In the previous blog I discussed learning without fear and being the best version of yourself. One of the major issues I see when people go out to explore and experiment on their own is that when they are not in a structured environment such as a lesson, they begin to drift away from the specifics of thinking about the horse’s thought and become preoccupied by a larger, more vague, goal. The longer this carries on, the less clarity there is for both the horse and the human on a more particular level, and before you know it the person is so focused on their external goal that the horse is hardly even there anymore, and the horse is so frustrated they are either acting out or shutting down.
In thinking about this, I’ve enlisted the help of this YouTube clip where jazz pianist Bill Evans discusses the process of learning and creativity. I think it is an incredible discussion, and worth the four minutes to watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEHWaGuurUk.
I am particularly struck by Bill’s notion of approximation rather than specificity when it comes to the student teaching themselves.
“They tend to approximate the product, rather than attacking it in a realistic true way at any elementary level, regardless of how elementary, but it must be entirely true and entirely real and entirely accurate. They would rather approximate the entire problem rather than take a small part of it and be real and true about it.”
Bill goes on to demonstrate through musical examples, which I think are quite poignant. However, I will draw a comparison to a horsemanship issue I see so often, though this is only an example and one of many moments where I believe this issue holds true. People often see horses ridden in popular (horse) culture in particularly advanced states. Now, for the sake of this discussion, I won’t go into how most of these “advanced states” are really poor horsemanship, as that is a discussion for another day, but let’s just assume that the picture someone has in their mind is, in fact, good quality riding. For some, this means canter a perfect circle with a horse collected, for others, this looks like working cows at a fast pace, etc. Yet, the horse and their person may only be at the point of working on taking a thought around a corner, and unable to sustain it for more than a moment, much less a circle, in collection, or at high speeds after a cow. So when the person goes to work their horse, they try, as Bill would say, an approximation of what they see in their mind.
Often this leads to turmoil. The person resorts to physical tactics in order to recreate the picture in their mind. Collection turns into a heavy hand forcing a head into a frame, with no attention to posture, thought, or clarity. Chasing a cow turns into ramming and jamming a horse after the cow, heavy on the forehand and with no attempt to have that horse engage with the process. Resentment builds, and before you know it this “confusion” Bill refers to in the clip that results from vagueness, disintegrates the ride and the relationship.
I love how Bill says that the most successful people at anything have a “realistic view point at the beginning …that the problem is large and he has to take it a step at a time and …enjoy the step by step learning procedure.” To me, this mindset is magical, freeing and exciting. It tells me that I don’t have to canter that circle flawlessly today. I don’t have to canter at all today. Perhaps it means I don’t even get on that horse today, or if I do, perhaps I don’t go past a walk. This doesn’t mean that I have not worked, it just changes the goal from the instant gratification of this “approximation” that Bill discusses, to actually doing the work well.
Thoughtful horsemanship really requires an attention to everyone involved in a way that is a long term process, not an immediate training result. This is so different from how most people approach horsemanship, and life, that sometimes I think it can feel overwhelming and is easy to abandon. One of the most common blocks I see in progress (both horse and human) is that people are hard on themselves when thoughtful horsemanship looks different than the horsemanship they knew in their past, and so they don't feel like they are accomplishing anything. I think Bill really does a great job of reminding us that to approximate something badly is never as valuable as it is to do less, better.
So, to paraphrase Bill Evans, have an adventurous spirit and don’t be cautious, but be specific and see the big picture. Your horses will appreciate it!