The Art of Imperfection.

Photos: Lory Hopkins


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison


 

I didn’t plan on writing a blog today. I’ve known I wanted to write, but to be honest, the inspiration gods haven’t come knocking recently. Now it’s March, but when I went to bed last night, I swore it was December. 

If I’m honest, I’m waiting for that perfect idea. I don’t know what it is, but if I wait long enough and pay attention, surely lightning will strike on a sunny blue day and there it will be. The Blog. 

How often do we feel this with our horses? We want to wait until we have the perfect solution for addressing an issue. We want to get it right (mostly, too, because of benevolent reasons), we want it to look perfect and by the way? Please let it not be messy. 

Unlike writing, where I can stare at a blank page while I sip tea, horses prefer guidance, usually now. They need a response – any response- and the sooner the better. 

Where we get hung up is we want to give them the RIGHT response. The perfect, mistake- free answer. So when our horse (for example) trots faster than we want, our thought process might go something like this:

“Why is he trotting faster?” 

“Is he scared?” 

“Does my saddle fit?” 

“Am I out of balance?” 

“What if I’m not feeding him right?” 

“Did I give him too much leg? Maybe I need a different trainer.” 

“I like my trainer.” 

“But maybe a second opinion would help?” 

“I need a second opinion on my arthritis.” 

“I wonder if there are supplements that help arthritis?”

“I probably shouldn’t have had that fourth cup of coffee.” 

And so on. 

You can see how off track we get, simply because we think we don’t have the perfect answer for the horse. 

Now, part of this is because we are spectacularly talented at rapid fire thinking and consistent distraction. This isn’t bad news. The counterbalance to this, though is that I also believe horses can help us slow down. Take a breath. Reconnect with our internal landscape that resonates with the wildness of nature. 

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In the space it takes for the thought of that fourth cup of coffe to flash across your mind, there is a gap in communication. It’s very similar to having a conversation on a cell phone and the call fails. 

“Hello? Can you hear me now?”

Four, five, ten, twenty-six strides later, maybe we let the horse know about that trot that’s too fast. But by then the horse has been doing something else. Maybe he’s thinking about stopping, or cantering, maybe he’s feeling the saddle pad rucked up by his withers. It’s difficult to say, but what I can say is that when we choose thinking over doing, the horse is connected to himself, not necessarily doing something with you.

This isn’t personal. Horses are masters at connection but we’ve got to give them something to connect to.

When we live in our brains; sorting, judging, worrying, etc, it’s a powerful disconnection. The horse is saying “Hello? Anyone out there?” Because we are wrapped up snug with our hamster wheel mind, there isn’t any reply.

I don’t think horses are fans of one-way conversations. Everything in their environment (especially other horses) gives and receives communication of some sort. And whether we know it or not, we do too. The question is, what am I saying (and even if we aren’t saying anything, that means something) to my horse during any given moment?

Before this starts feeling like too much, or too big a responsibility, consider that we are also talking about creatures who can send and receive messages in less than the time it takes to blink. Those messages range all the way from we cannot fathom how subtle (I’ve seen one of our horses move another without as much as an ear twitch), to overt physical actions (biting, kicking, etc). The miracle of horses is that as much chatter as we must unknowingly send them, they are able to sort out what they need to listen to, and what they can let go of.

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So, what can we do?

Take a breath. A big, knock-the-dust-off -your ribs-inhale (and exhale). Put your hand on your belly and feel your feet in the stirrups. Take another breath. When your horse does something unexpected, have an answer. Maybe it’s to turn him in a smaller circle. Maybe you stop doing what you tried and go do something different. Maybe ride a figure eight, or a serpentine. You will definitely take another rib-cracking breath.

Smiling would also help – I mean, one of the fastest creatures on the planet lets us ride them – what isn’t fun about that?! The point is, your horse will tell you if your answer was effective, or not. If it was: great! Build on that. If it wasn’t, we can try something else. Or ask someone to help us figure it out. The right (or perfect) answer is a mirage.  While I admire our intention to do what is right by the horse, I also recognize that there’s a whole lot of freedom in letting go of needing to give a perfect answer, at the perfect time, with the perfect feel.

As an example, take a look at the photos at the top of the blog. Here, Rocky and I are practicing simple lead changes. On a circle to the right, he would pick up a left lead, and vice versa. By the third photo, we were on the right lead, going to the right.

Now, to be fair, I was mostly out to have fun, and Rocky was willing. But I would also like us to be balanced. So, we practiced until the correct lead came through and I learned that I would like to become more accurate about my timing and feel going into a canter/lope.

The mistakes I made during that process allowed for a couple of things: for Rocky and me to learn something about each other, and for me to learn that not only do I feel confident about cantering once more but now it’s time for me to explore the accuracy of that gait. I wouldn’t, however, have known any of this had I not decided to explore simple lead changes and had Rocky not been willing. In my search to set us up for the correct lead on a circle, I tried four different ways, all of which didn’t help. But the fifth adjustment? Bingo.


“If you do nothing, you’ll never know when you’re done.” Benjamin Franklin 


Just like writing, when you’re with horses, the answers arrive once you begin. However, if we are always thinking of the “best” way to begin, we end up going nowhere. A response – right or wrong-demonstrates listening. And it is feeling heard that starts us on the path to change.

About the Author

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A lifelong horse woman, learning how to listen to horses.

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Horsemanship

36 Comments

I agree that we get caught up in having the perfect answer. Part of that is how we were taught- told off for making a mistake and missing the explanation or exploration. I like to think of it like horses- when I make a request I want a response- even the wrong one is better then nothing.

Well said! Yes, any response is better than feeling unheard. I think it’s a basic need – like food, water and air. Feeling heard is powerful – no matter which species you are.

So very true Crissi. I have found that as long as I take my time, am mindful of what I’m asking, and don’t expect my young horse to fail (that is, we can feel our way around things, both physically and mentally), we make good progress. If things don’t go right trying A, we try British. And horses are very forgiving I’ve found, if your intention is right. Uncanny to see your blog tonight, as I did the horseman’s katakana today before I started playing with him. He looked at me with interest. I loved our Aikido sessions at Brockenhurst, and they’ve helped me so much on my journey. Xx

Hi Claire – yes! Mindfulness is key. And aren’t horses one of the most fun and rewarding ways to cultivate it?

It made me smile to hear that you’re still practicing the horseman’s kata – good for you. I hope we can connect again in Brockenhurst! xx

It occurred to me reading this that we talk about asking a horse FOR the trot, but we never talk about asking a horse ABOUT the trot. When the only response we expect is the one we trained, we’re missing most of the important stuff.

Thank you for writing this. I´m struggling with nearly all those questions at the moment. it was a relief to realize that I´m not alone with those thinking bubbles in my head and thank you for reminding me to take a step back, breath deep and connect. Just sometimes mind takes over intuition and a little reminder is a huge help 🙂

I enjoy your writing and ability to put your insights into words. Take a breath and begin again. Pretty much says it all! Have a great day.

I love this! And it fits in with a lesson I was giving yesterday to a 13-year old boy. A very talkative, distractable 13-year old boy. I had him on the rope halter lead rope walking around the octagon. His job was to keep the horse as close to the outside perimeter as possible. He wanted to talk about his new rabbit. As you might guess, the horse was feeling the disconnection and her walk was less that consistent. When I gently asked the rider to focus on his horse and be still (quiet) the change in the horse was immediate and so obvious. Even this busy young man could feel it! Horses are such great teachers of communication. Once she had his attention and knew he was “with her” she was SO happy. Thanks for the blog!

Love the Blog. I am currently working on my confidence when cantering (nice to know I am not alone in this) and have been experiencing problems with the jog to lope.Nice to know I am not alone in this. Found out via my trainer, that I needed to ask for a little more bend to the inside and a forward jog, then Hey Presto!

Thank you for letting me know this is helpful, Joanne. And good for you for pursuing a confident canter. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of my past blogs, but if you scroll down, there’s a three part series about gaining confidence, especially after a horse accident. Best wishes!

Yes! Thank you so much for sharing this. One of the amazing things about horses. They are such communicators if we are open to it. I have found they are always telling us or giving us answers and are relieved when we finally get it. Like they want to tell us to have a V8 or something lol. Amazing things happen when we do open up and hear what they are saying. Yes, we relax and breathe. We slow down. See, hear, and feel things we never did before. I try to write about this kind of stuff on my blog when I can. Feel free to click around!

I loved this blog I have just finished reading Out Of The Wild and I now try and have a clear picture in my mind what gait I would like and how calm I would like my horse to go this is even before I mount. Still so much to learn about connecting with amazing beings

One of my favorite Mark quotes: It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be better. Thank you, Crissi, for another fabulous read. ❤

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