Horses are creatures of power, gracefulness and dignity. When carrying a special kind of person, horses are able to sense it. ‘Special’ does not necessarily mean that these riders have special needs or disabilities. Rather, ‘special’ means having a special connection with the horse. This connection may well result from human qualities that develop while learning to cope with significant challenges.
History of Horsemanship in Britain. Human/horse bonding was fundamental to early horsemen in Britain. Communities were small and isolated. Horsemen were the major contributors to information from outside, to trade, and to defense — important factors in community well-being. What kind of people were these horsemen, and why?
Initially, membership in what would eventually become knighthood was based not on specific deeds, or genetic heritage, but was based on the personal qualities demonstrated by horsemen voluntarily serving small communities. Such qualities included awareness of their own weaknesses and strengths, and thus humility combined with proud inner presence, leading to clear outer actions which matched inner values, and the inner strength to remain serene, light-hearted, and gentle during times of turmoil. Their top priority was to nurture each other and the community, unpretentiously and unconditionally.
Today, special riders are special people, who continually aspire to these highly valued qualities.
The Qualities of the Knight.*
1 Consistency: Society often perceives consistency as always doing things the same way; the connected rider consistently does what needs to be done now. This is what a horse does! This important human ability to react to the reality of the moment is guided by sensitivity to both horse and self, even if this action departs from tradition or the Coach’s prescription. (Of course, the Coach can always ask later for discussion of why the rider chose to be creative. It is not a matter of anything goes!)
2 Clarity: ‘Special’ riders do not act only on an external agenda (e.g. ‘make’ the horse go on the bit) but rather take action tempered by clarity – clear perception – of the readiness of horse and rider to perform the task. Clarity in a rider is related to their authenticity – the degree of match between their society-influenced outer persona (ego), and the hidden inner being. Special riders tend to be especially authentic. Horses are totally authentic. Horses appreciate authentic riders because they don’t send so many mixed messages!
3 Profound/Playful: In the deep and dark of the profound lie not only powerful insights into the path to well-being, but also the dangers of darkness, the unknown, and the sinister. The special rider, like the horse, has learned to balance the profound with joy, lightness and humor. Without such playfulness, a person becomes introverted, and dark anxiety, frustration and isolation take hold. Balancing the profound with outgoing lightness is an art that leads to cheerful patience – a quality horses appreciate and competitive riders tend to restrict. In a rider, profound desire to make progress, or worse, to win, will cause tension, loss of connection with the horse, and slow progress! Lighten up!
4 Power and Energy: To be authentic, and connect with clarity, the rider must honestly recognize and confess to (and laugh about) both strengths and limitations, arising from the rider’s level of ability, knowledge or experience. Efforts to dominate the horse through equipment, strength, fear or pain will quickly fail. However, a horse will happily share his tremendous power, if the rider is centered, grounded, has clear intent, and cheerful patience. Such a connection with the horse empowers the rider with amazing confidence, sense of well-being and joy.
5 Modesty: Modesty has nothing to do with being inferior, with formal politeness or hiding your strengths with false words. (Even confession of limitations is a strength!) The horse needs to know who the rider really is and what to expect. Modesty is humility coupled with confident inner presence.
6 Stillness: The stillness of a special rider is not a state of doing nothing. Stillness is the ability to achieve equanimity even in the midst of life’s storms. People living with a disability get lots of storms to ride out! Stillness is an enduring inner peace that cannot be washed away, no matter how big the waves. Check out the horse here!
7 Courage: This does not mean fool-hardy, or taking stupid risks like street racing, hazing with dangerous initiation challenges, or risking your safety just to prove you have the guts to do whatever ‘it’ may be. Courage is the ability to overcome fear in order to uphold your values.
Fear is a natural defense, a warning of potential threats to security. Riders should be cautious if fear emerges and courage begins to fade. Take stock of the values in play! “Is it ego making me want to win and go higher? Is it a personal grudge against someone who beat me before? Could going higher injure me, my horse or our relationship? Perhaps I should withdraw just now, and prepare more thoroughly for the next time?” Courage vs. fool-hardy depends on the values involved.
8 Joy: Joy is not what you may get from partying with drugs or alcohol in excess, or even just being invited by the in-crowd. The joy of a special rider comes from the inner strength to ride out the waves, laugh, and be gentle, and to pass these on to others, horse or human.
9 Devotion: This does not mean lavishing human expressions of affection on the horse, or buying mountains of tack. Devotion is not hiring professionals to care for and prepare a horse for you to win on. But neither does devotion mean being selfless, and letting the horse control your life. Devotion goes both ways, as horse and rider nourish each other unpretentiously and unconditionally. No debt is incurred. There is no concern over ‘what’s in it for me?’ Horses ‘bond’ as radically as this! Could we? If the conditions for devotion are not met, then the horse will withdraw and become unresponsive, and in time, even become ‘get off my back’ aggressive.
10 Resoluteness: Here, as for courage, it is not only the quality ‘resolute’ that is important; it is what you are resolute about! The special rider is resolute about working towards achieving the previous nine personal qualities! Such a rider feels more ‘at one’ with the horse and is inspired to go back to the beginning, and continue around and around the personal quality loop.
This circular process lasts a lifetime. In the process, you gain not only horse skills, but also life skills and many loyal friends of both species.
* From ”On the Path to Knighthood” in ‘What Horses Reveal: From First Meeting to Friend for Life’ by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2004.