We are all probably pretty familiar with the question, “What do you do?” It’s top of the list of standard small talk topics, and lately I’ve been noticing a lot of eye rolling about this tendency for people to pose the question right off the bat. It seems that asking, “What do you do?” before making other inquiries makes it seem like a person’s job or career should define them rather than who they are as a person. Personally, I feel a bit differently about it. To me I am happy to say what it is I do, because I feel that a lot of who I am will become evident as soon as I start talking about it. There is a great line in the movie “Across the Universe” that goes, “Surely it is not what you do, but the way that you do it,” in response to what it is that defines a person.
Sometimes when asked the question, “what do you do?” I struggle to find a short answer. For a long time it was difficult for me to answer that question with, “I am an artist.” To label yourself as an artist is a strange thing. When I was little, I never sat down and thought, “I am going to be an artist one day.” I simply started drawing because I liked the way it made me feel. And even more so because it was a way for me to express the pure joy that I got from the inspirations for my drawings. Those inspirations of course were mostly horses, and the mystical and magical experiences that they brought me.
Eventually though, I started to realize that being an artist was not simply about putting pencil to paper. It was about the way my mind, body, and soul conspired to create in collaboration with the creative life force of existence to build energy and transmute feelings and thoughts into experiences that then create new thoughts, feelings, and even actions, and so on and so forth. I slowly but surely began to realize that to be an artist is a way of life. It isn’t simply a title, because there are infinite labels an artist may have. An artist can be a painter, a poet, a musician, a mathematician (yep, that’s right!), etc. etc. To be an artist is not about what you do, but about the way you do what you do. It’s about how you feel and what you think about what you do. It’s about allowing yourself to think and feel deeply and to seek collaboration with the Universe to make life your masterpiece.
Now I’m finding it a challenge to define what I do in regards to my work with horses. Usually that is what I say, that “I work with horses.” I aim to be in collaboration with horses the same way I am in collaboration with the Universe. When probed further about what exactly it is that I do with horses though, I find that I struggle to make any direct claim here too. But when pressed I have landed on “equine educator” as my official answer, and if time allows, I will add that I am a forever student of life and of the horse. And I really do feel this defines what I do quite well, and will continue to be fitting even as my vocation naturally evolves.
While people have extrapolated and put the title of trainer on me, I have actually never made the claim that I am a horse trainer. That is because at this point in time I have never “trained” a horse from start to finish. I have taught horses things, both good and bad, intentionally and unintentionally, and I myself have learned from these experiences as well. But you see, I am on a journey with the Horses, and we are both learning from each other. A natural part of this journey is to get to a certain point and believe you know it all, and then realize that you in fact barely know anything (then rinse and repeat). I reached that point in my mid-twenties when I met a fellow horsewoman who would become a source of significant inspiration to me, opening a door to a whole new world of horsemanship.
Once I stepped through that door there was no going back. I began to have some revelations about my equestrian career and about the industry at large. It became apparent that there were some serious gaps in my foundational education of horsemanship, and that these gaps were pretty common. As I began to become aware of how impactful an informed and intentional horsemanship practice can be on the dynamic between horse and human, I began noticing how the horses were suffering as a result of the lack of attention given to these areas. So, I thought about why this was and what I could do to help the situation.
I thought about how as a little kid if you asked me what I did outside of school my answer would have been easy. “I ride horses!” is what I always said. Later on, when I began working professionally in the equestrian industry I would answer, “I am a riding instructor.” It’s almost embarrassing now to admit how much tunnel vision I had. Everything was about riding and what the horse could do for people. But if I wanted to work with horses in true collaboration, I would need to reevaluate my expectations of them. And if I wanted this to have any sort of significant impact, I would need to find a way to encourage other people to reevaluate their expectations of horses as well.
All of a sudden, I had an incredible hunger for knowledge of all things Equus! Studying art had brought about revelations of the interconnectivity of all forces in and of the Universe. And so now I remembered that I could look at horsemanship as an artistic practice too, as well as a science to be studied. All the immediate branches of the tree of Equus would need to be painted into my comprehension, and the far off fractaling roots that surface elsewhere in the forest would also need to be considered. You never know what tiny little detail will bring the composition into true harmony.
As I allowed myself to accept the role of forever student, I realized the weight of responsibility that teaching carries. I had been teaching riding lessons, but as I grew as an equestrian I grew as a teacher too. I shifted my wording from riding instructor to horsemanship instructor. It’s just semantics really, but there is an energy behind words, and in my experience the energy associated with “riding” lessons has become stagnant. Sometimes it takes something as simple as changing the verbiage to get people to change their perspective on something. To consider it in a new light. And that right there is truly what I want to do. I want to help others to shift their perspective on the dynamics of how horses and humans interact. To reevaluate their expectations of their relationship with horses. To ask themselves if they even have a true relationship with the spirit of Horse.
I think if you look at the question, “what do you do?” from a different perspective it isn’t quite as surface level as it may appear. You might see that the question is actually a tool people use to begin to discover who you are as a person and the way you live your life. So, what is it that I do? I am an artist in collaboration with Life to repaint the dynamic of Horse and Human. I did warn you that there was no short answer to this question, and if you have read all this way, I thank you. And I invite you to join me in my mission to bring about awareness for the wellbeing of equines. There is a growing movement made up horse trainers, riding instructors, equine scientists, and every day horse lovers who are working to promote the evolution of horsemanship practice in tandem with ever evolving knowledge and increased understanding of the workings of horses and humans alike.