Many years ago, I read a little book called the Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff), which is an introduction to Taoism, as described by Pooh bear (as he would). One of the things that he talks about is the big old tree growing in the town. It is a magnificent tree, with wide spreading, gnarled and twisted limbs, spreading out in an enormous canopy overhead. This canopy of branches gave deep, cooling shade and shelter from the glare of the sun. One day a tree feller came through the town, looking for trees that would provide good, solid, straight planks that would be used to build. He saw this huge old tree and set about to fell it. A wise old sage in the town approached him and asked why he would choose to destroy this tree – its value was as the centre of the community, as a shelter, a provider of support and a place to sit and think. As a felled tree, it would have no value at all. Its limbs were too twisted and bent out of shape from surviving the wind and storms. The tree feller would not get one straight plank out of that tree, as a source of building material, the tree was useless.
In this way, we are reminded that everything has a purpose and a place to fit – if you have a perfectly round peg, no matter how wonderful it is, how smooth its edges, how polished and prepared, it will never fit into a square hole.
I have been thinking about this recently. At a yard where I spend some of my travels, there is a lovely big mare. She is a solid, strong horse, sound, good looking with a lovely way about her and a sweet temperament. She is there to be a school horse for the more advanced riders. Unfortunately, this is not her idea, not her fit. She will work with her trainer, allowing him to get on and ride, but when a new person appears on the scene she gets stressed and anxious. She won’t stand at the mounting block for them to get on and is not happy in her ridden work. This is a horse who wants to be a one rider horse – to develop trust and partnership. She is upset by anything that is not part of her routine. After one lesson with a new person, no matter how good they are or how patiently they ride her, she needs weeks of retraining.
On chatting to this mare’s trainer, he said that he doesn’t like to feel as if he has to give up, or get beaten by a situation. Thinking about the tree feller and the old tree, there is no way the tree feller was going to make the tree straight. It wasn’t a case of being beaten; it was a case of accepting what is. What we have the power to change and what we don’t.
Alas, this happens with many horses and their humans. A rider buys a smart young horse. She has dreams of becoming a show jumper or an eventer, the horse has all the right ancestors in his pedigree, but he lacks the courage to let his feet leave the ground. He wants to please his rider but has to face his demons every time she asks him to jump, when he doesn’t want to. Makes for a miserable horse and a frustrated rider. The same can happen with the rider looking for a gentle, caring plod along to amble the quiet country lanes with, and she finds that the partner she bought is actually a little fire cracker, with ambition and energy that is just desperate to run and jump and do. This time it’s going to be a frustrated horse and a rider losing confidence.
If things are not going according to plan, think about your horse and who is he in his own right. Sure, we all hit difficulties in the schooling programme, a particular movement or exercise that your horse battles to understand or get his body to master, but the general direction should be working for both of you. If it isn’t, are you trying to force a round peg into a square hole?