by Laura Crum
And especially beware of horse trainers who think they are gurus. You know, the sort that imply that somehow their wonderfully in depth understanding of a horse (in their own opinion) makes them enlightened in all aspects of life. If you study these folks closely, by the way, their own lives are usually a train wreck. And the biggest red flag of all? It’s when the horse trainer/guru states oh-so-publicly that ego has nothing to do with what said trainer is proclaiming/doing. These folks are the most ego-driven of the lot.
This is so obvious that I would think it would go without saying, and yet over and over again people are sucked in and deceived by these self-proclaimed “gurus,” whether in the horse world or the spiritual world. People, wake up! Those who know don’t talk much, and those who are busy telling everybody how wise they are don’t usually know much. This is a good rule of life, in any discipline.
So the other night I went to a party at which several horse people were present. There is a reason I don’t often go to parties, and it was demonstrated to me this particular evening. I was just returning from the bar with a weak gin and tonic in my hand, when I got sucked into a conversation with a friend. And before I quite knew what happened, several other people joined the group and I found myself listening to a local horse trainer expound about a recent disaster.
I’ve known this horse trainer for years—let’s call her Trainer Jane (not her real name). At this point she’s a somewhat stout middle-aged woman (like me), who has her assistants do most of the riding—and all of the difficult riding. Jane mostly gives lessons to beginners these days. And even in her prime, she was not quite the great hand with a horse that she would have you think. She has no particular claim to have done well in the show ring, or really, anywhere at all. But to hear her tell it she is a horse guru. A completely egoless horse guru. Yeah, right.
There wasn’t as easy route out of this group, so I listened to Jane’s story. All about a horse she supposedly broke and trained and made a nice riding horse out of, then sold to someone who essentially got bucked off and hurt badly. Jane’s take on this was just enthralling some of her fans, who stood near her.
Jane was oh-so-nobly blaming herself for this catastrophe, but not in the obvious way. Oh no. It was not that Jane had failed to get the horse properly broke…of course not. It was that only Jane had the skills to work with this hot horse. The new owner, his trainer, his friends (all competent horsemen), were just not up to the task. Jane blamed herself for selling the horse to people who clearly weren’t horse guru enough to handle the critter. Only Jane was competent to deal with this horse.
At this point I was rolling my eyes...but I kept my mouth shut. What I would have liked to have said was this: “It’s a common problem. Horse trainer essentially steals a ride on a difficult horse, and the horse looks pretty broke, but it isn’t. Horse trainer sells the horse to someone who isn’t expecting to have to steal a ride (and in western horse lingo “stealing a ride” means doing everything just-so in order to prevent a difficult horse from acting up), and the horse comes unglued and does something violent. One of the first things I learned when I worked as an assistant to some pretty effective horse trainers is that you don’t steal a ride. Good horse trainers sort out what a horse has really got—they don’t just ‘get by’ the horse. That’s asking for exactly the kind of disaster that actually happened.”
But of course, if I had said this, Jane would have become unglued and totally defensive. In her view it was not that she had failed to train the horse effectively—it was rather that others (including quite competent trainers) just didn’t have Jane’s horse guru skills. In the past I have seen exactly how hostile so-enlightened Jane becomes when her methods or thinking, or her all-wise guru stance is questioned in any way. So I didn’t say anything. And I rather quickly found a way to wiggle out of that group and rejoin my husband and son for a game of pool. Problem solved.
Except it bugs me. The horse world is so full of these people who are constantly posturing about their amazing horse training prowess—in the same breath in which they proclaim themselves free of ego. Does anybody else see the huge contradiction in this? The basic underlying message is always “I know more about horses than anyone around me…and by the way, there is no ego involved here.” To top it off, usually the individual’s actual track record with horses (let alone people) isn’t all that great. I find this both irritating and a huge disservice to all the beginners that get taken in by these “horse gurus.” Pose as wise and knowledgeable, and hey, presto, the naïve newcomers to the horse world who honestly want to learn will assume that you ARE wise and knowledgeable, and never stop to take a look at what this so knowledgeable trainer has actually managed to accomplish with horses in his/her lifetime. Or even consider what a train wreck this person’s life has been. These horse gurus are feeding their egos and their pocketbooks on the admiration of those who are relatively ignorant about horses, without really doing much to deserve it. Believe me, I have seen this over and over again.
I know, it’s no skin off my own back. I’ve been around the block, and I’m not going to have my chain jerked by a guru of any sort, horse themed or otherwise. I imagine many of you who are reading this feel the same. But do you, like me, find it just a tad bit offensive when you are faced with this particular brand of hypocrisy?