6. If It Feels Right, It’s Probably Wrong.
I’m going to warn everyone ahead of time: you probably aren’t going to like this topic. It is the crown jewel of our “you are going to have to change you” posts, and the message that to be a true horseman, you must change you, is one of the things people hate hearing the most. In this post we are going to delve into the way people view and relate to horses. Which in most instances is fundamentally wrong and a hindrance to their relationship and success. This post is more or less going to be about how people think, and why thinking like a human is a trap for anyone not constantly trying to think like something else.
So, let’s consider humans for a minute. From what I was saying a second ago, you might have gotten the impression that human thinking is narrow minded and detrimental to progress. But that is really not the case at all. Human thinking is incredible. It is set apart by the power of creativity and imagination, and defined by our ability to design and produce. What other creature could craft something as powerful as a hydrogen bomb, or something as beautiful as the Sistine Chapel? We live in a world of human invention and human ideas. Most of us go our entire lives without ever having to think about anything outside of what makes sense to us and supports our way of thinking. Why would we? Most of us are never pushed to think in any way that is not natural, except for those trying to form a working relationship with something that is a) not a human, and b) something we did not create. Most of us can have a tolerable working relationship with something we did not create, provided that something is a human. We work even better with something that isn’t a human, as long as it is a human-creation like a computer or a ball point pen. (P.S. working relationship is key here. Most people get along with their horses great as long as they don’t ask them to do anything.)
It is difficult for us to not carry our human thinking with us when we move into situations where it is irrelevant or inappropriate. An example of this is when people ask something like “does this horse buck?” The statement in and of itself is an example of human thinking. Basically the statement could be reworded to say: “is there something wrong with this large, hairy machine’s programming that causes it to glitch at inopportune times and in a way that is, at best, inconvenient for me or at worst, ends with me hitting the dirt?” Some of you may now be saying “well fine then, was the horse sufficiently trained so that it doesn’t buck when I ride it?” But this is an example of human thinking as well, possibly even more so. This statement assumes that once something is trained it stays trained, just as something programmed stays programmed. Programming makes sense to us: a thing should do the thing that it is designed to do. As I am typing this I hit the ‘save’ button periodically. If I get to the end and close the program only to find out later that everything I thought was saved actually was not, I will be extremely angry and offended. And justly so! The computer is supposed to save the document when I tell it to. It was programmed to do that. If it doesn’t, it is proof that something is wrong with it.
So when we say “trained,” in most instances we actually mean programmed. As a human child, I was trained to say “sir” and “ma’am.” Now as an adult, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t want to, sometimes I forget, sometimes I am being disrespectful because I don’t like you, sometimes I realize the person I am speaking to will be uncomfortable if I do. There are a million reasons why I might not say “yes sir” even though I was trained to. There are a million reasons why a horse might buck even though it was trained not to. “Trained” only means that the human or animal has been presented with a skill or behavior. The will to carry it out or not is what it means to be a “being.” You, as a being, can’t program another being to do something it isn’t already programmed to do. Horses are programmed to act like horses. People are programmed to act like people; so that means that if something seems natural to you, you are more than likely using logic and emotion rooted in your human nature. If it feels right, it means it is probably right for the human. Let’s face it, “does he buck” seems like a logical thing to ask, but only if you are thinking of the horse more like an inanimate object and less like a “being” comparable to yourself.
It is difficult for us to consider horses as a fellow being at once the same and completely different than us. Generally people view horses as a strange mix between personal servant, force of nature, computer, and supernatural-brother-spirit-thing, sometimes more one than the other depending on the person. “I bought that horse because I looked in his eyes and we had a connection, but then I brought him home and he bucked me off. He’s just such a wild spirit, so I’m going to send him to Cowboy Roy down the road to be trained because I want to do barrel racing.” The thing is, this is a common human statement! You may have even said something similar—most people have. And if you know this is your inherent way of thinking about horses, it is pretty safe to say that any gut feeling you have about them is probably wrong!
Let’s reword the previous statement to reflect a healthier and more realistic outlook. “I bought my horse because when I went into his pen he seemed like an innately curious and friendly guy and was willing to give me the time of day even though I hadn’t yet done anything to deserve it. When I got him home I decided to ride him, but he bucked me off because I was not a good enough rider and hadn’t become a good enough communicator to get him to understand what I want or a good enough leader to make him want to do what I say. I thought because he loved me none of that would matter. Now I’m scared of him since he’s figured out I’m a pushover. I’m going to send him to a trainer who will probably be able to get him to behave, but since I’m not Cowboy Roy he probably won’t behave for me. But I’m still going to try to achieve something far beyond my current skill level, even though I have already demonstrated that I am not yet physically, mentally, or emotionally good enough to be successful.”
I know that was harsh, but now we are moving on to some good news. Our creativity and imagination, the thing that can so often be our downfall, can also be our greatest asset. It is something that neither horses nor any other creatures are capable of. It is something that sets us apart. It means that we can imagine what it is like to be another creature; what it is like to walk around in their shoes. We can see the things that make them, them, and learn to emulate those things. We have the power to see ourselves as something we are currently not, and the capacity to bring about that change. And since we can do that, we are capable of relationships and interactions that transcend the species barrier. All we have to do is throw away all the hindering parts of our human nature and nurture the beneficial parts so we can use them to that advantage. Horses, unfortunately, don’t have the ability to do the same. It’s all on us to become something more than a mere human, so that our horses become something more than merely an animal.