March 29, 2011
Experience can be the best teacher, but it’s sometimes a painful one.
My good friend and mentor, Brent Graef, an AQHA Professional Horseman from Canyon, Texas, likes to say that horsemanship can be as deep — or as superficial — as you want it to be. Meaning that some folks get by just learning simple physical cues: stop, go, turn. Or you can delve deeper into horses’ psychology, learning as you do that there’s a lot of applicability to human psychology. There are lots of truths that are ripe for analogies, and some lessons learned on horseback even apply better to people than they do to horses.
Scars are a good example. It’s hard to go very far along in life without collecting at least a few scars — some that are visible signs of a physical wound, and others, of a more emotional nature, that are buried deeper inside. My good horse Ocho, who’s been here just more than a year, came with wire-cut scars on a hind leg. His previous owner said the cuts happened with the horse’s owner before him, so there’s not much way of knowing exactly what happened — there’s just the record left by hairless hash marks encircling that leg.
In humans, at least, it’s nice to think that we learn lessons from our scars. As children, we learn quickly what “hot” or “sharp” means, sometimes the hard way. And as adults, we still sometimes take our lumps — on jobs, health, relationships, finances — hoping that we come out the other side a little smarter. Those life lessons can be tough, but they do bring the kind of wisdom that only comes with experience.
I get caught up thinking about stuff like this sometimes. During an easy trail ride down a bar ditch near my house, Ocho was meandering along, happily packing a new bit, a mild curb, while I was having a long and involved internal debate about said bit and wondering why I hadn’t thought to try it sooner. Then he halted in his tracks. His eyes and ears weren’t scanning the horizon for any perceived threat; in fact, his head and neck were wither high and relaxed. I glanced over my shoulder. There was no “bathroom emergency,” either. Then I glanced down and realized that we had walked into a tangle of electric-fence wire, hidden in the grass, that had apparently fallen off a neighbor’s truck. I dismounted to help Ocho out of the coils and found that the wire was around only one leg — the one that had met smooth wire before and hadn’t then known to stand stock still. Lesson learned.
I told him, as if he didn’t already know, what a good boy he was. His experience saved us both from accumulating a few more scars that day. I can only hope I’ve learned all of my life lessons that well.
Editor, America's Horse magazine