Sunday, 8 April 2012

Interview with Annie - Number 3 – January 2012

Annie - Hi Tom

Tom – Hi Annie, is it that time of year already!

Annie – Yes it is. It soon goes by doesn’t it!

Tom – So shall we get straight on with the interview or do you want to have a coffee first?

Sarah – I’ll tell you what, you get on with the interview and I’ll make the coffee. How does that sound?

Tom – That sounds good to me.

Annie – So Tom, I’ve heard on the grapevine that you have packed in teaching horsemanship. Is that true?

Tom – Well yes it is, so shall we end the interview right now.

Annie – Well, I’d like to carry on if you are happy to talk about it. I’m intrigued to know why you’ve quit. Did you suddenly decide or has it been coming on for a while?

Tom – Well, I didn’t feel comfortable teaching for a couple of years really. And then we were learning a lot of new stuff ourselves. Big stuff that was causing us to almost completely change some fundamentals of the way we were working. Sometimes I would be teaching and I would be feeling like I was almost making it up as I was going along. I know I’ve always slightly had that feeling anyway, which I think you are bound to do really if you are constantly learning yourself, which of course is what you should be doing anyway.

Annie – Yes, but if you realise you are always slightly operating in new territory and have always been doing that anyway, why the sudden change?

Tom – Well Annie, I just got tired of watching people going around in circles.

Annie – What, you mean you are tired of schooling horses?

Tom – No, no, no, not that kind of going around in circles. I got tired of telling people the same thing over and over again. I kind of got to a point where I thought, you know, either listen to what I am saying or don’t keep asking my advice. It sounds terribly intolerant I know, but it does get very trying sometimes on that front.

Annie – Well, give me an example of the kind of thing that would annoy you then.

Tom – Ok, well you know where my strengths are in horsemanship don’t you. Well I think I know anyway. I am reasonably good at the basics, and I actually think if you don’t understand and implement the basics into your horsemanship you are never really going to have a happy horse and get good results with the work that you want to do.

It’s simple stuff but for some reason, and I’ll say here straight out, mostly the reasons are that some people have unreal ideas about what horses are, what horses need from people, and what people need from horses. While people are fiddling around trying to manifest unrealistic dreams between them and their horse, well, I can’t get involved in that stuff. It’s the basics, the fundamentals, the simple stuff like the horse just knowing and understanding what it is you want, and vice versa. I don’t know how to say it simpler than that really.

Annie – Well ok, can you give me some examples of confusion that people take to their horses.

Tom – Well I can, but whether I should I’m not so sure. People are very sensitive about this kind of thing. I kind of came to the conclusion that I’d quietly leave the scene and let people sort it out for themselves, if they wanted to.

Annie – Well I’ve heard you say that now you are old you don’t care, so go on, just say it. What’s the worst that can happen.

Tom – Well, the worst that can happen is that the internet goes mental and my wife’s business completely ditches because of my big mouth. But yes, sometimes I do think someone needs to stand up and say ‘for god’s sake, stop treating horses as if they are humans’. I mean it has to be one of the most ugly things you can ever see doesn’t it - people feeding titbits to their horse for every little try. I mean why! Anybody can see that a good horseman can get their horse to quite happily try and do anything without a titbit, so why do people do it. I’ll tell you why, two reasons, because the person doesn’t understand the mind of the horse, and for some weird reason thinks that the horse will work better if it’s fed carrots every few seconds. And secondly, people think they can short cut good horsemanship by using tricks. Well, they can’t. They think that the horse’s mind works like the human mind, or maybe they want it to be that way.

To be honest it’s the same with humans. If you can free up the human mind from the need to be constantly rewarded then he will work better too, so they are wrong there too.

Annie – Well, now you’ve done it haven’t you. You’ve just lost all your clients by speaking your mind.

Tom – Yep, that’s it. Now even if I wanted to teach there wouldn’t be anyone to teach. Ah well, so now I have finally retired. Can you not come round here again Annie.

Annie – OK Tom, so we’ll make this the final interview. I was hoping to get enough to make a book out of it but never mind. It’s quite fun hearing you get all fired up about this stuff. So now let’s get back to the big changes in your horsemanship over the last few years.

Tom – Yes Ok, it’s actually very interesting because we arrived at a point where we realised we needed to be much more proactive to help to get the horse to operate in a way that is mentally and physically beneficial to itself. We realised that what we wanted to achieve wasn’t just going to happen by what you might call ‘good fundamentals of horsemanship’.

Annie – So before that you thought that everything would sort itself out if you got the basics right?

Tom – Yes, although I am sure some people would be thinking that what we are doing now is the basics. But actually, we arrived at a point where we could see that what we needed to happen couldn’t just happen as a bi-product of good horsemanship. We needed to get in there and help the horse find the correct way of doing things.

Annie – I think an example would help me understand what you are talking about here.

Tom – OK, well you can see that most if not every horse favours one side over another, much the same way as we are either right or left handed. So an example of this might be that the horse always prefers to put his weight on to one front foot rather than the other, and because of this he finds that going one way is easier than going the other way. In fact this can become so extreme that some horses can only go one way around a circle.

So we can teach the horse to even up his weight onto his two front feet and get him to practise going in this balanced way. He can then take this balance through to the point where he begins to even up both ways. Now I know this is a simple example and this may sound obvious to you, but I can tell you that loads of riders have their horses going around and around trying to get them to even up both ways, but in fact what they are doing is have their horse going around practising how not to do it right. Instead of helping the horse get better they help the horse get worse. If you find yourself practising what you don’t want, you need to change things around straightaway. But if you don’t know how to do that, and your horse certainly won’t know, then you are in trouble.

Annie – So are you saying that the horse won’t naturally put itself right no matter how much softness you have going between you.

Tom – Well yes I am really. I know of some really good trainers who do believe it will all work out, but I’d just say here, why make it hard for yourself, and the horse. It’s actually very easy to get in there and straighten your horse up.

Annie – That’s interesting.

Tom – And here is another thing. Most horses won’t naturally carry their rider in the correct weight bearing posture, nor will they understand front to back balance. Some will. Some have been bred to be that way, but actually if you personally aren’t aware of these things it won’t take you long to knock that out of even them.

Annie – Weight bearing posture and front to back balance – did you mention that last time.

Tom – Dunno, maybe. But the fact is you need to teach your horse to lift himself up at the front, and to be in balance. Now there’s no way on earth he is going to sort that out for himself. He has no idea he needs to do that. But once you understand what it means and how to do it, it’s not that difficult really.

Annie – Actually I’ve watched you and Sarah doing this work. It almost looks like the horse enjoys it, wouldn’t you say.

Tom – For sure I agree with that. It puts the horse and rider together in the moment. It feels good for the horse and for you. You know, I’ll tell you one more thing here too. You hear a lot of people using the word balance. I think they must think balance is just, ‘not falling over’ or something. The fact is that if you are using restrictive tack, or you have trained into your horse some muscular tension, say for example your horse is pulling back away from the bit, or leaning on the bit even, or you are using or holding muscular tension in yourself to manufacture the movement of your horse, then you and the horse can’t truly be in balance. You might be still standing up, and you might be still going along, but you are not ‘in balance’, not in the sense that without physical force you could both move as a unit in any direction. Actually, now I’ve said that I can see that it should be described more as ‘at a point of balance’ - that makes more sense.

Think about how much effort it takes… no, I’ll tell you what, let’s do it this way. Let’s balance this coin on its edge. Now, how much effort does it take to knock it over. Virtually none, and that is because it is in balance. That is how it feels when you ride a horse in balance – it should be effortless.

Annie – Wow, I’m starting to get a picture of what you are talking about there. Blimey, it does seem a bit silly to get all this sorted out and then to give up teaching.

Tom – Well, not really, not from my point of view anyway. There’s some good teachers out there – way better than me – and certainly way better riders too, and anyway, I’ve got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about teaching at the moment too (laughs out loud). Do you think I should get some therapy?

Annie – Ha hah hah, well, I’ve always thought that. But anyway, what’s your problem with teaching?

Tom – Well, I think the teacher/student thing can really prevent the freedom that you as a person need to learn. I get tired of people relying on their teacher. How many times have I heard people say, ‘Ah I must ask so and so about that’. I just want to say, ‘For gods sake, get yourself to the point where you can work it out for yourself. Get to the point where you aren’t scared of making mistakes and learning from them. Get beyond needing the security of a teacher to look after you. Then you will start to learn for yourself. You’ll start the real learning’.

Annie – But surely there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Your teacher can save you a lot of time and effort can’t he.

Tom – No, not really. The thing is I can tell you something but until you actually understand it for real, not just in theory, then you don’t know it. So even if hundreds of good horsemen have worked this out before us, which they have, we still have to work it out for ourselves when we get to it. You aren’t re-inventing the wheel – you are discovering good horsemanship.

Annie – Wow, we’ve covered a lot of ground there in a very short time haven’t we. I still think it’s a shame you’ve quit though.

Tom – Well, not really Annie. Like I say there’s more knowledgeable people than me out there, and to be honest I’ve got plenty of other things to do at the moment anyway.

Annie – Ok then Tom, well, thanks for the interview. How’s about I come back in a year and see how it’s going.

Tom – Yep ok then Annie. And what are you up to anyway – you can’t still be a student.

Annie – No I’m not. I’m doing quite a bit of freelance stuff at the moment. Gonna go and see if I can sell this interview now…..

Tom – Ha hah hah, you’ll be lucky!