I was sitting with a friend recently in her stable yard over a glass of wine.  (Read that sentence again – drinking wine in a stable yard…  some people just know how to do things right…)  when there was great moaning and groaning from one of the horses, a big old retired mare.  She was dropping down to roll in her fresh bedding, just laid for the night.  (Come on, at least we waited until evening stables before breaking out the alcohol).  Several minutes later, the big mare was still down, still groaning quietly under her breath, a geriatric old eccentric muttering about the youth of today and her aching bunions.  My friend asked – “is she ok, do you think?  Does she have colic?”

“Hmmm” I managed around my brie on a cracker, “doubt colic”.

A few minutes later the old girl was up and (looking slightly senile and unfocused) staring at the wall.  My friend asked again – “Is she ok? Does she have colic?”

“No”, I replied – “she’s absolutely fine.”

“How do you know?” (without leaving the table that hosts wine and cheese…)

“She shook”

Blank look….  When a horse who is healthy and feeling well has a lovely roll in fresh bedding, or mud, or sand after work, or has been sleeping in the sun, they stand up and give their whole body a good shake, like a dog coming out of water.  From the tips of their ears to the end of their tail, their entire body shakes.  When a horse has colic, and so a sore belly, they stand up and refuse to shake, because it hurts.  They might flick their head in a half-hearted attempt at “normal”, or look at their gut, but shake?  No.

After a lovely muddy roll, an even better shake…  This is how horses in the wild groom themselves – the mud sticks to the hairs, and as it is shaken off, any loose, molting hair goes off with it. 

Would I have thought to teach that in a lecture about colic?  Probably not.  Would I have put it in to words automatically?  No.  But do I know it to be true?  Oh yes.  And that knowing has a great term – “Expertise Induced Amnesia”.  You don’t know just how much you have learnt, figured out, processed and forgotten.  When you repeat a pattern again, again, again, you often forget half the steps, because you just know.

Do you know why the Great Wall of China has random steps – one big, one tiny, one high, one low?  Damn Bladdy difficult and tiring to walk along…  Because people who walked that wall everyday knew the steps and could run them in the dark, half asleep.  They knew the pattern.  Come along a night raider who didn’t know the steps – crash.  The guards who lived there couldn’t have told you the pattern – they just knew, and had amnesia about the dance…  Awesome defense system, right?

My mentor has a great story about a plumber…  He’s a grand master plumber, old, wise, been in the job for decades and teaches many apprentices.  He was called in for a major leak that no one could quite find or fix.  He walked in, straight to the issue, fixed it in 3 minutes and handed over a hefty bill.  On looking at the size the bill, the office block owner coughed…  “3 minutes and this is the bill?”  The reply – “You don’t pay me for what I do, you pay me for what I know…”  He teaches the next generation of plumbers, but still can’t teach experience. Or, sometimes, you’re just waiting for the pupil to figure it out for themselves.

I remember staying with a friend in Spain in a remote farming area.  She had two old pet pigs and one morning one of them was seriously unwell.  She called the local vet – but, this being a farming area – his reply was “I can give you the number of the butcher”.  That wasn’t really her plan, with this pet of hers.  We stood, each with one boot clad foot on the 5-bar gate around his pen, contemplating the four-legged patient, as horse people so often do.  “Well”, I said – “the one trick an acupuncturist taught me, is the re-set button for horses with bad colic or going fast into shock after a trauma or accident…  The absolute “Oh Dear” button that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly – this is the time…”  I do happen to travel with hair – thin – acupuncture needles (doesn’t everyone?  One day I’ll explain about my Tardis-like suitcase), so retrieved a needle and stuck it in, leaving it in place for 5 minutes.  Within 20 minutes, Mr. Pig was back up and rooting through his pen for the best vegetable scraps.  “So, how did you know it was needed and would work”, asked my friend.  I shrugged…  Dunno – just because I knew?


Well, it works for horses…. And pigs apparently…

Well, it works for horses….  And pigs apparently… 

I am currently learning – tentatively – about two new skills…  More tools to bring to the table, but not terribly conventional or logical.  (I do try to be conventional sometimes, just ask my rubber duck travelling companion….)  And find myself, again and again pestering these two experts – But why?  But what?  But, how do you KNOW that?  But what do you mean?  I probably ask too many questions – no, I KNOW I ask too many questions – I suppose that since I don’t mind fielding random questions, I ask too many myself….  And get frustrated when the reply comes back – “Because”.  A taste of my own “I dunno” answers?   Maybe they are waiting for me to figure out my own answers…  Or maybe they just know, and there are no words.

What do you know, or do, that you’d probably forget if leaving a friend a list of instructions…?  What should you be teaching better, or clearer?  Do you expect your horse to know an answer, just because you do?  You may know how to ride a half pass, but do you know what?  If you haven’t discussed it with your four-legged dance partner, he probably hasn’t figured out the half pass steps just yet…  Can you explain your expertise in clear, 1, 2, 3 steps?  Einstein says – if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough…  But somethings just can’t be explained, can they?


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