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Learning to take life a step at a time...

Posted 1/4/2017

There are times when I get overwhelmed by the amount I need to learn to get to where I want to be.

I see images in my minds-eye of the standard of work I want to be creating but, being realistic, it may take me until I am ninety to be working at this level!

They say that life is about the journey, not the destination, but it can feel frustrating when every day is a sharp learning curve filled with failures and disappointments, of falling short of our expectations. 

My young horse is teaching me so much right now about presence, and enjoying the moment…about how learning can be fun and to just take life step by step, one day at a time…to accept that we are where we are. 



Each day with him is an absolute joy.  He is full of excitement about life…he wants to explore…and he’s keen to learn.  For the last two years, I have been going through the process of teaching him how to live with me, so that we can both get the maximum pleasure from the relationship.  Teaching him to be led in hand, to pick up his feet, and to stand when asked.  Teaching him to wear tack and to move away from the lunge whip. 

I remember when he first arrived aged eight months, feeling the enormity of all that I would have to teach him in order to ride him, as I desired.  I was apprehensive about problems that may be encountered, concerned that one of us may be hurt, and most of all worried that I would ruin a good horse. 

As everyone who recognises good horsemanship knows, starting a youngster is a process… a journey of many steps that must be taken in a certain order.  You cannot consider putting a saddle on a horses back and sitting on it if you have not first gained the horses trust by touching it all over, grooming it, perhaps rugging it, introducing it to the lunge roller and leaning over its back to teach it to bear weight.  Going through these steps takes time and, in most cases, is best done over a period of weeks and months rather than days. 

We would not consider asking a freshly backed four year old to take us around a cross-country course before he has even learnt to walk, trot and canter in balance with us on his back – it would be unthinkable – but I sometimes catch myself expecting the equivalent in my art work.  Is it realistic to expect myself to produce a magnificent large-scale painting with excellent mark-making, perfect composition, full of light and colour within six months of beginning to work in oils?  Probably not, and yet I have been berating myself for not doing so.  Would we expect a horse to execute a perfect grand prix dressage test before it was successfully working at prelim level?  Of course not…it would be ridiculous!  The poor dear wouldn’t even have been introduced to the more advanced movements yet, let alone achieved an energetic and rhythmic passage that would satisfy the top level judges. 

These sorts of expectations are quite simply insanity.  Would I punish my youngster for not understanding what I was asking him when teaching him something new for the first time?  No, I would take a step back, ask him for something he was comfortable with, praise him for getting it right, build his confidence and leave it there for the day.  Anything else would be fighting with reality – we are exactly where we are – and risking a complete breakdown of trust and confidence. 

What stops most of us from progressing and ultimately achieving our dreams is unrealistic expectations around the time it will take to embody a certain set of skills.  It takes as long as it takes, and we must never let that stop us during the process, or from starting at all.  The time will pass anyway – we may as well do something productive with it!

We cannot run before we can walk, so we must learn to enjoy all of our daily walks, take the time to look at the scenery, and stop regularly to look over our shoulder and see how far we’ve come. 

My young horse has no expectations around what the future holds, he is simply engaging with his daily lessons and enjoying himself, yet he has learnt and grown so much.  There are times he steps outside his comfort zone and becomes a little scared.  In these moments, I am there to reassure him and to let him know that he is safe. 

It’s OK to push our boundaries, in fact it is essential to growth, but it is important to do this incrementally and with the support of people we trust.  I feel very fortunate to have some wonderful people walking alongside me on this journey. 

With the support of the right people who encourage, reassure, challenge and motivate us, as necessary, it’s amazing how far we can go.