Editor’s Note: Best Horse Practices Summit presenter Katrin Silva grew up riding dressage in Germany before moving to the United States at age 19 to learn to ride Western. She’s been riding both disciplines for the last twenty years and is a regular guest columnist for Cayuse Communications. She lives in New Mexico where she works with dressage and Western clients. Visit her blog here.
Along with a raging pandemic, a worsening climate, and systemic racism, add existential angst to this year’s list of concerns. More than ever, I feel the urgent need to do something constructive, to make the world a better place in whatever way I can. There are times I feel I do nothing that matters in the grand scheme of things. I spend my days at the barn, riding horses and teaching riders. It’s my livelihood, but it’s also my passion and can feel like a selfish indulgence, a withdrawal into a meaningless existence. I can feel guilty, like I’m squandering my time and energy, training horses for a living instead of making a tangible difference in the world.
Like a wise owl, this nagging unease sits on my shoulder and whispers into my ear that I need to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” Eight years ago, it quit whispering and started shouting. I quit training horses and went back to grad school. I started teaching at an international school with an idealistic mission statement. Training horses had left me disillusioned; it was enabling and supporting an expensive pastime for privileged people.
I started writing my thesis and taught English literature. Before long, I become miserable and grouchy and decided the academic world wasn’t for me.
I missed being with horses. I missed the smell of horses. I missed the physical exertion. I discovered that while I’m a good teacher of English literature, more than anything else I am a horse trainer. Through and through. For better or worse. (I eventually did finish the thesis. My diploma now hangs on the tack room wall. Like the ribbons, it’s a decoration, an amusing reminder of a midlife crisis.)
Though it all, I’ve realized that my work with horses does indeed make a difference in the world. Helping horses understand people and helping people get along better with their horses is a not a waste of time. My clients, who welcomed me back with open arms, keep telling me that the time they spend with their horses is more than a random hobby. Together, we leave the barn feeling more grounded, more at peace, more serene. My clients are better equipped to deal with the world, better prepared to face what life has in store for them. They are more likely to spread positive energy because of their horse time.
Why is that?
No horse I know has a degree in counseling or psychology, but horses have the unique ability to teach us what we need to learn.
- Those of us who tend to feel discouraged or powerless can become more assertive.
- Those of us who struggle with taking things personally can learn to let things go.
- Those of us who tend to be arrogant or ego-driven get a reality check.
- Those of us who tend to be distracted can learn to focus.
- Those of us who lack patience can develop it. Lots of it.
Horses reminds us that:
- Angry outbursts lead nowhere
- Mistakes are opportunities for improvement
- Perfection is not a realistic goal.
More than anything else, horses teach us about empathy and tolerance. At its core, riding a horse is an ongoing, mutually respectful conversation with another being. Spending time with horses reminds us that it’s possible, even enjoyable, to connect with others, even others who are different from us. Being with horses reminds us of who we are when we’re at our best – our most compassionate, most humble, most tolerant. Being with horses reminds us of what it means to be human.
Because of all this, what I do is not only good for horses, it’s also good for people. Helping riders connect with their horses makes them better humans. It’s my hope that, because of their horse work, my students show up in a more positive way for their families and friends. Like a pebble tossed into a lake, I hope that my work has a ripple effect in the world.
I still think horses need to be more accessible to a more diverse range of people. I still think I could do more. The wise owl on my shoulder still talks to me, but in a quiet voice and a much less accusing tone. Most of the time, she just nods her approval and I feel at peace.