Oh, I may tread on some toes here – there is a fine line to this one.
When I start teaching a new pupil, one of the first things that I ask them – who is the most important teacher you will ever have? Sometimes, if their full-time coach is near, I see them (the coach) grow a little taller, lean a little nearer….. Am I going to say me? Am I going to say them? No. The most important trainer in your life, for ever and always, at any given time, is the four-legged coach you are sitting on / leading / handling. He is the only one who truly knows the impact of how you are sitting or what you are doing, and he is the only one who has zero ego or pre-existing opinions. If you do something right, comfortable or clear, he says yes. If you are fuzzy, rough or unfocused, he says no. It’s that simple.
I read a huge amount, but I tend not to read equine books. I read books on philosophy, movement, psychology, martial arts, diving – I think I’d read the phone book if I had nothing else, but horse books? A few, but not often… Yes, way back in the dark ages, I read the Pony Club Manual and, and, and, all the required text needed to lay down the base rules, keep me and my pupils safe, pass my BHS exams etc, but not many of the “Classical Training” manuals.
A few days ago, a very good friend who I trust implicitly, sent me a message – “read this book, but you’ll hate me for it.” I dutifully downloaded it and began to read. Yes, I don’t fully like what I’m reading, a lot of it is close to the bone, but it’s good stuff… That’s a whole other story. But the bit that prompted this?
“The lack of literature on the topic was a handicap, but my great teacher, Elvin Semrad, had taught us to be skeptical about textbooks. We had only one real textbook, he said: our patients. We should trust only what we could learn from them – and from our own experience.”
Later in the text, this doctor asks his professor, “Would you call this patient X syndrome or Y syndrome….?” And the great professor said, “I’d call him Michael”. The more we read, very often the more we over think and over complicate.
Some of the greatest horse trainers who I have ever seen working with horses have never read a book in their lives. Often, kids can do amazing things with ponies. Have they read the classic trainers works? No, they’re still learning “The cat sat on the mat”. So, how do they do it, without all this learning that we must do, reading we must focus on, lessons we need to be taught? They follow their gut, use their intuition and watch and listen to their ponies. Can I tell you a secret? The ponies haven’t read the books either…
I am often asked, how do I plan my lessons? How do I know what to teach, when? And currently, I’m sitting in front of my laptop trying to put together a course that many people have requested – and the problem is – I just don’t know. When I sit to write, things like this, they just appear on my laptop screen in front of me, but when I try to write a technical “How to”, I often get stuck…. Well, it depends on this, or that. It depends on who the pupil is, how they think, the structure of their horse or the quality of their interaction. Things cannot truly be taught by reading text, the only way to learn is to look at the horse in front of you and ask him questions.
I love Leonardo Da Vinci, because when I look at his sketches, that’s how I see things too. If you look at his Vitruvian Man ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man ), that is how horses appear in my mind – I’m drawing angles and lines on them, seeing them in motion, seeing what they need or don’t… How can a textbook teach that, when there are around 59 million horses in the world, and they’re all different? Where do you even begin?
There’s a balance, between practical, awesome horse people who read loads and still allow horses to teach them, and those people who read all the dusty old tomes, can spout off how Classical Trainer X taught Y, but couldn’t recognise a horse if it walked out in front of them.
I love the fact that this professor and author have the same belief. The author of this book says that for one year they were not allowed to read textbooks – and since then he has been the most voracious of readers, devouring everything he could get his hands on. But that year got him to stop thinking in his head and start to look, listen, feel and notice what his patients were there to teach him… Could you go a year without reading, and learn to listen to your gut? Your most important teacher may well be thanking you…