Friday, November 23, 2007

How We Learn

from Jacqueline

About six years ago, my brother bought a draft horse, Ben. Ben stands about 18 hands (that’s big, for the non equestrians), and weighs about 2300 lbs (really, really big). He has feet the size of dinner plates and when John bought him he was trained to pull a six-person carriage and had a bit of an attitude because he hadn’t been treated very well. My brother had never owned a horse, but thought, “Hey, how difficult can it be?” And he loves animals and thought that some TLC would be all that would take for them to work together. He also had a dream of being able to drive. John was named for my grandfather, a costermonger who sold fruit and vegetables from his horse-drawn cart. He had several horses and was as knowledgeable about horses and driving as anyone - after all, having a horse was just like owning and driving a car in those days. But time marches on, and though John wanted to have something of that experience, he didn’t know how to drive. I suggested lessons. “That’s the trouble with you, Jack, you think you have to take a lesson to learn anything." I didn’t pursue the topic any further, but I thought about it a lot at the time, as you do when someone starts a sentence with, “That’s the trouble with you ...”

You see, I love learning new things. With certain exceptions (Math and Miss Crawford’s domestic science class) I loved school, from the time I started primary school at five years old. As an adult, I have found that, for me, if I want to learn something or improve a skill, I’d rather start at the feet of someone who knows a lot about the subject, someone who has achieved a level of mastery. And the funny thing is, those people tend to be learners too. Take my dressage trainer, Kim. Last week we went off to a clinic taught by a world-class dressage rider. Kim had signed up for a couple of days and I went along for the second day, to observe the lessons and also to have a session with the teacher. Watching your trainer take a lesson opens as many windows, inspires as many ah-ha’s as engaging in that learning yourself. I came back having a different idea of how to do certain things, how to break a bad habit or two. Oh yes, habit.

One of the things I came to know early on in my career as a “life coach” is that we all look at life a certain way, though the lens of our upbringing, our culture, our heritage, our education, experience ... and so on. Even the most “broadminded” people look at life through this tunnel. To change things in our lives, to go for something new, we have to change the lens, we have to shift, to widen that tunnel, to shove it in a different direction. That’s where teachers come in – and they don’t have to be the “on a pedestal” teachers – just the person who say, “How about this?” “Look at it this way” or “You could try ....”

Some years ago, between the child #1 and child #2, my cousin, a lawyer, decided to give up her job for a while to be a full-time mother and think about how much she really liked being a lawyer. After a while she became a bit antsy and around about the same time she was contacted by a local college to see whether she was interested in teaching a course on law as part of their adult/continuing education program. She snapped it up and planned a course that was fun, witty (she is very, very witty), covering all aspects of law that might be of interest to the average adult, and she threw in some history, etc. She loved teaching the course, however, the students she enjoyed the most were two ladies of a certain age who were making their way through the catalog, starting with Aromatherapy. They hit “L” for her class. “Never too old to learn something new,” they told her.

Well, I hope so, because I have just booked some lessons. Granted, it’s not for something completely new, but a skill in which I have collected a fair amount of rust. I haven’t been skiing for over twelve years. I used to love skiing and every winter I bemoan the fact that I have not been skiing. So, four days ago I went online and booked myself five days skiing – Park City at the end of January. Then I booked my lessons. I can’t wait.

My brother had a lot of problems with Ben, including an accident which I witnessed – no one was hurt, but they could have been. Ben and John lost confidence in each other and because my brother couldn't face him for a while, I began spending more time with the horse, working him under halter – and doing that helped me gain confidence around horses again after my accident several years ago. A couple of years ago I was with John and we were trying to persuade Ben to take his halter so that we could lead him over to the shoer. A big old horse, he knew his size and knew that he could run rings around us all if he wanted to. Then along came Jim, the ranch owner and a real horseman – a practitioner of “natural horsemanship.” He sorted Ben out.

“Why don’t you ask Jim for a few lessons?” I asked my brother, wondering what the response might be.
“Maybe later.”
“He’s standing right there – ask him now.”

So John walked up to Jim and asked about lessons and they began with what Jim referred to as “rehabilitating the relationship.” Within a couple of months my brother – who had never been on a horse before – was riding Ben. It was such a big event, even the vet came along to watch. And when Jim’s available, John will still take lessons, have a tune-up, learn something new, nip a bad habit in the bud. Ben adores my brother, and John adores him. And I saw a lesson come to life along the way – something about the teacher appearing when the student is ready.

If you wish to send this post to a friend, click on the envelope icon below. And have a lovely weekend.


  1. Learning style is an interesting element to the characters we develop, as well. Some people learn more efficiently through reading reference books, and some--like me--prefer to gain knowledge through verbal communication. IMHO, the best of the best is when you have one-on-one training with an expert, as you're doing, Our J.

    p.s. Bring us back pictures of your skiing adventure!

  2. from Jacqueline

    Hmmm, pictures indeed ... probably more than a few of me sliding down mountains on my nether regions!

  3. Pictures of skiing AND of your brother with his horse, okay?

  4. If you go to my website, you can see a pic of me with Ben, then you'll see the size of him (I think it's under "about Jacqueline"). There's a page all about my animals, and as an equine "nephew" Ben came into that category. I'll try to get a pic of my bro with his horse, that'll be a keeper. And I'll do my best on the skiing photo (here's one of Jacqueline falling, here's another one of Jacqueline falling - oh, and this one of Jacqueline falling was taken near ...."

  5. I have sat on several score horses but could never have said I'd ridden one. One horse in particular carried me to the top of a mountain in Panama only because he wanted to, because I had absolutely no say in the matter.

    So these days I learn small things, safe things, like playing the ukulele.

  6. My husband is of the same ilk - a new guitar is about as far as he'll go on the road to adventure. But as they say, it's not all about the horse, or the guitar, the ukelele or the skis - it's what you learn and who you meet along the way. And how was that ride to the top of a Panamanian mountain?

  7. The ride is actually a story that takes a few drinks to tell. There was a squad of us that had to get from point A to point B and I was the most accomplished equestrian of the bunch.

    The locals got a great deal of amusement watching the big gringos, armed to the proverbial teeth, atop very small horses who did not know, nor care to learn the ways of the yanqui cowboy.

  8. But I will say the view of the distant Pacific from the top of that mountain was worth the ride.

  9. You will have a ball taking skiing lessons-- I did it once to accompany a gal pal who was engaged to a guy who would take her down black diamond trails she wasn't prepared for. She and I were both horse people and I was a decent skier, but 7 days of private lessons made a huge difference in confidence and ability. I say even the pros have coaches and trainers and we can all always improve! Park City is also swell-- a real pleasure after skiing in new England, which often involves ice, rocks, twigs, bare ground, and bone-chilling cold! mbh

  10. David, a woman I know rode the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico right up through California and into Oregon last year - a five month pilgrimage, of sorts. Now, of course, I'm encouraging her to write about her experiences - only two other people had done this particular packing trip before, and boy, does she have tales to tell. And when it comes to trails, sometimes you've just got to trust the horse who knows the way, and hope for the best. And as you said, the view was great.

    I've had skiing lessons before - years ago - and it really did make a difference. But the equipment has changed so much since then, and I daresay teaching techniques have changed (my lessons were in France, Colorado and Austria). It wouldn't do me any harm to go back to slow plow! My first skiing experience was in New Hampshire - oh, Lord, was it cold!!!

  11. Hi Jacqueline!

    Wonderful story about John and Ben. Kind of reminds me of the book "Ben, the Battle Horse" by Walter A. Dyer. :-D

    Oh, and hey: I saw that Rhys Bowen thanked you in the Notes and Acknowledgements bit in her new novel, "Her Royal Spyness". Loved it, going to review it this week for my Muse du Jour Blog. (Not sure if Clive Cussler will approve of my review of his new mystery novel, The Chase, though). :-D

    Enjoy your skiing lessons and all the slopes you glide down. Hopefully you won't end up sliding down them on your bum: take extra padding just in case. Have loads and loads of fun!