A sacred gift
A sacred gift
Jean Luc Cornille
“ School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated the most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn’t worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system? From the age of twelve I began to suspect authority and distrust teachers.”
Reading Einstein’s statement, I found close similarities with the failure of training systems. His mind was on the same wave, but while I was thinking from the horse’s pint of view, he was thinking about the rider’s education. Basically, we were reflecting on Einstein comment from the horse and the rider perspectives.
When Einstein wrote, “school bored me,” This applies definitively to the training techniques. When Manchester describes a “usual” training session, I am bored just by listening to him. It is all about formulas and submission to these formulas. Trainers talk about leadership but they have not evolved from the concept of reward and punishment. There are numerous quotes about leadership that expose their inability to lead. Arnold H. Glasgow says, “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” Trainers don’t recognize a problem before it becames an injury. They teach movements without understanding how our physique needs to be coordinated for the athletic demand of the performance. Failure to prepare efficiently our physique for the effort, leads us to injuries and they call veterinarians or therapists to repair the damages. They think that they prepare our body for the movements but their education is about submitting us to judging standards, (exams) and definitively not teaching us adequate use of our physique.
A good example is the belief that one can straighten our body between the inside leg and the outside reins. I often hear him explaining, “Between the inside hind leg and the outside shoulder, the metameric structure of the thoracolumbar spine can be totally dysfunctional, twisted, crooked, contracted or even disconnected and your inside leg and outside reins will have no corrective effect whatsoever. Instead, the segment of the horse’s thoracolumbar column controlling all the body movements is situated exactly between your upper thighs.” Truly, you hug our thoracolumbar column between your upper thighs and it is much easier for us to feel the channeling effect of your upper thighs than figuring what you really try to achieve between your inside leg acting on one extremity of our body, the inside leg, and your hand acting on the other extremity, the outside side of the bit.
My mind was on Arnold Glasgow and his mind was on Collin Powel. “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” Traditional equitation is about managing defects, managing balance issue with “more bit”, managing back muscles imbalance fitting the saddle, managing head instability with draw reins, managing arthritis with injection of hyaluronic acid, etc. All these quick fix, including hock injections, manage the defect but ultimately fail the horse by failing to identify and address the root cause of the problem. Osteoarthritis in the human knee as well as in the equine hock has been unsuccessfully managed with overemphasis on pharmacotherapy and direct chondral repair. “The long-standing inability to effectively alter the structural damage in knee osteoarthritis with the current therapeutic paradigm is the result of a persistent overemphasis on articular cartilage as the primary outcome in joint. This myopia has been misdirected and fails to address the root cause of the disease. Although its ethiology is likely multifactorial, it is now generally accepted that osteoarthritis onset and progression are mediated largely through biomechanical forces acting across the joint.” (Graig Walter, David Hayes, Jon E. Block, Nicholas J. London., Unload it: the key to the treatment of knee osteoarthritis).
Even when we receive horses with a long history of stifle or hock injury, injections became unnecessary once we have identified and corrected the root cause of the kinematics abnormality inducing abnormal forces across the joint. All these quick fix are part of what Collin Powel refers to as the “science of management.” Beyond the limits of these “managements,” true leadership as well as true horsemanship, is the ability of understanding the biomechanical forces acting on the joint and creating the body coordination normalizing the forces acting across the joints.
The analogy to the drilling sergeant is of course accurate. It is all about absolute submission. He told me that the real purpose of the drilling sergeant is not making the recruit executing stupid orders but instead, it is a training of the mind to unconditional obedience. Albert Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” The problem is that for many trainers and riders, education never goes beyond unconditional obedience. They make us staying still on the cross ties, no legs or head movements, for no purpose but the sadistic satisfaction of absolute domination. It is indeed a training of the brain to do not think. This education does not develop our intelligence. Instead, it shuts off our mind. It is for us a survival reflex. We shut off our mind because the education does not make any sense. There is nothing to understand and we survive shutting off our brain. I did not; I revolted. I had the will and the physical power to scare the drilling sergeants. Manchester submitted and Caesar revolted. Manchester is far from being a wimp. Instead, he was intelligent enough to realize that he did not have the physical strength to resist. He was weak and lame and submission was his only chance of survival. Many of us submit because survival is a very strong reflex even if survival means slavery and if you think about it, many of us are living in slavery.
His mind was also on the drilling sergeant. Riders are submitted as well. Once, a member of the on line course told the story of a barn where the statement, “Because I am the trainer, that’s why,” was framed on the wall. A trainer who cannot answer to the question “why?” might have printed a business card with the label “trainer” on it but does not have the knowledge, experience and intelligence that is necessary to train and teach. “My way or the high way,” should not stimulate submissive respect from the students, but at the contrary, the statement should awake great suspicion about the trainer competence and ability to teach. John Rosemond wrote, “With rare exception, today’s parents believe discipline is all about the clever manipulation of reward and punishment.” (John Rosemond, living with children) Such approach does not allow any dialogue. It is a drilling sergeant monologue. Riders develop in their mind a behavior stereotype submitting the horse to the stereotype through more or less clever manipulation of reward and punishment. This is about submission and definitively not education.
“Errors” are part of the learning process and if the horse is punished for his “errors,” the horse will remain within the safety but also the limits of natural reflexes. This is the dead end of techniques emphasizing the development of natural reflexes. The aim of academic equitation is not restoring natural reflexes that have been marred by the addition of the rider’s weight but instead creating a body coordination allowing the horse to efficiently perform while carrying a rider. Natural reflexes are ill adapted to the task of carrying a rider and never the less executing athletic performances while carrying a rider. The horse’s adaptation to the rider’s body weight will always be influenced by the horse’s morphological flaw, muscle imbalance, weaknesses, and other elements that James Rooney refers to as “the horse body state” Rooney explains that the cortical decision, such as for instance, a response to a rider aid, will be adapted through the brain to the actual body situation. The thought that applying the correct aids would stimulate proper execution of the move is utterly naïve. The horse initial impulse is always integrating the rider demand to the actual body state, (muscle imbalance, weaknesses, morphological flaw or other issue.) Therefore the horse’s initial response is always a compromise between the response the rider demand and the actual situation of the horse’s body.
A simple example might help understanding the process. The rider asks for left lead canter applying the usual cue for left lead canter. In our example, the cue is simply a touch of the inside leg. The touch of the rider’s inside leg is conveyed to the memory via sensory pathways. The memory recognizes the touch as the cue for left lead canter. The cerebral cortex decides then left lead canter. The cortical decision travels through the brain toward the spinal cord, where area such as the olivary nuclei and cerebellum monitor internal situation of the body and external environment. In our example, the body situation is pain in the deep digital flexor tendon of the left foreleg. The cortical decision, left lead canter, modified by the state of the body, pain in the left lower leg, might be a compromise placing the left front limb into the diagonal sequence of the right lead canter. The load on the left front leg would then be shared by the support of the right hind leg. The horse response to the rider aids modified by the actual state of the body, might be right lead canter. If the rider is a sergeant, he or she will interpret the horse’s compromise as disobedience. Instead, if the rider is capable to listen, he or she will analyze the horse’s response and find the root cause.
“Learning for the exam” is like training for the judging standards instead of educating our physique for the athletic demand of the performance. I am surrounded by two horses who became lame because of training techniques focusing on “the exam.” Both regained soundness because of a training technique focusing on the body coordination allowing full benefit of the gymnastic exercises. Manchester is on my right and Caesar is on my left. I listen to them discussing about the half pass that they used to do and the half pass that they are now practicing. It is like they are two different movements. Manchester recalled how physically painful was the right half pass. He is now looking forward for the right half pass because with his actual body coordination, the movement is a comfortable therapy. Manchester added, “The funny point is that if I executed the movement in the show ring as I do it for my therapy, I would get excellent scores.”
His mind explored the same thought from the rider perspective. The thirst for knowledge being strangled by the teachers is the closest analogy with the equestrian education. Our attraction to horses includes our thirst for communication, which involves understanding their physique, their mental processing, their emotions, their memories, etc. Instead, the equestrian education resumes the language to the studious application of formulas, inside leg outside rein, long and low, more forward, driving aids, etc. Most formulas are not even related to actual knowledge of the equine physiology but they are applied as part of the equestrian tradition. According to this equestrian education, these formulas are, supposedly, having the same effect on all horses. In reality, the rider’s aids are simply teaching tools aiming at a much greater finality, which is a level of communication based on energy. Many trainers never go beyond obedience to the correct aids. How can a trainer understand horses with such a system? The point is that the practical application of such system does not understand horses; it submits horses. Riding and training is the mastery of forces and the learning of aids is just a teaching process training the rider’s brain and body for a sophisticated language that is about subtle interaction of forces. As long as the equitation is about submission to the rider’s aids, there is no dialogue. It is simply about studious application of formulas and the naïve belief that these stereotypes are going to coordinate efficiently the horse’s physique for the athletic demand of the performance.
There is an entire world or more exactly business that gravitates around the studious application of correct aids and formulas. However, many horse owners have intuitively felt that the system failed them and failed their horse. However, it is all that is offered. Einstein addressed the problem. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” We too, believe that intuition is a sacred gift. We have created a riding technique, a training technique and an online course that provides the knowledge supporting intuition. Intuition, like feeling can lead to misconception if not supported by advanced understanding of how the horse’s physique works, how the horse’s mind thinks, how the horse central nervous system processes information and even learns by itself.
There is definitively a close analogy between Albert Einstein last sentence and our view as a horse. ”From the age of twelve I began to suspect authority and distrust teachers.” By the age of twelve most joints of our body have already been injected. We have good reason for suspecting the system as well as the ones teaching it.