(As a thanks to „Fergus the horse“ who allowed me to use the cartoon for this blogpost I did translate this one into english so „Fergus“ can read it too.)
I am standing in the riding arena watching my student and her horse. I am impressed and a little proud. I have been knowing those two for about 9 years now and they did not always have an easy time. But they kept going. The achievements of those two are not due to luck, coincidence or talent but due to consistent work, the wish to keep improving and a great liking for each other which can be seen very obviously.
So I think about the Fergus-Cartoon and the little yearling stallion in my own stable. I takes 10 years to make a good 10year-old horse.
„Most people overestimate what they can achieve in one year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years“ (it is not clear who first made this statement)
Sometimes we talk about being patient when it comes to horse-training. But I am not sure whether „patience“ is the right word. In the german Duden the word „Geduld“ (=patience) is described as „enduring something calmly, tolerantly and self-controlled“.
That‘s what I need when a horse is not standing still while I am trimming his hooves if I cannot change the situation. But in educating a horse I do not want to endure things, quite the contrary. I want to design things in a way that makes both horse and human content with the situation. Sometimes the horse needs to learn something new in order to achieve that, sometimes the human.
So it actually takes perseverance, creativity, the willingness to change things and a good portion of what I came to consider to be one of my best character attributes: stubbornness.
Pleasy forgive me the use of this word. Of course there are much nicer words for that: persistence or consistency for example.
Personally I like to use the word „stubbornness“. I think that using words in a different manner than usual can make us think more about it and make us more open-minded.
Stubbornness allows me to work with less pressure. Because I rather work with repetition or creating a situation in which the horse will find out by itself that its life is easier if it shows the new (wanted) behaviour than if it continues with the old behaviour. Because mostly the horse will have been very successful with the old behaviour it will usually take some time until it is ready to change that. Patience would mean to endure the old (unwanted) behaviour. Stubbornness means to me to keep focus and try improving again and again, not only with the horse but also with my own bad habits.
Out of courtesy I would not call my student stubborn. She does not seem stubborn to me, but rather determined and focused. All these years she invested a lot in the education of herself and her horse. She not only took lessons with me but with some other trainers as well and took all the good things out of these lessons for herself. She is working on her own physical fitness to become a better horse-woman. She works tirelessly for the health of her horse and tries to optimize everything. Very often she puts her horses well-being over her own wishes.
It is not easy to do all of that, I know that. That‘s why I admire her for what she is doing. Some of you might consider it natural. But my experience in the horse-world taught me that it is not. I saw a lot of people give up. Some said so. Others hid their giving-up behind „no time“ or „no money“. Some do not give their horses enough health-care or they gloss things over. The horse is too fat? „He was even fatter than this“. Might be true but is still not a good reason. The horse suffers from thrush? „It won‘t help to treat it with all this mud out there“ Well it will not get better if we do NOT treat it. And by the way treatment usually helps even if there is a lot of mud.
The horse is behaving badly? Some people just shout and get angry, but they do not actually invest in training and education. Trailer-loading is still a big issue. Just one week before a clinic people will remember that there was a problem. Well it would need some work to solve it.
We all have our excuses. Me too – a whole bunch of them, some familiar, well-worn ones and occasionally a new one. If we find excuses every once in a while over 10 years that won‘t matter. Sometimes the weather is too bad, sometimes we are too tired, feel overwhelmed or just set other priorities. That‘s just human.
But we need to be honest with ourselves. Is it really just today? Or did we make up excuses for weeks? Because it is winter. Or because it is summer. Too much rain, too many flies, the car broke down or we sprained the ankle. Today there is no time to train this new behaviour and create that new good habit. Today it needs to be fast. Is it really only today?
If we find excuses on 365 days in 10 years we have lost one whole year. By making excuses I do not mean not doing anything with the horse. I mean not doing anything useful with the horse. Of course we can have a break if a break is helpful and we can design it in a way that is good for us and the horse. And it can do more harm than good if we do something with our horse but are not focused and allow him and us to habituate silly behaviours.
10 years are a long time. More time than I ever had with my beloved Pony „Finlay“. But only half of the time I have been spending with my wonderful „Merlin“ by now. 10 years ago my world looked different. Despite that I still wish I would have come further in the last 10 years. Throwbacks and wrong decisions have held me back, as they do with everyone I guess. Not to mention that I have to start from scratch again. The 8 years I had with Finlay were educational but I start at the beginning again. Because no matter how good a horse-trainer I have become Duncan will not be grown up any quicker by that. That‘s the time for patience because I cannot change it. I will have to endure him being too small for all the things I like to do for a long time. And I think he needs some patience for that too, he seems to be wanting to grow up a lot faster (because, I think, being grown-up means participating in all the great adventures to him)
I am looking ahead to the next 10 years now and I do have plans and wishes – for myself, my career, but most of all for Duncan and I. If all of that can come true – time will tell. But it certainly will NOT come true if we do not try. Every day. I will do my best to find the right amount of stubbornness. Just like my wonderful student with her horse. So that I will have a very good 11 year old horse in 10 years time. 🙂