Just the mention of the word can bring up uncomfortable feelings from both recent experiences to ones from childhood. I can still remember the time I wandered off in a supermarket when I was small. That rising swell of overwhelming panic when I realised that I didn't know where my mum was and that I was totally alone. I can still feel the echo of those feelings all these decades later. It is no small wonder that many of us do whatever we can to stave of any feeling of lost-ness, no matter how small.
We need to know where we are... always. From rocketing sales of sat nav's to near universal ownership of mobile phones. Our location is always known, charted and contactable. Little is left to chance. A common interview question 'where do you see yourself five years from now?' reflects the expectation of perpetual knowing. We are constantly reminded to plan for the future, plan for retirement, plan for our funeral. We are encouraged to always know where we are with everything. Don't get caught without a plan. The inference being that the consequences would be utterly disastrous.
So what then are the implications for a life of learning with horses? If we must always have a plan, a rode map, to know where we and our horses will be developmentally today, tomorrow, in six months time,in five years time? For me there is little doubt that this mind set has helped create the market for horsemanship programmes that are very prescriptive and step-by-step in nature. I am not saying that there isn't any room for guidance of this kind. What I am saying is they come loaded with pitfalls that are hard to foresee as we dive into them, full of hope and excitement.
When I trained as a Parelli instructor, training included very rigorous assessments of theory and practical skills. This included exactly how you were standing and positioned in order to be able to teach all of the seven Parelli 'games'. I found this aspect difficult beyond belief. I passed all of the assessments but I will never forget how hard I found this part of the training. For a while I thought it was because I was inept in some way. No one else seemed to struggle with making sure that they were moving and standing in this totally prescribed and reliably reproduce-able manner. It wasn't until much later, after I had been willing to get lost for a while, that the truth of the situation hit me. Of course this way of teaching makes sense if you want to expand a system that will retain a high level of uniformity no matter by whom and where it is practised. What I realise now is that something alive and perceptive inside of me was reacting to the straightjacket of uniformity. In the long run, this way of being and moving was never going to be the path to where I longed to be. The part of me that was struggling with this aspect of the training was intuitive intelligence and perceptiveness inside me... not ineptitude! There is very little fixed or prescribed about horses... so why would I want to get really good at that myself?
Dropping Down the Rabbit Hole
Of course I didn't realise this while it was happening. I have had four years of walking away from rigid horsemanship roadmaps. Whenever I have drifted back towards them I have never stayed long there. I now tend to gravitate towards teachers who expand knowledge around awareness and aliveness in both horse and human... true naturalness! In stepping away from the reassuring feeling of certainty in training horses (if you're stuck... just pop in a DVD for all of the solutions!) it has felt at times like dropping down the proverbial rabbit hole. Sometimes I didn't know which way was up, as I groped along, looking for something to fill the gap. But it was the gap that was just what was required. Without the gap, how can anything new grow? How can we appreciate the incredible value of mental space and the stillness that comes with it, unless we are willing to live with it companionably. As a consequence, my horse interactions are full of a lot more nothingness in comparison to my Parelli days. It is an ultra effective nothingness though where the horse and I feel and sense each other so that I can discern what is really going on for the both of us. Well, that is within the limits of my skill and awareness as they stand at present. There is undeniably lots of room for progression.
Reflecting back on this time, I realise how much I learnt about the value of being 'lost' sometimes. It was definitely the beginning state of doing things my way! So, if you are experiencing this state currently, maybe your feeling of lostness is more a friend then foe... a feeling to relax into rather then push against.
Inner Certainty at Times of Uncertainty
I also realise now that being lost is an integral part of personal growth. I feel far less phased about relying on my own resources to see me through any challenges that arise with my horses. This arises only out of being tested.Never ever learning to live with uncertainty, wanting to grasp onto the roadmap, the lesson, the DVD, the book as a means of ensuring that the outcome is known can be something of a fools errand. We can live in a state of perpetually missing the process as we focus on the end product which is always temptingly just around the corner. More lost in the one-ness, more now-ness, more feeling, sensing and directly experiencing the reality, not your perception of what reality should be. Or even worse, following someone elses lesser version of reality with horses. Formal learning and structure too. Yes, be all means. This is an integral part of the process. Just never at the expense of the true magic of learning with horses. Learning to listen to and trust ourselves in order to become our best selves.