of teaching, though. When you see your students’ faces look as though you were from another planet, you know that more thought needs to put into the next attempt at teaching them.  It is like running a little experiment over and over, refining it each time till more and more people start to grasp the idea sooner with actual positive results. That’s where the horse and the students are actually my greatest asset in refining myself continuously.  As a teacher, I am humbled by and grateful to everyone who allows me to continue to teach them. Without you, my own refinement is not possible! 

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All The Same!


 In general, horsemanship should be consistent regardless of the location or situation you find yourself in, though it is of course acceptable to alter your strategy slightly if circumstances demand it. The basic movements you use to help your horse work through a situation should remain the same, and you should attempt to keep your signals consistent. This does not mean that you shouldn’t be dynamic and respond to your horse’s variable needs, however. You must also be aware of your horse and work through the issues that surface as the ride progresses, whether that be from the ground or in the saddle. If you’re not working through the issues that arise and supporting your horse through difficult situations, your problems will only get worse. The key is to support your horse with consistency.

 Creating effective training strategies has become one of my favorite parts of working with horses and riders. There are many similarities between cases, but the strategies I employ to help each horse and rider partnership progress are always a bit different. This principle is the same for my own riding as well. How I work with a horse in an arena by myself may be different then how I ride in an arena with twenty riders or how I ride in a wide open hay meadow. Under the surface, I will be working on all the same things and using consistent horsemanship, but the exact method I use will vary based on current circumstances.

 There are several areas involving consistency that tend to cause problems for horses and riders. I have outlined a few below:

 Routine – When horses are ridden in an excessively routine-based regimen with a controlled outside environment, they tend to become too limited in their capabilities. Once the routine is mixed up, the horse falls apart. These horses are mechanical in the sense that they may go through the motions that make them seem advanced when all the conditions are perfect, but they have no ability to adapt or overcome an imperfect environment.

 Fear – Aside from causing problems for the horse, an excessively routinized training regimen can have a bad effect on the rider as well by promoting a fear of all uncontrollable factors. This causes the rider to limit his riding to very specific environments and conditions. In worrying so much about his surroundings, the rider loses focus on connecting with and properly training the horse.

 Situational – Sometimes riders who are accustomed to working with their horse in diverse environments end up riding their horses very differently in each type of situation. This creates separate training regimens for indoor arenas, job orientated tasks, and outdoor trail riding. This can lead to a different horse and rider relationship from one minute to the next, with no consistency and support for the horse to build off of.

 Unaware – Some riders don’t realize with any consistency when their horse runs through a leg or against the rein aids, and this makes the rider inconsistent in their signals. In this situation, the rider has become a passenger at the mercy of the horse’s reactions rather than a supportive trainer ready to respond predictably but effectively to the horse.

 The best way to be a consistent yet responsive rider is to get in harmony with your horse through proper use of the basics. Whether you’re in an arena, out on a trail, roping a cow, or on a naval carrier, the basics are always the same. When you work through areas where your horse needs support, the basics can help you simplify and then refine all movements. This is the true sign of partnership between horse and rider: harmony in all circumstances. Where the basics are in place, the rider can feel the horse, and the horse willingly responds to the rider no matter if it is in an arena or outside of one. The outside factors become negligible because the horse and rider are in harmony and share a solid foundation of basics that never change. Ultimately, you should be able to videotape yourself riding your horse in many different locations and have it look as if you have simply photoshopped different backgrounds into the frame. Your horse should remain the same even in different locations.

 In my opinion, the greatest deficiency in the horse industry right now is the lack of education in the art of classical horsemanship. This is the horsemanship that promotes the consistency, harmony, and basics discussed above. If the riding you’re doing or lessons you’re taking are not based on classical riding of some sort, then I must say that you’re doing yourself and your horse a huge disservice. These are the tried and true methods, and when riding conditions are unpredictable or you are faced with an uncertain situation in the saddle, classical horsemanship and the strong foundation it provides you with will prove indispensable.

The Instagram Effect

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Something I have noticed over the past few years is people saying how perfect someone’s life must be based on their social media page, social status, or profession. All that those people see is the glamorous image that is in front of them at that moment; they never stop to see the whole picture and recognize the long process that brought the person they envy to their current point in life. I call this the Instagram effect.

Those who rely solely on social media’s edited and filtered images to make judgments about the quality of another person’s life are missing the reality of the situation entirely. I have witnessed this time and time again in my own life. A lot of people see my Instagram pictures and think I am just living the dream – and don’t get me wrong, I am living my dream – but they don’t see the other side of my life which is struggling to find my niche away from everything and everyone I know and travelling coast to coast in a truck and trailer by myself for long stretches of time. There are countless days when I would give anything to be back with my family and friends working a 9 to 5 job with a sense of security. Instead, I am always trying to make ends meet as I further my education, moving continually so that I can pursue a life of learning and serving others with the knowledge I am slowly gathering. Of course, I do get lonely and become exhausted, but tomorrow is always a new fresh day to start all over again.

The images that I post on Instagram are invariably the most beautiful and idealistic moments of my life, and this is all that those who follow me on social media see. The reality is that these images are edited to look perfect, and no one’s life (including mine) is actually true to their Instagram photos. If someone were to post honest photos of their day-to-day life, nobody would want to see it. Nobody wants to see and hear about normal every day processes or, even worse, the downsides to certain bad days.  Everyone wants to pretend that if they were that person with the glamorous Instagram everything would be easier and perfect. All their problems would go away. The sad truth is that if they saw the whole picture, they would probably think twice.

I see this same phenomenon with horses all the time. Someone sees a horse they love, they buy it, and within a month or so the incredible horse has seemingly deteriorated into a normal horse.  As George Morris always says with a great smirk, “You can’t buy this,” referring to what he has earned through hard work with horses over a lifetime. Buck offers similar wisdom when he says that “you will need to bleed” in order to understand horses and achieve refinement with them.  You can’t buy a horse and expect it to stay great unless your abilities match or exceed the education level of the previous rider.

No matter how much the “journey” is emphasized as important, however, most people don’t want to go through the hardships in order to reap the benefits. Most people want good results handed to them.  But what would your life look like without the hardships, moments of self-discovery, and the failures that ultimately lead to new wisdom? What if everything was just handed to you and life was just success after success without any effort?  Wouldn’t it be a life full of selfishness and complete meaninglessness? In my experience, the best part of the journey is going through what it takes to progress forward: striving to live a life of meaning by serving others with your special talents and passions. Without the struggle, there is no incentive to continue living life with vigor and a sense of urgency to learn.  I don’t think that I have much to offer now compared to what I will be able to offer in ten or more years, but this is what keeps me going every day.

Don’t get caught up wanting to be someone else because their life looks perfect. Let go of that illusion, and start to do what you can in reality.  Find a way to live a meaningful life by serving others through studying, applying, and reflecting every day.  Nothing is going to happen overnight, and the only way to succeed is by accumulating knowledge over a long period of time.  I wish I had some great success story to tell you about how this process has led me to achieve great things, but I am merely another person trying to survive the journey and learn from the struggle. I have faith that the process will take me where I am meant to go whenever I am meant to go there.

Audio Intake

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Audio intake is a great way to learn and continually expand on thoughts you may have been having.  Listening to audio books or podcasts are a great way to utilize time spent in a car, plane, or any situation in which you may be mindlessly absent otherwise.  The best part to me as a frequent traveler of the road, is how fast it makes a trip go by, engaging your mind in a whole different way.  For me, it really helps me reflect on the past, create new ideas for the future, and refine my thoughts with further understanding of reality.
There is subject matter for all interests in either podcast or audio book form, be sure to find time to listen daily to further enrich your mind.  Don’t get me wrong I love some music here and there, but if its over a 15 minute trip you can bet I will be listening to some podcast or audio book.  Whether it’s fiction or non fictional doesn’t matter, use the time to engage your brain on a different level.
Find dead spots through out your days that you could be capitalizing on to start to listen to some form of audio intake.  Whether that may be when you wake up, in your car, at work, before bed, during a walk, and when ever else it may be appropriate.  Spark your mind with positively enriching audio to create new ideas, reflect on old experiences, and refine thoughts that continually develop through out your life.
Audio is priceless for the stories, studies, insights, and breadth that help me to better convey my words to fit the understanding of others through their eyes.
Vast, quality intake is the key!  By combining hearing, seeing, feeling, reading, writing, teaching, reflecting, and refining; the odds of really retaining and further understanding increase.  Ultimately helping me to better understand reality and the need for simplicity.

Patch Job Junkies

Something that has always bothered me is patch jobs, or in other words, temporary fixes. Problems that are patched always come back to haunt you in the long run.  Patch jobs only delay the inevitable, and a problem that wasn’t dealt with properly when it arose the first time can become catastrophic due to continued deterioration.  If a problem does arise, deal with it properly and save yourself time, money, and stress.

Of course the best way to go about things is to avoid problems altogether by maintaining control of every situation and putting preventative measures into place, but as well all know, life happens. If you’re not able to handle something properly from the start and you’re presented with a problem, go ahead and fix it completely before moving on to the next priority.  Once you have something fixed, stay ahead of it with proper maintenance and don’t let it deteriorate causing the same problem to arise again and again.  This is the only way to get ahead, otherwise you will find yourself in a state of continual crisis management never allowing you a moment to progress beyond the current situation.  An endless cycle of patching will take place until finally everything crumbles in on you and puts you even further behind the eight ball.

So maybe the proper title for this post should be ‘get ahead and stay ahead’.  I can’t tell you how many horses I have dealt with that this pertains to, or, more accurately, horse owners I have dealt with that think there is a short term miracle patch job.  This leads me to the subject of unrealistic expectations.  Sure there are some issues that can be fixed or greatly improved in one session such as trailer loading, bridling, and other more specific situational issues, but all in all, if problems with a horse are not addressed every time you work with the animal, the issues will always creep back in.

If an owner wants to keep his horse respectable on the ground and in the saddle, then he must establish this foundation from the start.  I’m talking about the foundation that Buck Brannaman, Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, and countless others started teaching.  Once you have that, you can always come back to it if a problem arises.  If there is a problem and the horse doesn’t have a solid foundation, then I can only say that there is no time like the present to put one in place.

Ultimately, the foundation builds confidence in the horse by providing it with guiding support in the form of the rider’s ability to connect with the horse physically and mentally through timing, feel, and balance.  If your horse has this to begin with, the rest is easy as long as you take the foundation with you as you go.

Here is where patch jobs present a problem with horses – a horse that has no foundation and is put into training has nothing to fall back on when a problem occurs. The problem only gets worse with time until the point where a dangerous situation exists or where the horse completely gives up.  If a horse gets to this point, yes, a person could put one ride on them and make them look better, but as soon as the patch is done the horse will go right back into its old habits.  In order to fix a horse like this, it takes time and consistency.

Don’t let a horse get to this point. Don’t try to fix problems with patch jobs that will ultimately lead to major issues requiring serious repair that can take forever to get back on the right track.  Try to do it right from the beginning, but if that’s not possible, then fix a problem properly and stay ahead of it from there on out.  Learn from the mistakes you make along the way so that you can avoid them in the future.  If you’re going to do something, then you had best do it in the right way; if you don’t, it will not be a matter of if it goes wrong, but rather a matter of when and how badly it will go wrong. This is especially important for situations involving horses and people in that a problem with the animal can easily become a dangerous life-or-death issue.

The only thing I know is that I don’t know!

For the past two winters in Wellington, Florida, I have had the privilege of studying under George Morris one or two days a week. Over this time, I have found myself consumed by the effort to understand what skills and philosophies lead those who are masters at their trade along the path to ‘enlightenment’. I use the term enlightenment cautiously, not in a Voodoo god-like way, but in the sense of a deeper awareness and understanding of the world as it exists. When I refer to masters, I mean those who are able to refine their craft beyond the basic level that is comprehensible to most others.

A typical day spent with George was as follows:

After he had worked out for an hour at a nearby gym, George and I met for breakfast at 7 am. From there we hit the road, venturing to many different barns where he would ride, educate, and mentor many of the top riders and horses at every level.  He usually started out by riding a few horses, then progress to teaching a few individual lessons, and finally wrap up his instruction with a clinic.  Following the morning’s work, we would head back to his house for a few hours – but only after his usual stop at Dunkin Donuts for a large hot chocolate with whipped cream! While George occupied himself with the editing of his autobiography, I was left to browse his library and read his books and the notes that he had jotted down on their pages. In the afternoon, we would head to the show grounds where I got to observe him as he walked and discussed the course with several riders, both those he was responsible for coaching and those he wasn’t. My favorite part of these afternoons was standing with him as his students rode.  He could see every mistake before it happened and every bad distance long before the horse took off. His understanding of the horse’s correctness to the jump was so well established by his years of riding and teaching that George knew what was going to happen before the horse ever did.

On one of the last days I spent with George during the winter season, he said something that had an enormous impact on my thinking. As usual, we met for breakfast, said our good mornings, and sat down. It was not uncharacteristic on such occasions for George to start the conversation by exhaling loudly and then delivering a simple but mind-blowing comment.  On this day his comment was, “You know what keeps me waking up every day?  The drive to continue to learn, the hunger to be better for the horse, the fact that the only thing that is confirmed every day is that I don’t know. The only thing I know is that I don’t know.” This is a classic example of George’s sage-like advice: spontaneous yet full of priceless wisdom.  Only after some time had passed and I had let his statement sink in did I realize how significant it was.

This statement of George’s that “the only thing I know is that I don’t know” encapsulates much of what it takes to achieve self-mastery. This in itself is a complicated subject, but for now I will only discuss what the statement means to me.

Simply put, the day you stop learning is the day you think that you have ‘arrived’, that you have reached the pinnacle of your potential, that there is no need to continue studying, applying, and refining your skills. You have reached a state of stagnation from which there is no forward progress. There is no more desire to conduct experiments in hopes of bettering your understanding and improving your awareness. You have become mechanized and routine in your approach to dealing with all situations, and you have lost sensitivity for the moment at hand.  As a result, a person who has reached this ‘pinnacle’ tends to treat everyone as though they were machines, providing one-size-fits-all answers instead of tailoring his approach to any particular situation. A teacher who has himself ceased to learn will be unable to help others think, cultivate the desire to improve, and develop an awareness of their influence on their surroundings.

As George made clear in his statement, he has never stopped learning.  He often tells me during a phone conversation or breakfast that after a recent breakthrough with a horse, he realized that he has been doing something wrong his entire life. He laughs to think that for all that time he had been teaching it wrongly. He still has a hard time believing that others listen to him when he teaches because he has these seemingly constant breakthroughs, no matter how small they are, that revise his previous understanding of the horse.

Another thing that working with George brought to my attention is his voracious reading and his struggle to understand the many variations and details of classical horsemanship.  He will read a specific book many times over the years, whenever his mood or current interest inclines him toward it. Seeing some of the books he has gone through over and over again with countless underlines, side notes, and comments in different inks has led me to appreciate just how many times he has been through the same book with different insights resulting from his labors. Each time George rereads a book, he peels back another layer of the onion to reveal a new meaning.

Depending on where I am in my journey, George’s seemingly simple statement that “the only thing I know is that I don’t know” takes many different forms, always presenting itself in a new light to reflect my current circumstances.  The sentiment behind these simple words is one that is embraced by masters in all disciplines.  The details of the “not knowing” may have slight differences depending on who is professing their ignorance, but the meaning as a whole is applicable to all areas of study and life.

Any masters who have reached refinement to the degree of enlightenment have seemingly simple, short phrases that are so straightforward that they seem trite or untrue to those who hear them. On a lifelong journey of learning, however, the continuous breakdown of these sayings reveals the complexity and deeper truth behind the words. It is only with examination and explanation that these phrases can become accessible and helpful to students at all levels. I hope that I can build an awareness of these phrases in others by explaining my thought process as I myself try to understand the deeper meaning behind them by writing about them.

I feel so fortunate for the mentors and masters I have had and will have the pleasure to study under. It is hard to imagine a life without them.

Study, Apply, Reflect.

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Over the years I have found a daily routine that promotes growth: study, apply, and reflect.  Ideally, these three actions should come in that order, but I realize that that is not always possible. The important thing is that you engage with all three bullet points as consistently as your life allows.  Depending on where you are in your development, the balance between each of the three points will vary.  The reasons for this have to do with your age, experience, and knowledge.

‘Study, apply, reflect’ pertains to everyone who is searching to obtain, deliver, or simply refine one of their interests.  No matter what it is that you are working towards, when those three steps are undertaken consciously every day, they will deliver great benefits over time.  They will benefit you, but more importantly they will benefit those around you.  

Chances are if you have not been consciously working at these three steps, you are still applying them every day. When you become aware of these steps, however, you can start to build and refine them, exponentially increasing your results over time.  This will hopefully allow you to work towards greater levels of mastery in a particular field, profession, or life in general. When I refer to the concept of ‘mastery’, I am referring to a deeper understanding of a particular area of life or expertise that most others will never attain. Once acquired, this deeper understanding aids in the development of other skills, which can be either related or unrelated to the original area of mastery.

The three steps of ‘study, apply, reflect’ can be temporally spaced throughout your day, i.e. morning, day, and evening. Of course, how you choose to arrange the steps will depend on the day in question, your schedule, and many other varying circumstances.  That is the beauty of the creation and refinement of these three points they can be done in 10 minutes or 12 hours, depending on what your life allows.  

The importance of engaging with these steps is the maturing process that they promote and the development of mental focus that they encourage.  These take time, and they highlight why the process is more important then the outcome. One should build on each step incrementally without completely overwhelming yourself to the point of a burnout.  Enjoy it by applying it to all facets of your life, not just a particular aspect of it.  

I will break down the three points of ‘study, apply, reflect’ over the next couple of posts, and I will provide more details about the application of each step.