Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Round Pen's Most Important Lesson

Natural Horsemanship requires the human to communicate with the horse. It requires the human to provide leadership and it requires the human to negotiate with the horse.

The inability to lead, teach and negotiate with another creature is what causes most of the failures that occur in developing a solid relationship with the horse. The round pen forces us to come to grips with one of Lincoln's most important insights. 

" I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me", he wrote in a letter to Albert Hodges.

Our false belief that we can be in control of life around us can be cured by spending time training scores of horses, particularly wild ones. We cannot dictate the behavior of horses, or other people, any more than we can dictate the behavior of the wind and the clouds. The fear of losing control is often the driving force behind the desire to have power over others. I learned to set aside any desire to accumulate material goods scores of years ago. I have only learned to set aside the desire to control the behavior of those around me within the last decade. 

Spending hundreds of hours in the round pen with horses who are without knowledge of people makes it possible to understand how vain and worthless it is to believe that one can control the actions of others by decree.

It is comforting to think that the exercise of power will produce the desired result, but the reality is that the exercise of leadership and communicating by example is often the only way to produce the desired result without creating additional, often unforeseen, problems. 

The round pen teaches the limitations of coercion. 

The lesson applies outside of the round pen as well. We have to make adjustments in our lives as a result of a virus that has now killed one out of every thousand Americans. I want program participants to use good judgment and apply safety precautions at the horse lot. I want masks to be used.

I could make a rule that simply says if you do not wear a mask you are expelled from the program.  In short order, tremendous dissension would be created by those who would religiously wear a mask in my presence , but promptly remove it as soon as I am out of sight. A fault line would be created in our program, separating people and limiting compliance.

Or...I can try to be more diligent in remembering to wear a mask myself when in proximity to others. Doing so will not create complete compliance. Neither would a draconian rule. 

The greatest challenge that our program faces is our need to increase access to grazing and foraging to more land for our livestock. We are doing so by converting about 15 acres of a mature, mixed species wood lot into silvo pasture. It is accurate to say that the future of our program is dependent on getting this job done. It is also accurate to say that regardless of how often I seek to explain the urgency of the task at hand, most of the families in our program fail understand why we need to spend several more hundred manhours of work getting this land cleared before spring.

I could have a rule simply requiring every family to forgo riding until the woodlot is converted to silvo pasture. Doing so would increase the amount of work that some program participants  put into the project. It would also cause some  families to leave the program in hopes of returning when we begin riding again.

Or...I can continue to work to educate program participants on the absolute priority of this task, while putting every bit of personal time and effort that I have into getting the job done. Years of working horses in the round pen have made the soundness of this approach clear to me. 

Look not just to Lincoln to understand leadership. Take a look at the leadership by example shown by Gall and Crazy Horse at Little Big Horn. Jesus' leadership is perfectly exemplified in the call to follow. One cannot  follow another unless that person is walking out ahead. 

Walking out ahead is the essence of leadership.

I have never been cursed with perfectionism. With the exception of substance abuse, I think that perfectionism is responsible for more emotional anguish than any other factor that occurs commonly in our world. Perfectionism is rooted in the belief that we control, that we can control, that we must control, that if we just worked harder we could control...

But life teaches otherwise. 

In about two hours it will be twelve years since my little brother died when his shotgun accidently discharged while he was hunting. No philosophy or theodicy will ever cause me to understand why this could happen. One of the fundamental experiences in shaping the person that I am today was an event utterly beyond my control.

Like Lincoln, I do not profess to control events and I also freely confess to being controlled by them. But I can influence events and I can influence people, particularely young people, and it is my obligation to work to do so in the most effective way possible. That requires providing direction, support, encouragement, and guidance.

And that is the round pen's most important lesson. 

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