“This horse is a killer!”
I was in the next stall working on the teeth of a big bay Warmblood gelding when I heard these words spill into my quiet concentration. The connection I had made of earned trust and respect with my horse remained even though the hot summer’s thick air shattered. We both turned our attention to the man next door. I turned the gelding loose and went outside the stall to investigate.
This man was my new employee. He had considerable experience in dentistry in horses. Due to my recent injury, I decided to bring on two people to help me while I recuperated from surgery. From the start, I knew he wasn’t a horseman. From what I saw today, he would never be.
How we perform dentistry in horses requires that we have really good horsemanship skills. This skill is something I was taught in 1983 before sedatives and power floating equipment were available. We relied on our ability to open the mouth and insert our hands to feel with our fingers every tooth. To do this, we had to overcome our fear of having our fingers bit clean off. Standing in front of the horse also had the risk of being struck in the head.
The horse has to overcome their fears of humans sticking their hands to the back of their mouth (or anything else you are doing to the horse). Today, my employee’s fear of the horse was reflected by this Quarter Horse as the gelding displayed his fear of the human working on his teeth.
I stepped onto the shed row to find my employee repeating his words. Eyes bugged out, and eyebrows popped up; the look of fear made his 6 foot 2 inches, 240 pounds frame small. His feet shifted, and his arms wildly moved as the saliva spitting from his mouth shined in the light. He emphasized to me, “This horse is a killer!”
I looked into the stall and then back to him and asked, “Who, this horse?”
The horse’s eyes and mine locked. His fear, high moments ago, was immediately released as I walked in and finished floating the teeth without a foot moving. His eyes softened, and his head lowered. There was no more fear. As I left the stall, my employee said, “Well, it’s obvious you’re a better horseman than I am.”
A New Project For Me
At this point, I had worked with thousands of different horses for 32 years. I had accumulated millions of points of references on how to work with horses, but also, at this point, I couldn’t articulate them. I had written my book, “The Ten Irrefutable Laws Of Horsemanship,” which is a boiled-down foundation. But the moment-by-moment connection with horses was not yet in my grasp.
In the book “Mastery” by Stephen Greene, the author describes 3 phases we go through in anything we learn. The first is the apprentice phase, where someone learns a skill or trade. This phase is where we learn from a book, and then we learn from watching others. The second is the adaptive phase, where we adapt what we have learned into something that becomes our own. The final phase is mastery, where we no longer think when working. It comes automatically.
In the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, the author suggests that we need to perform a task over 10,000 times before we become an outlier in our field. I think another word for an outlier is a master. I would add that working with 10,000 different horses is better than working with 1 horse 10,000 times. While 10,000 seems like a long time I can tell you, that it gets better each time.
I am starting a new series to decomplexicate horsemanship. There are so many parts and all need to be working smoothly. None of it will matter if you are afraid of the horse. The horse will always reflect that back to you. Your horse is your mirror.
Eliminate your fear and watch what happens with your horse. It’s magic.