Saturday, September 29, 2012

As The Twig Is Bent..

AS THE TWIG IS BENT                                                                                                                     

Originally published in
 Horse Directory, October 2012

By Tom Gumbrecht

There is a saying that states, “As the twig is bent, the tree inclines”. Put in the context of training of the horse and rider, it could be taken to mean, “A casual suggestion, helpful or hurtful, when uttered from a respected source, may affect the kind of rider he or she may ultimately become”.

In becoming an effective rider, some of the things that need to be developed are balance, stamina, independent aids, patience, and self-image.  The first qualities are obvious, but self-image? What does that have to do with riding a horse effectively?

Having begun my riding career in my mid-forties, my only experiences are as an adult rider.  As adults, there are usually a few things we’re good at: our jobs, raising children if we have them, perhaps a sport or two, maybe a special skill like gardening, sailing or home improvement. We tend to stick to the things we’re good at because… well, it’s more fun doing things we’re good at than doing things we’re not good at.  So that’s pretty much what I did until age 45 when I rode my first horse.  Then it all changed.

Those afflicted with a love of horses and riding need no explanation for what ensued; those who haven’t been won’t understand anyway. While I found that I loved being around horses and learning to ride, I also was a bit uncomfortable at being so bad at something.  I was not what one would call a “natural rider”.  As I developed my balance, strength, and seat, I found that I needed to work on something else as well… my self-image. Self-image is not so much who we are, it’s a kind of combination of who we wish to be, who we’re afraid we are, how we think others perceive us, and what we believe ourselves worthy of.  In the beginning, my self-image as a rider was fragile. An ill-placed comment could discourage me for days; a great lesson had me trotting on clouds.

Curiously, I had an image of myself as riding jumpers almost from the start. Investigating many disciplines, nothing seemed so perfectly correct in my fledgling vision of how a horse should go, than watching a horse and rider on course in a jumper round. I found myself volunteering to help set up jump courses on Friday afternoons before weekend horse shows, and taking photos of the riders and studying them.  I secretly thought my aspirations were a bit juvenile and unrealistic, like a kid wanting to be an astronaut. Still, I designed a logo with the name of the barn I was planning to build that featured a jumping horse…. before I had ever jumped a horse. I saw myself in boots and breeches long before I had the guts to wear them. While I could ride all day, I found it tiring watching other people ride… except for the jumpers.

As months and years passed and time in the saddle began accumulating, it began to seem as if my goal was not totally unrealistic. As small successes boosted my resolve, I found myself becoming more protective of the image of myself as a rider that I was fostering.  Let’s face it, riding requires a major expenditure of mental and physical effort, time, and money.  If I allow my self-image to become damaged to the level that it’s no longer fun, there’s no point. But exactly how can I protect it?

At some point in my riding, I began to develop a point of view of my own.  I developed, or more accurately, became aware of, my own standards of how a horse should be treated and trained, and how I as a student of riding and horsemanship would allow myself to be treated.  I began associating with people who shared my point of view.  I chose to train with those who took the positive aspects of my riding and used them as blocks upon which to build me up as a rider. Those who sought to focus on negatives were left to find other victims.

We all tend to act out the roles we feel have been assigned to us.  That role exists in the image we have of ourselves.  The different facets of the horse world are like a row of doors, locked so we can’t get in, but made of glass so we can see what’s on the other side.  Our self-image holds the key to the one we belong in, and that’s why I’ve grown to protect it so fiercely.

I ride jumpers.  Don’t look for my name in the LI Jumpers Hall of Fame because it won’t be there. I am not accomplished. I am not polished. I am competent.  I used to dream of flight on horseback. Now, when the whistle blows, I can go out in front of a judge on one of those courses I used to set jumps on and fly.

That wouldn’t have happened had I permitted skeptics, naysayers and contrarians to bend the twig that might have leaned the tree in a completely different direction.  I’m grateful for the knowledge, kind words and encouragement from those whom I chose to accompany me on my journey that have helped it stand tall.

                                          High on my list of positive people: Trainer Laura
                                          Ruben of Affari Horse Farms returning from longing
                                          DannyBoy as I walk the course at Hunters' Isle


  1. Thanks, Tom-- this is just the reminder that I, your fellow adult-learner/horse lover needed to hear this morning. If you ride half as elegantly as you write, well then, you're a hall of famer.