Learning to Learn, Not to Follow

Amy Skinner at the BHPS 2018

In the horse world, as in others, there is a desire for people to group in to “camps” and follow someone whose teaching they like. There is nothing wrong with this until it becomes blind following. People get excited about the ideas of some teacher and start to believe that person holds the key to their success above all others.

The truth is, there’s not much new training information out there. We have learned a ton about horse biomechanics, brains, and care and keeping, but the training ideas many of us use are centuries old. Nothing I use on a daily basis I can take credit for. Even if I stumble onto something that works, surely someone before me has thought of it and employed it. I don’t take credit for any methods or philosophies I embrace. They aren’t unique to me.

Silva and Amy Skinner present at the Best Horse Practices Summit

Of course, every person makes them their own and their individual styles affect the results they get. I think of myself as a teacher, and my job is to help other folks understand how to get along with horses to the best of my knowledge and ability. The thing is, both of those things change constantly. What I think of as good for the horse now might not be the same as next year.

My interest is not for folks to “follow me” or take my word as gospel, because I may be wrong. My hope is to give people tools to get along better, observe more, and take it from there.

Don’t follow my “system,” because it isn’t mine.

The amount of ego in the horse training industry is baffling when you think about it this way, because the credit belongs to the horses we’ve learned from along the way, and the pioneers of horse training throughout the centuries whose trial and error we stand on.

Amy Skinner and her dog, Pearl

Aside from the amount of personal work we have put in to learning, there is no credit to be had. And as far as skill goes, anyone can have it. The difference between me and the beginner is only hours of practice. They can have it too. I am not more special than anyone else, nor is any expert.

Though some folks are more naturally inclined to have good feel, I believe anyone can have it. So as you’re learning, learn from everyone you can. Take what you wouldn’t do, what you would do, and what you hope you can someday do, and sort through it. But don’t put your teachers on a pedestal. Walk away from anyone who looks down on your skill level.

The difference between you and them is only a matter of practice.

Posted in Horsemen & Women, Reflections, Training.


  1. Love this and I so totally agree with what you have said. I’m an instructor/trainer and I tell my students that what my horsemanship consists of is what I’ve learned and am still learning. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something. Some of those things I choose to let go of and some I try to test out in my program and see how it works.

  2. It is always easier for the human when something is defined as a sure thing and for some, that’s all they want. We, in general, like belonging to a tribe. I believe that is why religion and horses are so closely connected. Just as training and horsemanship are not the same, one can argue religion and spirituality isn’t either. Spirituality requires that we be critical thinkers of what is, so we can imagine what could be, that is what happens inside of us. Religion is the outside or who we follow.

    Following an individual or a method that doesn’t engage critical thinking in the human, never truly helps the horse. Any good horseman who takes on students should be prepared to ask questions and encourage the student to explore and discover. A student needs to be encouraged to ask why if they don’t understand and challenge their teacher to offer better.

    Horses are great observers of what is, teaching should be about helping the human become a better observer of what is:
    • What is the evidence?
    • What might the evidence mean? and
    • What solutions does the evidence offer?
    Helping a student to be more aware of what is, helps them become more creative in the solutions, they come up with.

    thanks for adding the thought to the mix. It took me a long while to post this as I wanted to be sure I was clear in my thoughts on this one.

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