Archive for August 2013 | Monthly archive page
In the spring of 2009 I visited France with my friend and colleague Pedro Pedrini. We spent most of our time in Saumur where the Ecole d’Application is located. This is a horse facility that traces its beginnings to Napoleon Bonaparte. To this day, it is an integral part of officer’s training in the French military. Col. Thomas De Siegnon was the commanding officer of the entire base. He explained that studies indicated that training in horsemanship for the officers was very beneficial. He went on to describe how a man must learn to ” impose his will” onto a horse that is much larger and stronger than he. This transfers to a military situation where he must lead a group of men potentially into battle. “A military leader must be confident, creative and forthright with the men in his command while carrying a great deal of respect for their capabilities.” In order to further demonstrate what Col. Siegnon was saying, let’s change a few words in this sentence:
“A horseman must be confident creative, and forthright with his/her horses while carrying a great deal of respect for their capabilities.”
I’ve often thought about the Colonel’s remarks and wonder how horsemanship training can be used as leadership training on this side of the pond, especially for young people. My youngest daughter has heard me say more than once, “This horse is looking for a leader…and you’re it!”
When you listen to accomplished horseman talk about how to be effective, safe and productive with our horses, they are describing how to be a leader worthy of the horse. I would make the case that this relationship is a benevolent dictatorship. We are asking our horses to do things that are not natural for them to do. They will not do these things willingly unless we regard them on their terms with confidence, creativity, and empathy. I don’t expect ‘benevolent dictatorship’ to catch on any time soon though…it sounds too, well, politically incorrect.
Twenty years ago, I was a part of a Toastmaster’s club that was comprised of nuclear physicists, biologists, hospital administrators and the like. I was probably the only one in the club with any direct connection to agriculture. They seemed to regard me as a bit of a novelty. One day I presented a speech describing what I’d been learning from stockmanship guru Bud Williams. I’d been using more of his principles on the ranch with our cattle, and I could see how it applied to horses as well. My white collar audience was fascinated with my short lecture. Afterward, some of them suggested that I repackage the speech and deliver it for a human resources/leadership/personnel management training. They saw the same things the French military had been putting into practice for many years.
Perhaps we could mandate that members of Congress should take horsemanship training before they take the oath of office. The ones that don’t survive it will go away and we’ll hopefully be left with leaders worthy of the people.
I just received word that my saddle arrived safe and sound at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. This was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever completed. What a great opportunity as an artist and a craftsman! Make plans now to attend our opening weekend (Cowboy Crossings) in the middle of October.
He had occasionally given me a bit of trouble before on these back feet, but this spring he became more resistant. I’d been trying more of the kinder, gentler approach to handling his feet and it wasn’t working. In my efforts to make him softer, he was getting tougher. I finally decided to build more obvious contrast for this horse. He was not seeing enough difference between making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. The contrast was too subtle. ‘Roy’ eventually discovered that standing for me was a way better deal than the work anxiety of sweating at the end of the thirteen foot lead rope. Softness then began showing up in other ways and he seems to trust me now more than ever, even though it came with some tough leadership on my part.
Ray Hunt advised us to observe, remember, and compare. He was talking about contrast. A horse is presented with some choices and will almost always take the peaceful route when they can see a difference.
Contrast is important for improvement in craftsmanship and artistry as well. Study and analysis of our techniques and results will often reveal a better way. But we have to see a difference between what we’ve done, and where we’d like to be. Those of us with corrected vision are familiar with the question, “One, or two?” It’s easy to see a change in the choices the eye doc is presenting, but then it gets more difficult to answer one, or two.
Such is the journey of craftsmanship…the more you refine your work, the more difficult it becomes to see contrast between where you are and where you could be. For some, the voice that urges us on won’t be silenced. It is a calling that we willingly accept.