We all know (and maybe some of us are) at least one person who follows a riding philosophy or training method religiously. There is no room for any other kind of horsemanship to be even considered. We could call it horsemanship-extremism.
This extremism can actually show itself in a number of ways – it’s not always about big things like “natural horsemanship is the BEST way and all other forms of working with horses is ABUSE” or “my horse is the instrument through which I will succeed and become rich and famous, it better do what I tell it”. Sometimes we get stuck in believing things like only this type of bit should be used, or only bitless should be practiced, or only this type of feeding program should be followed, or only this teacher/instructor knows what they’re talking about.
If we really look at this pattern, we’ll start to see how it pops up in a lot of different areas of our lives – sometimes in big ways, sometimes little ways, sometimes more extreme and other times less extreme. For me, I characterise the experience of being stuck in an extreme by how I feel when my belief system is challenged. I get tense, I automatically want to disagree or walk away, I want to fight for my point of view and MAKE the other person agree with me. Sometimes it’s really subtle too, I might politely disagree with someone after hearing them out, but the truth is that i didn’t really LISTEN to them. I closed myself off to anything outside of what I feel is best, or right.
What is being nurtured in that space of extremism that we sometimes allow ourselves to go to? Not much. It’s restrictive. It’s repressive. It’s filled with self justification and self validation. We tend to only speak with those people who validate our views. So no, there is not much space for growth.
WHY do we do this? And don’t try to tell me that you’ve never done this in one way or another – I’ll know you’re lying. Well for me, I’ve done it in moments in my life where I invested a lot of me into something. A lot of the time it was where I invested my self definition into a particular belief system (like “I’ll only ever do natural horsemanship!”) . I saw myself as a cool natural horsemanship person, and judged other forms of horsemanship as being cruel or ignorant or dismissive of the horse. My judgements of the various forms of horsemanship were intense enough that I was simply not willing to investigate anything other than what I believed was the right way. There has even been a point of me believing that my horse only goes well in a certain piece of equipment, contrary to the signs he was showing telling me that he was not happy with it. It took someone pointing it out to me for me to even think about it in an objective way, without my opinions clouding my judgement.
A lot has changed since then. But also I find myself getting stuck now and then. It’s not like I can make the choice to be open minded, and now suddenly I see everything in this clear and unbiased light. I have to force myself to consider alternatives at times, force myself to properly investigate a different approach. It can be challenging, especially with those subtle points where someone has to very obviously point it out to me, but I endeavor to keep practicing flexibility and openness to every approach, philosophy, suggestion, etc that I encounter.