Over my coffee this morning I was reading a very interesting and wise blog by Frank Sonnenberg. For me, training horses and self-improvement are one and the same thing. After all, who doesn't want to improve themselves for the good of their horse?
"Well, if you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, don’t blame the mirror. It’s never too late to change."
How profound it that!
On so many levels!
Let's attack this like an onion. Starting with the literal, how often do we ride with mirrors or using photo/video feedback and grumble about what we see? The aim is not to be self-satisfied; it's about being able to be personally accountable, taking responsibility for and then critically accessing what's in front of us, both positive and negative.
Then on the deeper level, it is often said the horse is the mirror of our soul. The horse reflects right back at us our hopes, fears, frustrations and attitudes. Horses give us the purest feedback about who we are.
(They have very little agenda. Honestly, in all the hundreds of horses I have worked with I can't think of one that had more of an agenda than expressing past baggage or its needs for safety.)
If we listen to that hugely valuable feedback and take it onboard then horses will help us grow as riders and as human beings.
One of the biggest leaps forward a rider can make is when they flick the internal mental switch to being accountable for their horse's feedback. Then the next big leap comes when they learn it's not personal and that they can grow from it.
It's not for nothing that in the early 17th century the French court of Louis XIII set up a riding academy headed by Antoine de Pluvinel to teach the young noblemen not just the art of academic riding but the moral fibre required to lead men and govern. This hugely expensive endeavor was considered necessary to build the character to take nation's future forward.
“Character isn’t something you were born with and can’t change, like your fingerprints. It’s something you weren’t born with and must take responsibility for forming.” - Jim Rohn
So often today we live in with the static 'I am who I am' culture but through the honest, unbiased feedback of our horses we can form ourselves into our best 'who I am' without losing our sense of self. We are all works in progress!
Canadian Paralympic dressage rider and trainer Bert Sheffield is the creator of the HeartHorse Dressage mentoring programme.