Learning To Learn

An interesting number puzzle was going around the internet the other day. It was a simple little equation, but it brought out all the different ways that people thought about solving it. Some folks my age went back to their elementary education putting one number on top of the other, adding the right column, carrying the extra to the left column, and then adding the left column to find the solution. Others took the numbers and changed them to round numbers that their mind could see better and then added and subtracted based on whether they rounded up or down. Still, others went through some mental gymnastics that still have me confused. But everyone came up with the correct answer! And, that was with a puzzle that had a finite answer!

Imagine what we and our horses go through in trying to solve the puzzles we encounter every day in our rides together. Even when we and our horse agree on what we’d like to get done, we may be trying to get to the answer in different ways. Take working a gate horseback for an example. I’ve ridden horses that prefer to open and close a gate differently than I do. When I’m trying to get a job done and I don’t have time right then and there to work things out with my horse, I’ll go along with them and get the gate worked. If I’m riding a horse to see what he is and what we might be able to accomplish together, I’ll take the time to see if he will accept my leadership and open and shut a gate like I want to. My goal is to get him to see the gate puzzle as I do. I want him to learn to learn the things that are important to me so we can be partners in solving the puzzles we will encounter in our job.

Often the human puts a lot of faith in another human to tell them how to get along with their horse. I’ve done that. What I came to realize later on is that the humans that made the biggest difference in my horsemanship were the ones that didn’t tell me what to do, they showed me how to work things out with my horse. I learned how to learn from my horse. I paid lots of attention to what happened just before what I wanted to have happen happened. I learned how to experiment safely. I learned how to appreciate my horse trying to learn what I wanted. Just like in the number puzzle, there is no one correct way to arrive at the solution to any problem. And, where the answer isn’t finite, there can be more than one correct answer to any puzzle put before us.

We all need mentors. People we respect and are honored to learn from. Amy and I have had several over the years. Sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. A good mentor can show you those things and then nudge you in the right direction to find answers that work for you. Working with livestock is as much an art form as a science. Each person’s personality and work style factor into the solutions they find for themselves and the stock they work with. Cattle and horses get used to and comfortable with the style they are consistently exposed to. When Amy and I would do day-work for other ranches, we would spend some time early in the process watching the crew more than the cattle. How the crew went about their work was something we needed to match to get along with the crew and the cattle. If we were riding their horses, we needed to do the best we could to match their riding style in order to get our job done without a lot of drama.

So, as the weather warms and you get ready to ride more and more, think about how you might present things to your horse in a way that causes him to want to learn from you. It won’t be the way that Steve or Amy or Joe or Brian or Buck does it and that’s good. You and your horse will work together to find the solution to the puzzle that makes the most sense to you as partners. We are always honored to be the people that help you on your horsemanship journey. We can offer you tools to build your confidence and a format that will help you learn to experiment safely with your horse to learn how to learn from each other.