The Ascending Spiral

There exists a remarkable parallel between raising children and schooling horses. Both horses and people move through a period of intense physical development in their youth, followed by mental and emotional growth and maturation.

Handled rightly, this process oscillates back and forth between tension and relaxation. In the moment it might feel like you are going back and forth, but getting nowhere. Zoom back sufficiently, however, and you will see that the overall movement, despite the oscillations, is ever onward upward like an ascending spiral. Conversely, if it is mishandled, growth in any one or all three of the areas is stunted, at times temporarily and occasionally permanently. These stunted areas form “cysts” which typically come to the surface at the most inopportune times.

Classical horseman Egon von Neindorff astutely observed in his excellent book The Art of Classical Horsemanship that:

The horse’s obedience can only develop from trust and understanding but its continuance depends on the horse and the rider’s combined discipline. The rider’s mistaken leniency with the horse or himself will not be without side effects. Only the rider’s patience and knowledge combined with methodical and simultaneously individual increases in demands, accomplished without haste, will protect the horse from being overtaxed. This approach will prevent the many battles and facilitate solving unavoidable problems that may arrive.

You’ve no doubt heard a parent talk about the “terrible twos” or roll their eyes when talking about their unruly teenager, but the fact is that had the foundation been better laid in the “wonderful ones” in the first place and the pre-teen years in the second, it is very likely that the weeds would not have taken over the garden of the child’s expression. It is almost never the horse’s fault. He may have unwittingly become part of the problem, but trace it back and you will see an error in development. Look carefully and you will see that something was glossed over, improperly set or missed along the way.

When these flat spots in development are revealed, it is best to look first at yourself as a parent to find the causes of a child’s disobedience. A basic, foundational element of parenting was likely missed and must be addressed, healed or repaired if there is to be further sound and sustainable development of the child.

The same principles applies in riding. When you increase your demands and receive an evasion or a disruptive reaction of some type instead cooperation and progress, you must take the time to analyze and discover exactly where the fault lies in the foundation. The answer will likely be something more basic that you would like to admit to yourself, so be prepared to address it humbly, carefully, respectfully and completely before expecting much more from the horse…or the child!

One final point: never discipline a horse or a child in anger. To do so is an absolute violation of the sacred responsibility entrusted to both parents and riders. Discipline is of course necessary, but a parent or rider who poisons the tip of the arrow of correction with anger will invariably do more harm than good. Trust built up over years can be violated by one false move in this regard, so please, take note.

Taking Time to Grow

Taking Time to Grow by Mary Mapes Dodge

‘Mamma! mamma!’ two eaglets cried,
‘To let us fly you’ve never tried.
We want to go outside and play;
We’ll promise not to go away.’
The mother wisely shook her head:
‘No, no, my dears. Not yet,’ she said.

‘But mother, dear,’ they called again,
‘We want to see those things called men,
And all the world so grand and gay,
Papa described the other day.
And – don’t you know? – he told you then
About a little tiny wren,
That flew about so brave and bold,
When it was scarcely four weeks old?’

But still the mother shook her head;
‘No, no, my dears, not yet,’ she said.
‘Before you see the world below,
Far bigger you will have to grow.
There’s time enough to look for men;
And as for wren’s – a wren’s a wren.
What if your freedom does come late?
An eaglet can afford to wait.

Haste, they say, makes waste. But why? There are undoubtedly many reasons why this is true, chief among them is the tendency to miss important facts, factors, steps or phases in what would otherwise be a coordinated, coherent and complete creative process.

Childhood should never be rushed. There are important phases in childhood development that, skipped or hurried, result in flat spots that can be quite challenging to overcome later in life. And later may be sooner than you think! “Terrible twos,” for instance, are more often than not the direct result of an improperly managed infant. Toddlers are not inherently evil and neither are teenagers. Work with an awful teenager for any amount of time and you can quickly identify what was missed, overlooked or circumvented in his or her earlier years.

Parents and caregivers bare the burden of responsibility for the end product, except in cases where there is a legitimate limitation, such as a chemical imbalance or a genetic abnormality. A childhood must be carefully managed and custom-tailored to each child. There is no magic formula.

Each and every child born to this earth comes with a unique set of potentialities and needs. In this sense, every child is a “special needs” child. The perfect mix of nourishment, encompassment and supervision for one child is rarely optimal for another. A wren’s a wren and to the degree that we forget that we stunt the growth and development of children everywhere.