Right now, there’s a very active thread in the dressage forum on the Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board. Thirty-seven pages have been filled in the last six days by dozens of posters.
It’s all in response to a blog post by Catherine Haddad Staller, also on the Chronicle of the Horse, entitled “It’s Time To Train the Trainers.” When I read it, I thought the message was clear: riders are deficient in the basics, and that’s the fault of the trainers.
Clearly, however, the message was not clear. Because my interpretation of Catherine’s words were only one interpretation, and in a minority. Some people read the blog post and felt insulted. Some people read it and felt that it insulted every adult amateur in America. Some people felt it was high time that someone said something about the problem. Others felt that Catherine should stop talking altogether.
There wasn’t a lot of middle ground. Catherine has strong opinions and a somewhat brash delivery. I find her blog amusing even when I disagree with her. I have a feeling that we could sit down over coffee and hash it out and still smile at the end. I understand the sense of humor that could lead her to write a sentence like this:
“These people are trying like hell to learn the most basic principles of riding and are struggling along at the pace of a rabid garden snail.”
One poster on the bb, who happens to be a vet, pointed out that since snails are mollusks, they don’t get rabies, but that’s beside the point. The point is that it’s sometimes hard to hear what people have to say because of the way they say it.
I’m sure I’m guilty of the same failing. My last blog post told my readers that the chances were that their horses’ mistakes were their own fault. Was I blunt? Yes. Did I think that my words were a bit wry, a la the late William F. Buckley or, to be politically even-handed, Gore Vidal? Yes. Did the possibility that I might offend someone make me take a different tack? No. Should it have? Maybe.
Because I didn’t realize, until reading Catherine’s rant about the deficiencies of instructors in America, that sometimes the delivery system is the problem, not what’s being delivered. It’s not just the “shoot the messenger” problem, it’s the fact that the messenger may be delivering more than just a message. The messenger may be delivering an attitude that makes it impossible to hear the message at all.
I don’t have a big name like Catherine Haddad Staller or a CDI sandbox or a big platform like the Chronicle. But if I did offend any of my readers with my delivery, I apologize. I could have been softer and gentler in my delivery, and frankly, I would have been if you were a horse.
There’s something to look at there for me, for sure. I try hard to give the gentlest and clearest aids I can when I ask the horse to do something. I try to help my students do the same, and teach or re-teach their horses to listen to the whispers. I strive to be gentle and clear with my students, because my experience is that people hear better when you speak softly than when you shout.
Why don’t I do so on my blog? Because I write my blog not only to share my thoughts and feelings but also to amuse myself. It’s a nice added benefit when I amuse others, but not everyone has the same sense of humor or an equally thick skin. The now iconic Rabid Garden Snail can attest to that.
In defending her blog post, Catherine said that she wrote it with the words she would use if she were talking to a friend. And that’s how I feel when I write my blog. I think of my readers as having strong egos and equally strong senses of humor, acceptance of their weaknesses and mine, and boundless courage to pursue self-examination without feeling the need to retreat or attack.
However, just as sure as some horse will teach me that I don’t know everything yet, I’m bound to offend someone. I’m sorry about that, because a failed delivery system is the worst way to lose a message.
With that in mind, let me reassure you that while I do think we create most of the problems that our horses have, it’s not my intention to blame you or to make you feel bad about it. I wouldn’t be telling you anything I haven’t told myself and I know as well as anyone our mistakes with horses can be bitter pills to swallow, embarassing at best and sorrowful at worst.
So when you read my words, please think of me as your madcap aunt — outspoken and occasionally out of bounds but someone you can always trust to give you the honest truth, as she sees it, and who wants only the best for you. And your horse. Who, I should mention, is first in line.
Oh there I go again…