From the beginning of my journey in the academic art, I appreciated that I was treated as a grown up. The training came as an offer, as an inspiration, but I was the one who chose what to take, on what to focus, and even what to ignore for the moment. Nobody tried to convince me of anything.
Bent, for example, was always very honest with me and never sugar coated anything. I’m a trained pedagogue myself and am aware of how easily people can be manipulated into wanting something. There was never any of that.
Nobody made me buy anything. Bent has an extensive online library of teaching videos, but he never once said to me “And if you would like to know more about bending, we have this film that you can buy”. There were never any promotions, catchy offers, free ebooks leading to endless mail spam or the like. And I can’t tell you how much I respect this in our times. If you want feedback, you get it. If you would like to be left alone for a bit, you are being left alone.
All the learning, and growing, takes place in a very natural way. You take lessons, get your homework, get lessons, next homework…if you get a little stuck with something, you can just ask any of the other trainers for help or a new idea, and that’s totally fine. Nobody tells you that it’s your problem when you get stuck, that you have to work more on yourself. If the solution came from outside of the “academic bubble”, that’s fine, too, and you don’t have to keep it a secret of be afraid to be “kicked out”. Of course, in the end, we want to do academic art of riding, but it’s not a hermetically sealed off approach. The horse is always right, and whatever improves the movement and our understanding of something is appreciated. I’m always amazed by how the right things seems to appear for me, be it in a lesson with Bent, or with someone else, or reading something in a book, or meeting an inspiring person. I am sailing my own ship, catching the wind in the sails, sometimes drifting a little and then taking up course again.
The academic community grows in a very organic way. Everyone can decide how much they would like to be involved. You don’t have to buy an expensive program to be “in”. You can be on the outer edge, just taking some things but otherwise do something else. Many people will just audit at clinics, use a few tips. And that’s ok. The clinics, and now also the online clinics, are open to everyone. Others get regular lessons and practice the academic art for themselves, or they might want to become a member of the knighthood and start taking the tests. Some are active in the knighthood, take part in the discussion, do some research. Many who start with the academic art start to teach. There is no formal training to become a licensed trainer, it grows naturally. You might first teach a few people in your stable, then be invited to the next stable, then give your first clinic, then give regular clinics. Your students show your qualities as a teacher. I love that in this way, many people have the chance to grow into being a great trainer, without an “order from the top”. The result is, that all trainers have their own approach and nobody is just a “slightly worse copy” of Bent. I’m always amazed by how brilliant my colleagues are. And the best thing is that we all grow together.
Why am I writing this? I think that in our times, it is extremely important to be aware of your “filter bubble”. In our news feed, the algorithm selects things that we like. We mute people we don’t agree with or unfriend people who have a different view, a view that we might find offensive. And in this way, our (online) reality seems to reinforce and confirm our views more and more, and we get less and less able to deal with criticism. I think this is a dangerous development, also for the horse riding community. It is quite customary that you are being kicked out of a group when you don’t share the same view. Try to be in a barefoot group and say that in some cases, a horse might do better with shoes. Trainers who offer online programs will try to get you to a facebook group and close out other ideas and approaches. It can easily involve into a kind of sect, with it’s own rules, terminology, and things might be weird without you actually noticing. Criticism is not allowed and you also don’t meet critical people, because they are removed.
The other day I joined a free training online, or more like the promotion of a free training. It was advertised as helping you with your horse training, when in fact there was a lot of talk about that when you have a problem with something, or you get emotional about something, think something isn’t fair, it’s basically your own problem. The more you work on yourself, the more you will see how good the program is, and of course there is the right solution to that in the program. I find this a highly dangerous thought and it reminds me of a sect. Because sometimes, it is good that you get a negative emotional reaction to something and that your intuition tells you to watch out or not be satisfied. While certainly we should work on our view for things, I find it highly questionable to say that if you don’t like the program or the way the program works, it’s because you didn’t work enough on yourself. I see a similar tendency in other groups or programs and I am always suspicious when people are too positive about something. If you are a member of the “Friends of the academic art of riding” group in Germany, on the other hand, you might sometimes ask yourself whether all the people who don’t like the academic art come to this group, because many will take the first occasion to be critical of it. And I think it’s very important that these people are not just thrown out, because we need to keep touch with reality and not only be in our own filter bubble.
So please keep your own critical thinking. If you think that something might be weird, there is a good chance that it actually IS weird. Don’t only surround yourself with people that have your opinion. Be open for the world and the challenges it brings. Be critical of all the marketing, the “last chances”, the “once in a life-time offers”, and “expiring opportunities”. And also listen to the feedback from your horse, because he doesn’t have a filter bubble and might give you the most honest feedback you can get.