…from the inside out
Many people thought that Tom wasn’t a good teacher because “he couldn’t explain things.” What they didn’t realize was that his wordless presence was intentional. “If I say something too concrete, then the person will think what I say is the answer to everything, and miss what’s actually happening for the horse at the moment it’s happening.” Not giving away all the answers gave those of us who had the privilege of working with him permission to explore. And yes, that meant allowing us to make mistakes. Lots of them.
“But I don’t want to practice the wrong thing,” my own students now often argue when I answer their questions with a question, or encourage them to practice on their own between lessons. And yes, there is such a thing as ingraining a bad habit. But even bad habits come into prominence when the rider has no feel to inform them that the way they’re going about something isn’t working. And the only way to develop feel is by trying something and seeing what the horse’s response is. So I tell them that making mistakes is, in a way, the whole point. If we are paying attention, we will note when doing the wrong thing brings an undesired result, thereby learning why it is more effective, appropriate, and meaningful to do it a different way.
This does not mean disregarding what we are told by instructors and coaches. On the contrary, when we find someone who has more experience than we do, and we trust them to help us develop our skill and guide us forward, then oftentimes the best way to learn is to give ourselves over to their direction, to temporarily suspend all doubt, and try what it is they are suggesting without question. We may even see the value in opting for this kind of relationship for a while — until we have honed a new skill, acquired adequate experience, or gotten past a problem area. Certainly, beginners are more prone to require this type of relationship. As long as we are concurrently being encouraged to think for ourselves and given the room to grow and explore, the transition to relying on our own feel and ability will develop naturally over time. A sense of self-empowerment — as well as mastery, of any subject — cannot happen without this. From my perspective, self-empowerment, with or without mastery, is the most meaningful reason to learn anything because our greatest purpose in life is to grow or “unfold,” and learn more about who we really are.
Whatever our age, it takes practice to gain enough maturity to own the process of learning from the inside out, rather than solely from the outside in. It usually means confronting our own fears of inadequacy and concerns over “looking bad.” Rather than face the initial discomfort (humiliation) of appearing “wrong,” we generally get into the habit of letting someone else tell us what to do. We have not yet learned to give ourselves credit for being innately capable of problem-solving — mostly because we have forgotten how to simply enjoy learning. Most of us start out only enjoying being “right.”
Denise Lesnik, owner of “Inside-Out” horse training in Elgin, IL, chose the very name for her thriving business as a way to acknowledge this kind of learning. She works with any breed and accepts students of all backgrounds and levels of experience. Her primary goal is to make life better for every horse entrusted into her care by providing a place where the humans can learn more about them. Many of the horses sent to her have physical and psychological issues that others were unsuccessful coping with.
Tune in next week to hear some of their stories!