The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust
I’ve been on the road for the past two weeks and haven’t had any time to write. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about writing – quite the contrary. I have been waiting for this moment for days, the moment I can sit down and try to make sense of everything I felt these past two weeks. But now that I finally sit here at the computer my mind and heart are practically overflowing with thoughts, impressions and emotions. How do I start to unwind the tangled mess also known as my consciousness? Where do I find the end of the red thread that I know is there?
Over the Easter break I visited Finland, my home country. During this visit to Finland I met an array of interesting people and horses. I tried bitless bridles on three willing mounts, I spoke to two groups about the biomechanics of riding, talked with several individuals about the physical, psychological and emotional impression we make on horses, taught numerous riding lessons that focused solely on communicating with the horse via the rider’s seat and watched the movie The Path of the Horse with two friends. I had a busy schedule, and afterwards felt physically tired. But, as tired as I was, there was a certain calmness inside me; thoughts that had occupied my mind for months suddenly came to a halt. This enabled me to find some sort of temporary peace.
I’ve been around horses for over 30 years, but it hasn’t been until in the past two years that I have noticed a collective shift in how equestrian people think. I seem to run into “alternative people” left and right, sort of like when you are trying to become pregnant you see pregnant women everywhere. I first thought it was because of the shift in my own consciousness that allowed me to finally be able to spot these people, but I have now come to realize that the world is changing.
The world holds a balance in everything. If the winter is cold with a lot of snow, the summer will be warm with no rain to balance out the average temperature and rainfall of the year. I believe the same is happening in the horse world. Thanks to the internet, word about Rollkur, hyperflexion and other examples of extremely competitive riding travels at the speed of light. Unfortunately many people follow the example and adopt these methods to their own training, sometimes even without questioning them. On the other hand, more and more people are starting to turn the other way, seeking softer, more humane interaction with horses. Suddenly it is as if two completely different worlds reside in the same universe, but do not coexist in perfect harmony: the polarization of the equestrian world is stronger than ever.
When I think about everything I experienced during my stay in Finland - the people I talked with and the horses I met - my general feeling is of optimism. Optimism because now more than ever I realize that there really are many people out there who are seeking something different, new answers to age old questions; people who want to take a step on what has become known to us “alternative horse people” as The Path.
The Path (of the Horse) is the personal journey people embark on when they decide to stop using force and start listening to their horse. The Path is for people who want to be with their horses in a gentler way, without using force or pressure. The Path is never the same for any given individual, it is unique to each and every one. This makes it often a highly personal experience that involves a lot of self-reflecting and soul-searching.
People get on The Path in different ways. In hindsight I can see that I was on The Path for several years, but traveled at snail speed. I was not aware of my progress or that I was on a journey. My personal turning point happened in June 2008 when I first tried the bitless bridle on Little Love. Since that experience, I started traveling down The Path at record speed, abandoning most of my old beliefs and looking for new solutions. But - despite the progress I have made and the things I have learned about horses and myself, I still have the impression that I am in the very beginning of this road.
Being on The Path is not trouble-free. It most often involves feeling desperate, lost and alone. Increased knowledge means increased pain. It is suddenly hard to interact with people I call “mainstream equestrians”, people who are not on The Path. Things you never used to pay attention to become so pronounced that you can’t stop thinking of them for hours, sometimes days: a yank in the mouth, a kick with the spurs, a horse’s neck rolled tight with draw reins or a harsh bit; a yell, a slap, a demand. All that force and pressure, all that need for control. And this is supposed to be ok? You wonder why you didn’t see all that before.
Being on The Path also requires loads and loads of persistent. There are days when I want to stay home and forget I ever knew a horse, let alone a person who rode one (myself included). It is easy to become desperate, it is easy to become isolated. And that is exactly why I keep on going, because I feel that there are so many people out there waiting to connect with their horses and vice versa. People like me.
Or like the people I met in Finland. Not all of them have found The Path as of yet, most don’t even know it exists, but you can tell they are seeking. I can always spot the signs: the open mind, the desperate need to understand their horse, the hunger for answers, a hopeful belief that there has to be something else out there, than what they have learned. It is as if a door has opened in these people, a door that was not there before. Sometimes the door is wide open and sometimes there is just a crack, but I can see the opportunity that lays there, the chance to step out of the box and closer to The Path.
And that is what my life is about: traveling my Path with such vigor that it sets other people seeking for theirs. I used to think I did it because I love teaching, but while in Finland I realized that actually I do it because I love learning. Every time I meet a new person, a new horse, be it a teaching situation or just a random encounter, it is an opportunity for me to learn something about the psychology and way of horses. And ultimately this means I learn about myself. It is like a drug, the learning; sometimes it makes you feel like crap, but sometimes it sends you off into a universe of bliss. But at the end of the day, no matter what you have felt, you want more.
I have no idea where this is going to end or if it even has an end. I have let go of so many areas in life that used to be part of who I am, that in many respects I have changed completely. And I don’t think I’m exactly done changing. I think it is finally time to really examine where I came from and where I am now. I have come a long way from those days as an international vaulting coach, a trainer and a dressage rider. But I do think I have changed for the best and hopefully continue to change for the better.
I haven’t actually lived in Finland for over ten years, but I keep going back every year, sometimes several times. Despite living in different countries as a child and now as an adult, I am still Finnish by heart. It is in Finland where I first fell in love with horses, it is in Finland where I connected with horses as a child. My family is in Finland and many of my dearest friends. But there is also something else; there is the memory of the beginning.
Sometimes you have to go back to your roots to really see how far you have traveled.
There's an alternative. There's always a third way, and it's not a combination of the other two ways. It's a different way. ~David Carradine