Traveling with the Circus

So lately there's been a big internet flap involving a big-name (lets me out) clinician performing at a large international venue when things got a little out of hand. I use the word performing deliberately. This happens a lot when a clinic, which should first and foremost be a gathering place for learning and improving, becomes a show. When there is pressure to get something done while everyone is watching, pressure to top the other guy, and especially when you're trying for that WOW! factor, there will be the temptation to take things a step too far. Add in lights, music, and oh, boy!, applause and you might just have yourself a full-fledged show. I'm sure that guy would like a do-over. I hope so. He made a small thing into a great big one. He was trying to solve a problem that needed time and patience with a method that looked cool. Had it worked the folks in the stands would have eaten it up. 

Alas, it went viral instead. 

We can all learn from this. Maybe as clinicians we should stick to doing our best as opposed to being the best. And perhaps as clinic auditors and participants we need to be a little careful about our expectations. We can put some more thought into what wows us. Another clinician once told me that he made it a point to see one of our colleagues whenever he did a horse expo. He said there were usually only a few others watching because nothing spectacular ever seemed to happen. And that, my friend told me, was because that other guy was soooo damn good. I'm not here to pile onto that first clinician, horses have a knack for keeping us humble, but the incident makes a great mirror in which we can see our own true reflections. Ever try to make your horse do something even though your nagging little inner-voice was telling you not to? I have. Ever try to teach your horse something that you yourself were less than clear on? I have. Did you get mad at your horse when he failed? Yup, me too. It's an easy trap to fall into. We get caught up in the moment and carried away. 

Horses are here to teach us balance in life. When we ride it is a joint effort, a joining of two sentient beings into one. When we lose track of this and it becomes all about us we forget horses are our full partners with thoughts and feelings of their own. We lose the balance they offer us. What I see as the root cause of all this disharmony is us trying to go where we want to go, the way we want to get there. Think of it this way; where we are headed is up to us, how we get there is up to our horse. In other words whether we ride English or western, whether we want to head out over backcountry trails or cut cattle in the NCHA, that's our choice. If we left that up to our horse we probably wouldn't make it past the granary. 

How we get from green colt to show horse, though, is up to him. If he's nervous and things need to happen a bit more slowly that's how it should go - even if the county fair is only two weeks away. If he's head-shy, well, that's what we should work on even though we really want to turn back some heifers. 

To do anything else is taking our horses and our relationship with them for granted.

Every big WOW is really a thousand little aha moments strung together. Think of that when you're working with your horse. Try to stockpile a few of those moments. Someday they'll wow you. When you're at the next clinic forget the lights and pick up on those small things that together make a good horse or horseman. And if you want to see a show, go to the circus.