So much has changed in our world the past few months. We have a lot to learn about a lot of things. It’s time to stop knowing and start learning. It’s time to question all of our assumptions and take a good look at all that we have regarded as ‘truth.'
In order to learn anything new, we have to listen—both to others and to ourselves. You’d think that something as basic as listening would come naturally, but in my experience, it doesn’t. We are busy doing, thinking, and getting places. These days all of us tend to exist somewhere besides the present.
Real listening takes space, time, intention, and practice.
PC Kristin Lee Photography
When I teach young therapists, they are always anxious about what to say to their patients. They want me to help them craft their ‘interventions,’ or comments. Novice clinicians tend to be tight and perfectionistic about their own words and self presentation. They worry about knowing enough and being ‘found out’ by their patients.
My advice usually takes them by surprise. In order to effectively listen, drop the idea that you know anything. The truth is, you don’t know. You don’t yet know this patient’s experience of the world and of you; you don’t know their story— their needs, loves, dreams, wants. Your job is to go in with big open ears and learn. New therapists feel relieved by this idea, but have a hard time putting it into practice because of their perfectionism and insecurity.
Real listening is a much fuller body experience than thinking.
Ok, so what’s all this have to do with riding?
Consider this: to ride well is to listen well. Novice riders, similar to novice clinicians, focus on themselves. They are insecure and worry about ‘being perfect’ or about what others think of them. Effective, experienced, riders focus on the horse, not on themselves. They ‘hear’, feel and respond to the animal underneath them. Too much knowing, smugness or striving for some idealized version of something have no place in effective riding.
To really ride, you have to be fully present with the horse and respond in a unique way that makes him feel understood and want to join in the partnership with you.
Good riding, like good listening, is not at all about perfectionism. If our intention is to hear, others open to us, regardless of whether we get it right the first time. Horses, like people, forgive if our intention to learn is felt. Once the channel of communication is truly open, horses—and people—will teach us what we need to know.
In this uncommon time of great need, let’s make it a practice to learn to listen, and listen to learn—both on the ground and in the saddle. Real listening will lead to greater compassion and understanding. Such a practice provides a strong grounding for all relationships—with each other, ourselves, and our horses.
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