I’ve noticed a trend that, as our horsemanship evolves, we seem to forget that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.
For instance, while natural horsemanship clinicians are often criticized as fixating on marketing by ‘reinventing the wheel,’ I find that us science-based trainers aren’t immune to this Christopher Columbus syndrome either, sometimes throwing not just the baby, but the founding fathers of our horsemanship, out with the bath water, and often, right under the bus.
Those who’ve gone before us…
Whether we agree with them or not, whether we chose to continue to practice what they taught or not, the foundation of our modern horsemanship was built, brick by brick, by each horseman who was able to challenge the status quo, or successfully teach to many what was previously only accessible to the few.
My own personal horsemanship journey is like a microcosm of our collective journey… I owe so much of my horsemanship to a foundation that began with reading ‘Lyons on Horses’ as a young girl.
Studying Monty Roberts, Parelli, Chris Cox, among many others, shaped me over the years towards the horseman I would become, and am still becoming. Some of you will recognize this as Successive Approximation…
Though my horsemanship has shifted and evolved, I will always give credit and respect where it’s due, though I haven’t always in the past.
Lab coats and cowboy hats…
As much as I love behavioral science and the perspective it has given me, it disappoints me to observe many of my science-minded contemporaries express outright contempt for horsemen who have helped pave the path of our collective horsemanship journey.
We can be objective without being reductionist.
I’ve observed self-righteousness, and I’ve observed much assumption on the superiority of science over experience. But what is science BUT experience?
I’d choose to brainstorm with an uneducated but experienced cowboy over an educated but arrogant theorist any day.
As much as I appreciate the objectivity of observation and the precision of terminology that behavioral theory has provided me, I find it just that – theory. And I find that I really cannot compare my horsemanship to shocking rats in a box.
Evolving forward in the complexity of our current understanding requires that we start thinking outside the box. Experiments must occur in the real world within the context of REAL relationships. What a daunting task, right?
But what if this has already been done?
After all, what is tradition but the culmination of trial and error, experimentation, out in the real world, over generations?
The science that we have built in the past hundred years, however helpful, cannot compare to the hundreds of years of empirical application that real horseman have been doing out in the real world as they partner with their horses in real relationships. And the real world is a hard mistress when it comes to testing hypotheses.
Maybe they were the real scientists.
I often hear people condemning tradition, as ‘just the opinion of dead people.’ I think this is a pretty modern and dismissive view of the intentions and experiences of those who have gone before us. I think it is arrogant to assume that our ancestors weren’t also seeking ethical solutions, that they didn’t seek or experience connection within the relationships they had with their working partners.
How many times have I heard or read the idea that modern horsemen can have better relationships with our horses because we don’t have to use them for work?
Do modern horsemen really think we have the monopoly on connection and relationship? That our generation alone is able to experience something ‘special’ with the horse because we have the liberty to keep them recreationally?
A horseman and horse working together can definitely have a relationship. If someone fails to observe this, it probably says more about their own projections and feelings about hard work than it does about anything else.
Yes, we have evolved into more ethical methods, but only because the foundation has been laid for us. Instead of denigrating those who have gone before, we should be thanking them for making it possible for us to be where we are.
I guess the whole point of this post is a call for us to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants, to recognize the horseman who have laid the foundation for us, and also to recognize the limitations of learning theory observed in a laboratory, instead of a relationship.