I am simultaneously reading my book, Soulful Horsemanship, getting it ready for publishing and Chris Irwin’s book, Dancing with your Dark Horse. Irwan has a deep well of knowledge and beautifully integrates an understanding of the inner worlds of horses and humans. I had not previously read Irwin’s work and find his writing to be rather aligned with my thought processes. We agree that horses have the ability to help us grow as individuals. We agree that the lessons learned in the arena can transform the rest of your life. We agree that there is a spiritual connection with horses.
While a lot of the fundamental principles upon which our teachings are based are aligned, we still approach horsemanship somewhat differently. Irwin emphasizes certain aspects more than I do – such as the importance of being in control. I was beginning to question whether or not I was overlooking something really important in Soulful Horsemanship. Am I not clear enough in my text about setting boundaries, being a strong leader, or being in charge? Do I need to change the way that I have presented information? This sort of pondering led to an epiphany – teachers and trainers will teach and train according to who they are on the inside.
It seems silly that I hadn’t fully grasped this concept before. I just wrote an entire book on how the horse is a reflection of the soul and working with them provides an opportunity to see what is really at the core of our being. I even put a section in there about the importance of choosing an instructor because the horse will be affected by that person’s underlying attitude, emotion, and approach to life. I strongly believe and understand this concept, yet somehow did not equate it to the teachings and writings of major clinicians and authors.
Irwin is likely talking about the importance of being in control because he has that need. He is likely facing horses who are more aggressive because that is a projection of his inner world. I wouldn’t presume to know this, but Irwin himself alludes to it in his book. He recounts a tale of a pretty significant encounter he had with a very aggressive mare. I have a lot of respect for his honesty and openness in sharing that story, which couldn’t have been easy, as a teaching example for the rest of us. He explains how this brutal encounter tapped into a well of “poison” within him. He goes on to say, “She had shown me the door to my healing – deep and dark though it seemed. And once I understood her message, I realized that every horse I had ever worked with had been trying to teach me the same lesson all along. I just hadn’t been ready, willing, or able to hear their message.”
I find that so profound for all of us. In part because it is a testimony to the fact that horses are a reflection of who we are and they have the ability to help us heal and find emotional freedom. Furthermore, I think it is important to understand the ramifications that go along with this idea. In Irwin’s case, you have a well-known clinician and trainer who has developed a system of interacting with horse’s based on his perception and experience. He is teaching the importance of being in control, for example, based on the emotional healing that he needs to go through. His approach is effective based around the need he is fulfilling for himself. That does not mean that his students have the same “poison” in them.
I am using Chris Irwin as an example because he is so forthright in his book that it sheds light on his inner world in a way that you do not get with every author. However, horses are a reflection of every trainer that works with them. All of the big training methods out there are based around that trainer’s inner world projecting onto the horses and the trainer developing skills to handle the pattern off issues that he/she sees. I tend to focus more on frightened horses in Soulful Horsemanship, which is definitely a reflection of my inner landscape. My “poison” is deep-rooted fear. That fear is manifested in my horses. I have then developed, as a rider, trainer, and teacher, a system that addresses fearful horses because it is the pattern I see. Based on my needs, I focus on the importance of empowering horses and bringing them up to a level of equals rather than emphasizing the need to be the boss.
In over 20 years of riding experience and working extensively with equine rescues, I have never encountered an overly aggressive horse. I have dealt with bullies but nothing to the extent that some individuals have experienced. Did I just get lucky? Or are those individuals contributing to the degree of aggression that is reflected in their horse? Not that they are wrong or bad, but that the horse is illuminating the lesson they need to learn. I have, instead, dealt with countless horses that were terrified and needed gentle kindness rather than strict boundaries.
I think this is an important thing for equestrians to understand. We have a proliferation of clinicians in the horse world. I don’t think any of these new methodologies are right or wrong in totality. I think each one is an excellent solution to the inner challenges that the clinician needs to work through. If we put our entire belief into someone else’s approach then we are not being authentic in working with the horse from the heart. If we allow the horse to reflect our own inner world we can each, through intuition and guidance, find our own methodology and solutions that will enable us to heal and grow.
Learn from everyone. Notice similarities and differences between each approach. Do you resonate with some teachings and feel resistant to others? Follow your gut feeling and find the approach that will help you in your unique partnership with your horse. That approach may be a hodge-podge of techniques from various teachers rather than following the exact recipe laid out by one teacher.