Gandalf after a roll

“Oh Yes, this is the life!” – Gandalf relaxing after a roll with his friend Zen grazing in the background

Stepping Up Takes Attitude and Knowledge

Emma is a friend of mine who is developing Gandalf the Grey (he’s one of our horses not that bearded old man roaming Middle Earth….). Emma is a very gentle person, and it seemed at the beginning of a horsemanship workshop we attended that her main problem was her reluctance to be as firm as was needed to get her request across to Gandalf.

Overcoming a lack of assertiveness is a very common developmental challenge that people bring when they come for horsemanship-based growth: how to find the inner conviction and self belief to practice being more and more definitive until: – finally they make contact with what it takes in mind and body to be effective – to make it happen. Once the horse is clear about what’s being asked, both horse and human start engaging with energy, movement and flow: a conversation has begun.

People who are ineffective don’t get what they want; their opinions and ideas go unheard; eventually it can seem hardly worth the bother trying to put energy into anything if they expect to be ignored or are risking failure. Living with frustration as a norm can lead to anger being turned inward and the sense of invisibility, living a lesser life.

Emma was certainly feeling a little frustration as Gandalf merrily ignored her. But there was more to it than her simply not being assertive enough.
“Of course I want to be effective!” she protested. “But my problem is ‘what to do’? If I don’t know what to do, then how can I be effective?” She was in a rut and pretty fed up about it.
“Then do something!” the teacher prompted, encouraging her to try new things. But Emma went on trying more of the same, injecting her frustration into the effort, much to Gandalf’s indifference and the curiosity of everyone observing.

After her session, Emma was more perplexed than angry. “The answer’s out there”, she said. “I just need to find it.” Over the next day, she watched a series of demonstrations by the clinician and closely observed what the other students were doing. She paid attention to the tactics and actions people were using to encourage their horses to be open and receptive to whatever was being proposed. And she saw that these things were working well for the horses and for the riders.

The next time it was Emma’s turn with Gandalf in the arena, she set off looking very determined. Gandalf was asked to trot and offered his usual sluggish shuffle, petering out into his slouchy walk as soon as he could get away with it. Using her string, she tapped him on the butt several times whilst keeping a strong focus on where she wanted him to go. That worked – until several steps later, when he shuffled back down into a walk again. So she gave him a stiff reminder. Gandalf then offered a long stretch of flowing trot that had everyone gasping and smiling: “look at him! He moves beautifully.” Now, he evidently believed in her as a leader.

The teacher suggested she ask for a canter. Visibly radiated joy at this, Emma asked Gandalf to go. Two string-taps on the butt later and there they were: cantering around the arena, horse and rider both looking equally surprised! Next time she asked, it took a fraction of that energy from Emma to get him volunteering his canter. This is an 8 year old horse who has cantered no more than a handful of times in his life, and I wanted to be sure he didn’t have any biomechanical problems holding him back, or, for that matter, a lack of confidence or willingness to open out and move.

What made the difference for Emma?
“I needed Knowledge: I got it by watching how others go about it and getting that image into my head. It’s how I learn. Once I’ve seen it, I’m more than happy to get out there and give it a go. I know it’ll look pretty sloppy to start with, but then, after tons of repetitions and practice, I’ll get there. I was always keen enough to step up and put the effort in; I just needed to know what the “it” was.” Emma had plenty of the Attitude needed to be Gandalf’s partner, she had just been lacking some Knowledge.

I Heard a Horseman Say

“You’ve got to know where to be, why to be, when to be and what to do when you get there – plus, when to quit what you’re doing.” (Pat Parelli)

If we want to reach new heights, then yes, we need to work on honing our attitude and adding to our knowledge. Sometimes people have some of one and not enough of the other. Sometimes people have neither, and it can seem a high mountain to climb. Whatever the start-point is, Emma’s experience shows it’s always possible to watch and learn, and it’s always possible to step up and simply have a go. Do something.

It’s just a case of taking a first step, then the next step…..