I had an interesting chat with a client at the beginning of her lesson a few days ago. I’d already taught her a couple of times during the same week, and as we started, I asked how she was feeling today. Good, she said, a bit stiff after our last lesson, core and thighs had worked harder than usual, but stiff in a good way. How was her brain? Well, good too, what we had worked on had made sense and she’d processed all her thoughts. And, how about your horse? She looked at me as if I was mad. Huh? How’s my horse? Well, fine of course, same as ever, she (the rider) hadn’t been away or anything, the horse had been ridden every day, of course he was the same as ever, why would I ask such a thing?
A while ago, I watched a video online. It was a guy – life coach or similar – talking about how much we’ve lost in life, with our use of smart phones instead of small talk. His argument – you’d have gone into a business meeting, and chatted to your colleagues – how’s the family, how was your holiday, have you recovered from your broken leg? You make small talk, you build relationships, team work, fostering a mutual feeling of being valued. And now, he argued, we go into the meeting room, sit down fiddling with our phones. The meeting begins, we put our phones down. There is a pause in proceedings – someone is turning on their power point presentation, so instead of small talk, we again pick up our phones. End of meeting, we pick up our phones and walk out, looking down at those damn Bladdy phones. We have lost the art of conversation.
This video struck me, partly thinking of human to human conversations, but also because it’s something I have long complained about regarding many riders and their horses.
When I had my own yard, one of the main rules was, you got whichever horse you were riding ready for his session, and you looked after him afterwards. If you were having a lesson at 3pm, you’d need to be on the yard shortly after 2pm. You’d check the board to see who you were allocated, walk up to his paddock, catch him, lead him in. Groom, fetch tack, get both of you dressed and ready, and be in the arena 5 minutes before your lesson. After the ride, you’d untack, wash or brush him off, cool him down and walk him back to his paddock. And in this time, you’d generally end up making small talk…. “How are you doing; are you sound and walking well on all four legs; any injuries; oooh, there it is, the best itchy scratchy place just under your mane…. Are you a bit stiff after we jumped yesterday? Ah, there is a bit of swelling there, did you get stung by something? You happy to have your saddle put on and girthed up?” If I asked any of my pupils how their horse was, they’d be able to give me a clear answer.
Now, there is an awful lot of valet riding. You drive your car to a fancy restaurant, and as you drive up, there is a valet driver to take your car off and park it somewhere, saving you the time, effort and walk. When you are ready to leave, your car is brought around to the front door. Perfect. Valet riding? You arrive at the stable yard and your horse is led, fully tacked up and prepared, to the mounting block, where you climb aboard. You’re led to the arena, and – look at that, you’re here. And how is your horse? Umm….. It’s far less than perfect. At the end of your lesson, the groom appears and leads your horse away, often giving them their bit of carrot on the way. How is your relationship with your horse? Does he even know who you are?
Your horse is getting information from you all of the time. Stressed from work? He knows. A bit weak kneed from your hangover? He knows. Nervous at the thought of today’s jumping lesson? He knows. Happy and excited to be going cross country? He knows that too. So how about you return the favour and find out a bit about him today? We’re all busy and trying to fit our horses in amongst the rest of life, but if you go out of your way for a bit of small talk it’ll pay you back 100 times over…