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.

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Are You Living in a False Realm?

Humans are notorious for taking the easy way out of their problems. Blaming others for their own issues, ultimately living in a false reality of lies and deceit.  A false realm where, instead of helping themselves and everything around them progress by being accountable, they try to take down others with negative actions or comments.  In the end, never benefiting from the learning moments presented in each and every moment of a persons daily life.

Over the years horses have been continually teaching me how to hold myself more accountable.  With horsemanship, you always here people blame their horses for bad behavior.   Such as Sprinkles wont do this or Sprinkles is being a jerk, but what they should be asking is what they should be doing differently to help Sprinkles succeed.  Changing the focus from a “problem” horse on to the incompetent rider, at which point you can then progress forward.  This is not to say I have mastered it myself, only saying the progression I have made up to now has been with an open mind, learning from the horse instead of blaming the horse for my ineptness.

Say you started to blame a horse or a person for a problem, once this occurs, you immediately give up your reasoning capabilities to positively affect the outcome.  Instead of keeping a conscious thought process of what could be done differently to benefit all parties, emotions start guiding the decisions leading to irrational outcomes that can become harmful to all parties.  To help keep yourself on a beneficial track, ask yourself; Am I doing everything in my power to positively influence the outcome of the current situation in the smoothest, least resistant manor possible?  That one question will help you control your emotions in tough situations and keep yourself accountable for your actions.

There were, and still are, many reasons I lose control of my emotions while working with horses or people.  Mostly originating from my lack of knowledge, experience, and understanding.   Being the beginner that I am, I don’t understand the process or have the patience necessary to help the horse through certain situations which, in the end, angers me beyond productive reasoning and results.

Luckily my mentors had introduced me to the study of awareness (http://horseproblemsolved.com/2013/07/28/study-of-awareness/) early on,  allowing me to become more aware of my emotions in all situations.  Once I was aware of those emotions, I was capable of managing them to start thinking more cumulatively, instead of impulsively.  This process keeps my ego and emotions from getting in the way, helping me slow down to listen and learn from all experiences.

By doing this I started to take control of my problems and life I suppose.  Where I used to try and blame other people or horses for “their” problems I suddenly reversed the view point.  Even if people were wrong, instead of blaming them, I tried to figure out what I could do to be more personally proactive.  Meaning, instead of thinking how I could change the people, I started to think how I could change a situation to benefit everyone.

Example:  The other morning I went to start the tractor to load hay on a flat bed truck to feed all the critters around the ranch.  I jumped in the tractor to start it and the key was left on which drained the battery.  I went to get the charger from the shop and the shop was locked.  An hour later, I was able to enter the shop to grab the charger in which I was going to transport to the tractor in a small red truck.  The truck was also dead and had a significantly flat tire to go along with it.

Old thought process:  Get pissed off as I fixed the problem and hold the anger from the situation with me all day.  Taking the anger out on others for no reason at all.

New Thought Process:  Good deal, now I can catch both vehicles together, instead of running across the situations separately.  I wonder how I can help people avoid this from ever happening again?

Old Solution:  Do nothing about the situation except hold the anger, from fixing others mistakes, within myself.  Holding the anger inside me through out the whole day, taking a little bit of the anger out on every person and horse that I encountered.

New Solution:  Accidents happen, but how can I help others avoid this from ever happening again?  My thought was to make instructions with labelled pictures that covered how to  properly turn off the vehicles.  Taking those instructions and putting them inside the vehicles in a position that no one could miss them.  If that didn’t work, how else could I adjust the situation to further help others avoid similar problems?

Instead of always blaming other people for certain problems/situations, step back and take a long hard look in the mirror.  Asking yourself if you did everything in your power to have a positive influence on the situation or did you become a self complacent expert of blowing smoke up your own rear end to where you actually started believing it?  Nothing bothers me more then people who look to blame their horses or other people for their problems or even worse, they take out there frustrations on other people and horses.  Stop blaming others for your problems and start holding yourself accountable for your actions and or lack there of.  Taking control of the only thing a person truly has any control over, themselves.

What Makes The Ranch

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What makes the ranch such a special place?  You know, there’s something deeply unique about a place where there are guests that have been returning for over 50 years in a row or guests returning after 30 years had passed since there one visit when they were only 6 years of age.    How is this possible, well the ranch has the ability to create an addiction to an atmosphere through three factors; being the people, animals, and the land.  Leading the individuals who visit, to a certain clarity that was missing where they otherwise reside.

The most straight forward of the three factors would have to be the land, because the other two factors have to many variables that are far from the words that I am going to try to put to them.  When I say the land is straightforward, please don’t mistake that for mediocrity.  The ranch is surrounded by some of the most gorgeous mountainous peaks known to the west, countless ambient springs and creeks around every turn, and a variety of vegetation from the trees to the wild flowers that never induce any eyes to boredom.  The climate never stops changing, with some of the most beautiful clouds and thunderstorms you will ever witness.  Finally, the sunrises and sunsets can stop one from any task at hand to place their soul into a state of total euphoria where time itself stands still.  Whether a person is from the city or from the country, the environment here has a way of relaxing people to a certain place of clarity and gratitude for the moments presented.

Now take the extreme beauty of the environment and couple it with the animals around the ranch.   This creates little harmonious moments in which one stops to reflect on how lucky they are.  Not just lucky to be at the ranch, but thankful for the opportunities that have progressed them to this very point of their life, knowing of the less fortunate out there that may never experience such moments.   These moments are created by the wildlife that are indigenous to the area along with the 200 horses the ranch keeps on property year round.

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The wildlife on ranch far surpasses the word majestic, offering a vast variety of creatures such as; bears, elk, moose, coyotes, antelope, badgers, eagles, trout, beavers, ospreys, and hundreds  of other species.  The wildlife is very predominant in the areas of the ranch so whether your horseback riding, hiking, biking, or driving the encounters are spontaneously frequent.  Every now and then you may be fortunate to come up on a herd of 100 – 200 elk, a huge bull moose, or my personal favorite the mothers with their offspring.  Unless it happened to be a momma bear with its little bear, if you know what I’m saying.  There is something about observing the wildlife in its natural habitat that puts a person into perspective of the bigger picture of life, ultimately giving them a sense of peace.

If the wildlife doesn’t do it for you, the herd of 200 horses will definitely leave an everlasting memory in your mind.  If you don’t believe me close your eyes and imagine 200 horses stampeding through the woods, the creeks, and the vast open meadows coming in and out of pasture every single day.  Imagine 200 horses at a full lope, bucking and kicking, completely free without any hindrances.  The wrangles are the most beautiful asset to the ranch.

On top of watching the herd go in and out to pasture, a person may spend a whole week learning how to communicate with their horse or possibly just becoming more aware of the horses being.  During this process the true magic appears where a person forms a potential life long bond with their horse.  By interacting with horses, one can let go of all their potential problems.  The horse can fill any void of the human, in return for some sort of truthful connection between the two.  The horse will share any trouble, insecurity, or sorrow with a person in a time of need.  Between the special bond that connects two or the freedom felt from watching the wrangles, the horse is always ready to share the experience with anyone if a person is ready to share a little something with them.

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The last segment is dedicated to the people who make the ranch.  The people that perfect the ranch experience have a laid back genuine respect and care for all things, especially people.  The visitors of the ranch don’t want to be greeted by some up tight, suit and tie professional who is forced to care about the guests, only providing the services because it is their professional duty.  They want to be greeted by a down to earth, respectful person who genuinely cares for each individual they meet because it is how they were raised, its what they truly believe in, and its a way of life.  The visitors of the ranch don’t want to be part of a “professional” atmosphere where pranks/jokes aren’t encouraged or a “professional” atmosphere where instead of genuinely caring for a person, you are serving them as a servant being told to do so.  That’s not what makes the ranch, it’s the people who are the ranch that make the ranch.  You can’t make a person into the ranch, it has to be a predisposed sense of pride deep with in a person.

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With the trifecta the ranch offers up, its clear to see why one could come back to the ranch for a 100 years in a row.  With the jaw dropping environment, the abundant interactions with the wildlife/horses, and the genuine people who are the ranch anyone can see how the addiction is created.  With all the factors joined together it brings people together in an atmosphere where everyone is on the some wavelength.  Simply meaning everyone comes to the ranch to let loose in the company of others who all genuinely care for each other, allowing everyone to let down their guard and truly be themselves in a relaxed environment.  Ultimately bringing out the very best of every person while they are here.

This is only my opinion, as of now, so feel free to comment on my page to tell me what you might think makes a place like this become an addiction.  If you would like to here some personal accounts to these moments that I speak of please ask, I didn’t want to add them for this would have become a novel in itself.  Added a few more photos than usual to help you get a bit of perspective on what I am fortunate enough to be a part of everyday.  Hope you enjoy, thanks.

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Horse Purity

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When I work with a horse I am always mentally preparing myself ahead of time.  Before I ever catch a horse, I am already creating a rough draft plan in my head of how I’m going to communicate openly with a horse.  Before I enter the corral I have everything set up ahead of time to where there will be no complications or issues caused while tying up, grooming, feeding, and saddling my horse.  When I enter the corral I have my halter prepped before hand to help support the horse if needed and make a smooth process of haltering, the whole time studying the horses and horse I’m about to catch.  This allows me to break down where I think the horse is at, helping form the rough draft of my interaction to come.  But with all horsemanship, it’s nearly a rough draft based on where the horse is at.

Based on where the horse is at, the plan is continually changing with him.  With that being said, one of the most important lessons a horse has to teach humans is the control of ones emotions.  For when you have definitive expectations for where you want the horse, you have only set yourself up to fail.  You have changed the agenda from what the horse needs to where you expect the horse to be based on your needs.  When this occurs one will lose control of their emotions because the horse is not properly prepared for their expectations or their expectations were met, but the horse was ready to progress further.  This ultimately changing the situation from feel to force.  I hope one day I truly have complete control over my emotions, but that’s not even close so I try to work on it every day through awareness.  Always being aware of my mental state, trying to hone in on how to best help the horse succeed.

Feel vs. Force; Feel meaning you are in a constant state of thought to help the horse succeed at the progression of the transformation of a green horse to a more refined horse.  Force simply meaning you have an idea of where you want the horse to be at, no matter the education level of the horse, and you will force the horse into doing what you want through fear and anger.  This creates a braced up, visually deceiving picture of a correctly balanced horse (if you succeed at what you think is correct) to the untrained eye or a horse that reacts strictly out of fear rather then choice and desire.  Force creates horses that have no life to them any more.  You may look into the horses eye and see no more twinkle for they have lost that special piece inside of them, never to be seen again.  Feel creates a horse that believes in the human and desires to “work” with us.  You can see these horses from a mile away because they just have a different energy to them that attracts people.  To me it’s similar to seeing someone who is miserable and hates their life, learning to except their situation, compared to a person who loves their life and is always smiling.

They still have the inner horse left in them, for they have always succeeded with the human.  The human has worked with the horse, as the horse has worked with the human, through the stages making it through seemingly troublesome spots over and over again with support combined with success.  Learning that they don’t have to be on guard as a species while they are with the human, for they have taken all the troubles away while the horse has given the human a sense of purity.  Purity through awareness.   For what horses have to offer us is so much more then anything the horse receives in return from the human.