We were fortunate to have grown up around some of the old cowboys. They were great teachers and possessed a wealth of knowledge about horses, livestock, and ranching. Cowboys passed their knowledge to the next generation and to their horses by word, action, and letting the student try, fail, and learn from the attempt. They were slow to tell someone else how to do something, but willing to say, “Are you sure about that?” if they thought you were about to make a serious mistake that would get someone hurt or injure the livestock. Watchful for danger, but careful not to micro-manage.
Horses and young cowboys were allowed to make lots of mistakes and then given soft comments and instructions about alternative ways to do it better next time. Sometimes no comment was needed, the horse or cowboy protegé learned from his own mistake. Often, after observing failure, the cowboy simply went to work without saying a word right beside the less-experienced and just did the job. Without saying a word, he demonstrated how to properly do the job so the next time the student would have the skills to do it right.
The wisdom to know when to speak up to prevent a “wreck” and when to let the horse or “newby” as we would say, learn from his own doing provided the perfect learning environment. The concept came to mind a week or so back. We were riding and one of the young horses stumbled by stepping in a small hole. With a laugh and a smile, the horse was told, “better pay attention, it’s your job to watch the trail when we ride”. Some will say the horse didn’t understand the comment. I think he did. Not necessarily the words, but the body language that politely said, I am sitting here balanced and relaxed. It’s your job to keep your feet underneath you so I can ride.
Cowboys were truly spectacular teachers with horses and people. Knowing when to talk, react, or just watch marks the difference between a pro and an amateur. The pro sees what is coming before it happens and has been there before. It doesn’t worry him because he will take action before he let’s a “wreck” happen. The inexperienced inappropriately react to the situation or try to cover their lack of understanding with a lot of words. Sure wish some of those old cowboys were still around!
If you don’t know much about horses and find someone always trying to convince you they know a lot, observe what they do. Watch to see if their horse acts the way you would like your horse to act. Just like the old cowboys, a knowledgable horseman doesn’t have to tell you how to do it, he can show you.