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.

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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.

Learning To Accept Uncertainty

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If you had asked me what I was doing a year ago, I would have told you with 100% certainty what I was going to do for the rest of my life.  After a summer on the road going coast to coast with a truck, a trailer, a dog, and two horses, that has all dramatically changed. This has created a new challenge.  For the past eight years I have had a laser focus on where I was headed and why, dedicating every second to that goal.  Now the question is how do I commit the same 100% dedication and focus toward an uncertainty? 

What this has allowed me to do is to focus on what it is that I really want to do based on what I have learned over the past years about myself.  This has helped to create a new path without any particular destination being the goal, allowing me to engage in a continuous process of refining what I love to do and what I am meant to do.

I am sure this is a continual process as one matures: a life spent continuously questioning where the next path to be taken is hidden.  Try to accept your journey and simply stay positive in times of uncertainty; the next open door is right around the corner, and it will all make sense later. Continue to study, apply, and reflect every day, allowing yourself to trust the process to lead you to the next phase of the journey.

By accepting a little uncertainty, you’re slowly able to let go of the most negative and destructive human characteristic we all have: control.  

Finding Your Truth Filter

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I am always in pursuit of the Truth, which I define as universal leadership skills that can positively influence any mindful being.  Horsemanship is the filter for my life, allowing me to learn positively from every experience.  I can take every interaction, positive or negative, and sift it through my Truth filter.  This helps me learn what to do or what not to do when interacting with other in the future.  All along the way, I try to fit each individual in a way that is most suitable for them, wherever they may be in their journey.

I want to define two terms as they pertain to the meaning I am trying to portray:

   Truth:  Universal leadership skills that can positively influence any mindful being.

   -Fit:  Offering the correct amount and type of positive input to allow the other person to discover the correct answer, on their own, to a known or unknown issue that needs to be overcome to mature.

Horsemanship gives me a way to use the deeper philosophical teachings of leadership that are instilled in all true paths to mastery.  I study, apply, and reflect upon horsemanship, leadership, and other skills in order to help me mature as a person.  

 After identifying specific areas, I apply them to my interactions with horses, people, and myself by trying to become more aware of them in the moment.  This allows me the opportunity to improve areas in which I have previously fallen short.

From there I am able to reflect upon all the experiences I have had throughout my entire day and run them through my Truth filter to get the feedback necessary for me to learn. The feedback gives me new insight on how to fit others better so that I can start all over with them the next day.  This eventually allows for a deeper understanding leading to a universal Truth.   

This is a continuous cycle of filtering and refining every day. It is the best part of growing as a person because it’s never-ending; you can always become better!  It is a choice for each and every one of us, but are you willing to adapt this into your daily life?

In summary, find your passion and use it to create your own filter for your own Truth.  Once you find it, question everything through your Truth filter, and it is inevitable that you will continue to mature!  Reaping the benefits of a meaningful life of service to others through your passion and special gifts that only you have.

 

Realistic Expectations

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I have had some interesting encounters with clients and their horses over the years. It never ceases to amaze me the expectations that some people have of their horses, especially when it comes to green horses or untouched colts. It takes a lot of time, consistency, and love to make a really well rounded horse that is safe to be around, let alone to ride. It is more than just getting the horse ridden to me, it’s about what I’m creating for the future, and creating a trusting, well balanced horse takes time. Not time according to me or you either, but time according to the horse and where it is in its training.

When I started my horse it took 90 days till he was completely fine with a tarp under his nose and would walk over it without any signs of distress or hesitation. 90 days. Have you ever done something consistently for 90 days? And not just for yourself either, but for someone else?

I think of that 90 days a lot, especially when I was turning colts back over to their owners in 24 days, 5 of which were dedicated to groundwork only. You are never really able to get down to the bottom of some of those key components of foundational horsemanship in 24 days. What amazes me most about those colts is each and every one of them succeeded with their owners. Goes to show you how amazing horses are!

There was a guy for whom I started a few colts, and he had a mare that took two weeks just to halter. Then he had a stud colt who took fifteen minutes to saddle up and put the first ride on without any prior work. The mare was super touchy, and I would have loved to have worked with her for as long as it took for her to make the breakthrough on her terms and to learn to accept and befriend the human. I still may purchase her in the near future!

Once a horse has been started or a problem horse is on the mend, it takes time, accurate consistency, and lots of love.  You can’t expect the world out of the horse without giving the world to them first.  You can take the best started horse ever and have them wanting to knock your block off within days depending on how you work with them. When that happens, it comes down to no one other than the person dealing with the horse.  Be prepared to be realistic in the sense of accountability too because these go hand in hand.

The moral is: give your horse the time they deserve to progress on their terms, not according to your expectations.  Don’t blame your downfalls on anyone other than yourself.  The horse’s greatest ally is truth.   You can’t expect to put one ride on a colt and for him to be dude string broke. If you don’t continue moving forward with him, you are only going to go backwards. You can’t expect one interaction with a horse to carry over for the rest of his life. You have to take the face value of what you have every day and go from there. Otherwise, you’re going to ask for too much and get yourself hurt, lose your horse mentally, get your horse on the fight, or even worse. Once you have gone to the dark side you lose a piece of your pony.  If that’s what you are going for, go get an exotic car and abuse that, for at least doesn’t have a brain or soul of its own.

Experiment To Learn

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I love to try to figure things out on my own through experimentation after a period of studying my mentors.  Luckily, my mentors have understood this, and almost all the situations I have been exposed to have allowed me the time to experiment continuously on my own.

With horses I have always been the type to shut out the outside world and run my experiments, even if it makes me look incompetent.  I have previously and certainly will later find out that most of my experiments were beyond ignorant, but I will forever be better off down the road for them.  I wish I could have eliminated those moments, but those failed experiments were what I needed to move on!

This is the process that will test you mentally and physically along the way to make sure you have earned the right to move on.  I’m an over thinker, so when I have these breakthroughs, I feel stupid when I find out how simple it can be.  It is through the seemingly endless failed experiments that I have had those life-changing moments that not only progress my horsemanship, but completely change me as a person.

Is this process easy? Not a chance, but the rewards are unlike any that you will ever experience in your life!  To me the rewards horses offer are beyond any competition, test score, or approval from others. Horses to me are the key to learning how to live a good life (which is a whole other topic of conversation).

Please go out and find that driving force of curiosity and desire, follow it, and don’t give up in your learning.  Find your mentors to use as a model, but pick wisely.  Run your own experiments for long periods of time; try something different every day until you make the next breakthrough.  You will never regret a single moment of struggle along the way because you will understand over time, provided that you stay true to your burning desire.  Above all else, the more time you spend on it, the more rewarding it will be down the road. Lastly, you have to be open to change.