The Tortoise and the Hair by Nina Heller

Trying to chart our daily progress with our horses and our training can be quite a frustrating and futile endeavor. This activity would be comparable to trying to watch our hair grow, and trying to chart that daily growth.

Like hair growth, daily progress, or even weekly progress with our training, will usually be unnoticeable. Many times, we may even feel that we are moving backward (which, i guess, we could liken to hair loss, but for the purpose of this analogy, let's just stick with the average healthy head of growing hair). Even with a healthy, vital head of hair, you would certainly make yourself crazy if you got wrapped up in the desire to watch it grow, and it is the same for your training. Looking for improvement on a daily or weekly basis is a natural human desire but, like so many natural human desires, this is one of those that will lead so many of us down the worst path possible.

Humans have a lot of issues, many of which boil down to trust.  Being able to give up the micro-management of our training, and the anxieties this can create is all about trust and learning to trust in the process. If I dont look in the mirror, is my hair still growing? Of course it is! It's growing!  If i go about my daily activities, live my life, and do my thing without stealing a glance at my hair in the mirror, is my hair still growing? Yes, it is growing. Now, I'm not saying that it's not important to chart ones progress or have expectations.  It is.  You must examine how you are going about this, and if you are getting frustrated or having negative feelings, you are probably not going about it constructively. For example,  i might allow myself to take note that my hair does not seem to have grown much in the last week , but if i have an emotional breakdown over it, that is not constructive, and it certainly won't help my hair grow any faster.  If that breakdown leads to a feeling of desperation to reach my goals, and that desperation in turn, causes me to resort to a plan of action that might not be in my best interest or, where training is concerned, in the best interest of my horse, this desperation could possibly lead me to resort to practices that are unfair, or even inhumane! There are all sorts of methods, gadgets, and equipment out there that certainly might bring you quick results, but in no way will these things enhance the learning experience for you or your horse.  Keep in mind, so often when gadgetry is applied, you end up having to undo what you have now done in your desperation, and, sadly, sometimes these things can not be undone.

Now, let's also consider another scenario, one regarding perspective. What if i have just taken note of my alleged lack of hair growth, but then a friend comes along and comments that my hair seems to have grown quite a lot lately!  Maybe this friend even comments on how very nice it's looking? Oh boy, what do I do with this information? I'm sure you know what I am getting at.  Yes, something about not seeing a forest with all of those darned trees in the way!  It's always all about perspective, and perception, and it's about your choices. First, you have a choice not to bother with trying to micro-manage your training progress in the first place.  You can go about your business, ride, train, do your schooling, and trust in the process. Trust that we are always learning something.  You and your horse, both of you, are always gathering more pieces to a complex puzzle, always sticking a few pennies in the bank, always building the relationship. Every time we engage with our horse, something is progressing, even if you dont feel it or see it right away, it's growing!  If you feel that you must chart your progress, be very careful with your perception. I was recently feeling frustrated that Mercy and I did not seem to be gaining any ground lately, and a mediocre score and low placing in one of our internet show classes completely demoralized me. It took a couple of days, living with this unpleasant collage of feelings, until I took this abstract painting of frustration and started turning it around, upside down, sideways.  I looked at it in different light, from different sides, and sure enough, I began to see a beautiful image emerging. Instead of focusing on what we have not yet been able to achieve, I instead began focusing on all of the many things that we thus far have achieved.  Instead of looking ahead and charting the great distance we still have to go, I looked back and reviewed how very, very far we have actually come.  When Mercy came from the racetrack I could not even mount her.  Now she stands quietly at the mounting block.  As a youngster, she firmly believed the only way to move her body was with her nose pointed straight up to the high heavens.  Now she is able to support a nice posture and outline. When we first began together, she used to act out aggressively at horses who came too near her in the arena.  Now she can calmly participate in a pas de duex or quadrille.  At one time there were certain areas in the arena that frightened her, and most days I could not even get around the entire ring, now we can work anywhere in the arena with calm and focus.  Mercy knew close to nothing when we met, she had only been taught to run, and that had not even worked out well for her.  Now, we have a full alphabet of aids and cues with which to communicate, enough so that she can answer all kinds of questions; how to move each part of her body, separately and together, forward, sideways, and back.  We have trust, respect and love, and with those things I would imagine anything could be possible.  So, it's the old question of the glass being half empty or half full, and here is the answer.

Let's be happy that there is something in the glass at all!  If you've filled half a glass in your training, you should be very proud of each drop that went in, no matter how many more drops you think you need before you see this glass as finally being full.  Seeing the glass half empty only leads to frustration which can, in turn, lead to desperation, and in the horse world desperation often leads to much misery for the horse.  Misery, in the form of draw reins, harsh bits, crank and flash nose bands, whips, spurs, martingales, etc. etc.  None of these things are helpful to the rider either.  They are all crutches, and diversions that will only waste your time.  If we choose to not get frustrated by keeping an optimistic view of our training, realizing that all good things do take time and understanding that if we are really enthralled and excited with our journey, we won't even notice how much time has passed.  It won't matter.  If we can keep our eyes from fixating on that mirror, and just let our hair  grow at its own pace, while we live our lives, think of how much more we will notice around us, how much more we will learn, and how much richer our
journey will be!

When deciding to go bitless, its important to remember, things might take a little longer, and this will require patience, and trust.  Bits are painful, and pain creates many short cuts for the trainer, but, with any short cut,one might miss out on something very important that you would only see or learn while taking the longer route, and though the journey might be longer, the finish line will still be there.  The slow moving, yet consistent, tortoise will eventually cross that line and might even have a gorgeous full head of hair upon doing so!