Friday, August 12, 2016

Writing about Riding

I find myself struggling with this blog lately. Not due to lack of material. We've got plenty going on at the barn lately. This week, we've gone out a couple of times after work. On Tuesday, I rode Buttercup and Brian rode Stormy. Yesterday, I rode Stormy. Brian worked with King and his owner.

King? Buttercup? Stormy? I have not mentioned any of these horses here before. They are not ours, but we're doing some work with them. Which is a bit ironic because we've never set out to position ourselves as expert horsemen. I know my level of skill at riding and handling horses is light-years behind the true masters of horsemanship I aspire to learn from.

And yet, it seems we frequently meet people who are struggling with their horses, and the things they struggle with are things we can easily help with. So we end up helping. And suddenly Brian and I both have multiple students, and we're putting time into horses that aren't ours.

In many ways, it's great. Every horse we can work with is an invaluable opportunity for new learning. And any person we can teach to get along with a horse even just a little better is a net gain to all. What's tricky is I don't necessarily feel comfortable writing publicly about the details of what we're doing. I don't want to say anything a student might read and misunderstand.

Because, really, that's the crux of it. It's so hard to talk and write about horses in a way that conveys the meaning you're after. This is true with teaching also, of course. It often takes multiple attempts and analogies to get an idea across the student. But with a student, you are there with them, in the same place. You've got a living, breathing horse providing instant feedback. You both know where you're starting from, and what your goals are.

The internet is a mushier place. It seems I often write or post things people misunderstand.

So much of it is context. It's like reading ads about sale horses. Perusing the classifieds, you'd think every horse is the same. "Very quiet. Soft on the bit. Moves off the leg. Good for the vet and farrier. 100% sound." And yet, anyone who has ever shopped for a horse knows the high probability of showing up and discovering one or more of these classic sale ad statements not to be "true."

The problem isn't that all horse owners are liars. The problem is "soft on the bit" is a subjective statement. What is soft? What is light? What is quiet? What is good? I know what these words mean to me, but there's no way to convey my understanding of them to another person through language alone.

So basically, I'm finding it impossible to say anything at all about a horse without leaving the door open for someone to come in and point out how my choice of phrasing is incorrect or inaccurate, or I'm not doing justice to the horse because I'm pigeonholing him by defining him with a certain term, or how if I did X differently, Y wouldn't be a problem anyway. This, of course, always comes from people who have never even seen me handle or ride a horse, much less observed the situation I'm writing about. And the vast majority are responding to what they think I mean, which is often light years off from what I'm actually trying to say.

The result is lately I feel stuck and exhausted the moment I sit down to blog. I find myself rereading every sentence I write for how it might be twisted into something I don't intend. After a while, I lose motivation to dodge my way through the proverbial minefield, and just don't post anything.

I started blogging about Steen all those years ago because I felt like I was learning a lot. Recording my experiences felt both fun and useful.

I still feel like I'm learning a lot, but increasingly I'm finding the things I learn very difficult to put into words.


  1. Heh, I totally get it. I strive to keep my blog separate from my students (mostly by not mentioning it) for exactly that reason. I'm also really careful about what I post on my "public" blog. "Official" teachers have lost their jobs over things they've said in social media, even when it's pretty vague.

    I also totally understand students ability to misinterpret things. All of my classes involve an online component, and I'll read and re-read everything to make sure it's as clear as possible. Even still, students will find a way to read something entirely different from what I've written. Argh!

    I will say though, that your students have access to you in person to clarify things. While you may not want to post about them directly, I'd think posting about you and your horses' progress would still be ok. You can (as much as possible) direct your students clarify things they've read on your blog in person before attempting to try them.

    I'll admit I may be a bit biased here though, because I'd like to read more blog posts. :)

  2. I think writing about things is sort of like teaching it. If you can explain it, you better understand it. So don't focus on what the student is or isn't doing in your writing: focus on what you're doing and learning and write about that.

    Sometimes, though, people ask questions to better understand what you're trying to say --which not only makes you a better communicator through writing but through teaching. So if someone asks a question, don't take it to mean they're being critical. They may know more or less than you and they're learning too. I figure if we aren't learning, we're probably on our death bed. At least that's how I look at it.


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