Monday, June 7, 2010

Knowledge and pain, sometimes the same?

Lately, I have been haunted by an age old Finnish saying: Tieto lisää tuskaa. A word to word translation of this proverb would be: Knowledge increases pain, but the general idea is that the more we know, the more painful life gets. Or in other words: Ignorance is bliss.

But shouldn’t we always strive to know as much as possible about any given subject that pertains to our lives be it child rearing or cooking or job seeking or the MRI we just had? I certainly have always been one to promote wisdom and the process of learning. Knowledge helps me make educated decisions. Knowledge helps me excel. Knowledge is power.

Or is it?

If there is one area in life where knowledge is not particularly encouraged, it’s the equestrian world. Lots of things happen and are actively done to horses with no questions asked. And if questions are asked, the most common answer is “Because that’s the way it is” or better yet: “Because it works that way”. I spent 20 years taking dressage and jumping lessons without ever getting proper answers to questions such as “Why do I put my outside leg back when I bend a horse on a circle?” or “Why do we get on the horse from the left side?”.

Actually, questions are not encouraged and vague answers such as the ones above don’t encourage further questions. At ten, when I first started hanging around the barn, it didn’t take me too long to realize what I could and couldn’t ask. It was alright to ask about the process, but it was not good to question the process. So, this in mind, I acquired quite a bit of knowledge, but instead of really understanding why things were done, I only learned how they were done. And it’s amazing how far you can go, how good you can get at doing something, without really acquiring the science behind it.

My newest venture into the world of equestrian knowledge has been learning more about the horse’s hoof. For quite a while I have been supporting the belief that horses should really not be shod, but my opinion was based more on a feeling rather than on knowledge. So, true to my nature I had to find out if my feeling was right. I signed up for an online webinar teaching the theory behind the horse hooves and barefoot trimming.

It’s a course with 30 lessons and I’ve only just started, but already now, after four lessons of anatomy, I know. I know with certainty that I do not support shoes on horses. I can’t even imagine how I will feel after the entire webinar is finished. The amount of knowledge I have already gained is unbelievable.

And once again I am overwhelmed by this knowledge. I am surrounded with horses with shoes on their hooves. I am also surrounded with people who don’t share my opinion or my budding knowledge, people who don’t even want to know what course I’m taking, let alone what I’m learning in it.

I do my best to walk the tightrope of diplomacy. Just like with the bitless bridle, I balance my time with these fellow equestrians between speaking my mind and keeping silent. The more I know, the more painful it gets to look at horses with incorrect hoof positions, tendon problems, wedges, pads and other “corrective” shoeing devices. And then, of course, there is Little Love. The horse that has captured my heart, but whose life I have little control over whatsoever. I have done what I can for her concerning the bit, I have educated her owner of the biomechanics of riding, I have managed to get her more time in the pasture on the weekends, but taking her shoes off? Not happening.

Tieto lisää tuskaa. Knowledge increases the level of pain. It is true. I am in pain, in pain for Little Love and all the horses in world with shoes, past and present. I am in pain because it took me so long to question the practice and to seek the answers. Sometimes I look back and I can’t believe how naïve, how absolutely ignorant I was. And not only that, I also had no idea how blissful ignorance was, how utterly uncomplicated and easy it was when you didn’t question every single thing you and others do.

But on the same token, there is no going back. I may not be able to help the horses of my present, but perhaps one day I will be able to help another horse, the horse of the future. So that all said… Pain? Bring it on. I can’t even imagine how much there still is that I don’t know, but that is irrelevant. My only regret is that I didn’t get to this knowledge earlier.


The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder. ~Ralph W. Sockman

Want to know more about the course I'm taking?  Go to