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Ognen Duzlevski

Senior tinkerer.

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Lately I have noticed a trend - people who are otherwise accomplished horse(wo)men suddenly (or maybe gradually, who knows), becoming more involved in dissecting every situation with their horse, every breath they take, every flick of the ear, every look, and using these as significant pointers into the state of the horse’s mind and his or her training. Don’t get me wrong, paying attention to your animal is important but drawing huge conclusions, conclusions that pertain to life in general - and using those to create life lessons - well, that’s pushing it a bit too far.

Some people come to horses “damaged” in some way and these people look for “therapy” or “salvation” in the horse. There is nothing wrong with that and we can even use it to help other people with their own problems - but, when we are in the saddle or training, we are not there primarily to help people, we are there to help the horse. The horse is simple and will always be simple, there is no “depth” in the horse, at least not depth as we encounter with people who suffer from depression, lack of confidence, marital problems, drug addictions, so on and so on. Sure, parallels can be drawn between some human afflictions and horse behaviors but we also have to be careful not to anthropomorphsize the horse.

You can recognize these horse trainers by the long essays they write, that stem from seemingly insignificant details they noticed while cleaning the horse stalls and observing their animals outside, for example. An ordinary manure mucking session turns into huge conclusions about some large life lesson that somehow goes to the core of the “zen-like” state this trainer has attained when living with the horses.

Why does the above happen? You may laugh but most people these days don’t ride horses for a living, unless they are a trainer. People don’t go to town anymore on horseback, they don’t go to the local church in a horse drawn carriage. Horses have become a(n expensive) hobby for most people. As such, they are no longer tools to use, they are objects of study. While having a good horsemanship technique is important if you intend to live around these animals and while having a bad understanding of them can kill you, it is not as if your job and livelihood depends on them. So, people start to indulge and they start to look for things that simply are not there. Add to this the fact that horsemanship is essentially a “solved problem”, meaning - we understand that release of pressure teaches the horse and if a person gets good at this and just understanding the horse’s psychology (which is fairly simple), this person can get pretty good at training and fixing the horses. But, capitalism being what it is - horse trainers need to find something to differentiate them from the crowd, since there are many people who call themselves “trainers”. Competition is one way to differentiate (by winning) but not everyone wants to compete (besides, what if they don’t win), so people are forced to look for “angles”. If they happen to be good with words, well, there you go. A 2,000 word essay on Trigger playing in the field with Beau will end up as a treatise on being honest, free and uninhibited and how we can learn from that (and should emulate it).

Everyone talks about Ray Hunt or Tom Dorrance or others who have made their mark in revolutionizing horsemanship. While their books and teachings are profound, this profoundness comes from the simplicity of their narrative. Few words, observations and descriptions of what makes horses tick and how to get along with them. No lifestyle guidance for you in those books, no trying to “influence” you or shape your whole philosophy or life.

Today we live in a time where “influencers” are the new thing, where people “follow” someone online for everything in life, look up to them etc. to the point of being told what to wear, what to drive, what to eat and so on. Seemingly profound insights are being plastered on Twitter or Facebook, insights that really aren’t insights, just new spins on things or even pointing out things that we already know, but in ways that sound different. However, we should also recognize that this concept is essentially turning the influencers into leaders and the rest of their audiences into followers (I don’t know about you, but I find that humiliating). There is a difference between learning something from someone (like from a book - where the author has to try and support whatever they are saying with some kind of evidence) and basically swallowing up memes that are 160 characters long or short essays on Facebook, essays that are essentially observations turned into conclusions with a supposed application to a particular domain (like horsemanship, for example), but without any real evidence, just constructs that “sound right” (but may not be).

In conclusion, learn from someone who rides horses all day, for a living, competes with like people who do the same thing, admires and loves the horse, but does not glorify them or try to build a whole life philosophy or religion out of them. In other words, I don’t want therapy (if I need that, I will seek out a qualified psycho-therapist), I want someone to tell me about the horses….