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For years, all kinds of different people have asked me to describe my work with horses and the philosophy behind it. This has been hard to do because my approach has been, well, a bit eclectic, you could say. Frankly, it’s been hard to sum up the way I look at my horse work in just a phrase or even a descriptive paragraph. Until now.
Do The Work
What “Do The Work” means to me:
“Do The Work” means firstly that getting good with horses or making a good horse is going to take a lot of work. And by work, I mean dirty, tiring, physically challenging, mentally exhausting WORK. I believe that there is no substitute for this Work.
“Do The Work” means to do The Work that matters to the horse, that makes him better and prepares him for the world and the life we insist that he live in. The Work that is important to the horse is not always the same as the work that is important to the human, unfortunately. Sometimes we spend a lot of time on work that has no real value to the horse. “Do The Work” means that I may or may not find this work enjoyable, but in the doing of it, I become better, sometimes despite myself.
“Do The Work” honors the fact that “deliberate practice” (practice that is repetitive, appropriately challenging and usually uncomfortable) produces measureable results. (see “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin and “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle)
“Do The Work” means that I don’t have to have “natural talent” if I’m willing to work. “Inspiration exists,” Pablo Picasso said, “but it has to find you working.”
My ability to “Do The Work” is something that is up to me. Within my time, physical and skill limitations, I am constantly encouraged to work at the top of my present level. This is my choice.
You can tell if someone is “Doing The Work” and if they’re not. If we are “Doing The Work”, things will get better, albeit sometimes slowly. The most common reason many of us struggle and don’t progress is simply because we’re not doing The Work at all or we’re not doing The Work that matters to the horse.
”Do The Work” becomes my mantra when it feels like nothing is happening. I do the work with quality and humility and I have faith that it will come through in its own time.
”Doing The Work” isn’t all about me. It’s my job to do The Work and the horse’s job to respond and do his OWN work. We both have Work in the partnership.
”Do The Work” means that excuses are futile. Ignorance of the work that needs to be done is excusable and fixable. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, if you see what I mean. But don’t make excuses.
”Do The Work” means that I refrain from bragging about the work I did today because, because I am “Doing The Work”, tomorrow’s work will be better than today’s work. Today’s work won’t stand long as my “best”.
”Doing The Work” means that I am working to an objective “standard” prescribed by masters of this Work, people I admire and whose horses look and feel the way I’d like mine to look and feel. This “standard” is objective, and it is a last resort to compromise “the standard”.
”Do The Work” reminds me that before I go thinking that I need some new magical method or piece of equipment, I should make sure that I’m doing what I already know how to do. Something new and interesting just doesn’t feel like as much work as something familiar or tedious.
”Do The Work” reminds me that it is generally accepted that it takes 10,000 hours ofpractice to become “expert” at something. It might be better to quit counting backwards from 10,000 and just Do The Work.
Over 20 years ago, horseman Leslie Desmond sent me and my horse over to a corner of the arena where I was to “move each of his feet 50 times, using the lead rope. If another foot moves, it doesn’t count. Let me know when you’re done.” Since that day, I have moved thousands and thousands of feet with a lead rope, and thousands and thousands with a rein. Leslie gave me a little taste of how many opportunities I was going to have, every day, to accurately and mindfully influence a horse’s feet.
Not long ago, as Buck Brannaman was closing a four-day clinic in Cle Elum, Washington, he climbed off his big bay bridle horse Rebel, got on his knees, and from there started directing the horse in various movements with his thin get-down rope, which was attached around the horse’s neck. While he did this, he talked about how each of us could, if we worked at it, direct our horse with a feel 5,000 times and have the horse get it right 5,000 times. If we worked at it.
While some may find the “Do The Work” message discouraging, I find it profoundly empowering and inspiring. The idea that we can be as good as we can be, based on the work we invest, is a supreme comfort. I can tolerate the tedium and I can tolerate the bone-tiredness. What I can’t tolerate is the idea that I could have been a bit better if I’d worked just a little harder at it. Know that I'm right there with you, just as tired, just as dirty and just as obsessed with getting better as you are.