Thursday, 9 May 2013

A lesson in humility

After having had a spasm of egocentric madness, where I decided I needed NO HELP with my horse and must do everything myself, I now appear to have two riding teachers. They are both brilliant, and I love working with them in very different ways.

I had a lesson this morning, and the improvement was dramatic. The teaching is a stunning combination of the very gentle with the very sophisticated. ‘I am a scientist,’ says my teacher, truthfully. (She has studied all aspects of human and equine psychology and nutrition and about ten other things. She has something I love, which is empirical evidence, but she also believes in and encourages instinct.)

What all this made me think of, as Red relaxed in the sun, responding delightfully to my cues, not an atom of resistance in her, was humility.

Humility is not a sexy virtue; it is not sung from the rooftops or given parades. There are no books written about it. The Daily Mail does not put someone on its front page for being wonderfully humble. It even carries a whiff of greasy hypocrisy about it; an echo of the phoney Uriah Heep crouch.

And yet, I suddenly see, without humility everything gets wrecked. The people who are not humble are those who shout on the internet or impose their ideas on others. They barge in. They respect no boundaries. They lack nuance and empathy. They are always right, and must be right, so the citadel which is their ego may be constantly burnished.

I had to be humble because I wanted to get better. I had to say: I’m not good enough and I need instruction. I did not enjoy this much at all. I hate not being good at things, and I hate any hint of dependence. I prefer to get on with things by myself. (These are not charming character traits and I’m working on them.)

Once I’d got over my own absurd amour-propre, the gate creaked open on a garden of delights. Both the women who help me have such stores of knowledge and such interesting minds and share their learning so generously.

And what was it all about, after all, that initial instinct to do it on my own? It was an ancient, ingrained form of showing off, so I might have the shallow and fleeting pleasure of someone, somewhere, saying: look what she did. Except of course they probably would not say that at all.

Humility is a good thing in life, I think, and it’s a vital thing with horses. I am humble with my mare because a finely-bred, half ton creature, with the wild ancestral voices calling to her from the plains where her species evolved, consents to trust me and follow me and kindly do the things I ask. I find that very fact profoundly humbling.

It’s also that however much I watch her and study her and listen to her and learn from here, there will always be a sliver of mystery. I don’t think a good horsewoman is ever complete. There are no discrete boxes that may be ticked; no listed virtues or achievements that may be crossed off. Every day, there is a little more learning, that is all.

I think this is a life lesson. I know I sometimes twang the elastic of extrapolation too far, so it snaps back and hits me on the nose, but I really think this small revelation is a good and true thing, not just for equines, but for the human condition too.

It’s not not not all about me, is the burden of my current song. I find it oddly liberating.


Today’s pictures:

What I love about this is that, after an hour of concentrated work, my lovely girl is so relaxed:

9 May 2 09-05-2013 10-28-22 2716x3375

And off she goes in the field, with the happy spring sun on her back:

9 May 3 09-05-2013 11-00-48 4020x2552

9 May 5 09-05-2013 11-00-12 4032x1789


(Don’t you love little Myfanwy in the background?)

Well-deserved drink:

9 May 7 09-05-2013 11-01-02 2951x3289

Obligatory sheep:

9 May 10 08-05-2013 11-37-56 4032x2002

View from HorseBack UK this morning, looking due west:

9 May 10 09-05-2013 11-30-37 4032x1065

Autumn the Filly:

9 May 11 09-05-2013 11-02-32 3008x3706


9 May 12 08-05-2013 11-38-54 3971x1836

9 May 13 08-05-2013 11-39-26 3024x4032

Two of my favourite little trees:

9 May 14 07-05-2013 09-53-57 4032x3024

Looking south:

9 May 15 07-05-2013 09-54-14 4020x1438



I think someone, somewhere, long ago, pointed out that I had talked about a life lesson more than once, without appearing to learn from it. How strict people are. I do write about these little revelations over and over, because I find that one can know something in one’s head without it quite percolating into one’s gut. I write about them more than once because I need to remind myself. Because this work is in progress. Because most of the time I don’t know what the buggery bollocks I am doing, and I would like to attempt to plot a course, and I need signposts, some of which are palimpsests.


  1. Understand your words and aim. Great post.

  2. I am not sure you are allowing quite enough for the human fraility of inconsistency. In my experience most people are humble about some things, and yet can be a bit arrogant about others. And the shouty internet person is in all likelihood a rather grey, quiet and unpushy person in the un-virtual world. Also, the internet can make fools of us all by recording for all posterity a load of guff we wrote quite forcefully one day or week and totally contradicted the next.

    I was the writer who pointed out you seem to have hard time learning the lessons you lay out for others to see (and learn from, perhaps?), and it wasn't all that long ago. One does need to find humility to learn anything from another person, I agree, but humility cannot be carried into all areas of life or we'd never sell our efforts to anyone else by way of paid work, as we'd think they were worth little or nothing and be shy of showing them to anyone.

  3. I had to look up "palimpsests". It's a cool word. There's only one problem. By tomorrow I may have forgotten exactly what it is...and (I think) I'm still far too young to suffer short term memory loss....(sigh).

  4. I would love to love the word "palimpsests"... it's just that there are too many "esses" all at the end there. It feels like speaking Parseltongue. I think I'd like it better if it was "palimpets", or "palimps", or even "palimpsets". But three "esses" in one syllable? Ugh.

    And humility? It's one of those things I dream about, and admire in others, but never seem to manage for myself.

  5. The word humility keeps resounding in my head at the moment, partly as a result of yoga which really teaches you that it is not about achievement - because you fall over, look foolish etc yet you feel good afterwards anyway. I rode a lot when I was young, but with a totally different approach to yours, and it never made me happy at all because it was all based on winning prizes (I never won any!). It's s wonderful that you have found this softer, gentler way of being with horses and the lessons are there for all of us, in so many different arenas of our lives. So much of our unhappiness is the result of wounded pride or disappointed expectations... thanks as always, Rachel


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin