I talk in my book, Lead With Your Heart—Lessons from a Life with Horses, that training horses—like any education or learning process—should be fun. But what’s true for training horses is true for any teaching situation: the teacher or trainer is responsible for making the learning experience fun. It is not an option. It’s a duty.
When it comes to horses, if a trainer gets out in the arena or round pen and begins to see her training session degenerating into as a series of drills or practice sessions that must be pursued, then she ought to climb down off her horse and come back another day. Sure, we need to take our horse through exercises, but they should be fun. They should be more like play and less like homework. And, for goodness’ sake, the trainer must make sure to mix things up and keep the tasks varied and engaging. So often, I see riders who walk their horses into the arena. They spend exactly one hour, loping in one direction, trotting, stopping, backing up, and practicing flying lead changes. And the “lesson” I see today will be exactly the same one hour’s lesson I will see tomorrow. That trainer needs to get out of her rut. Get out on the trail. Cover new ground. She can practice all the same movements on the trail that were being so begrudgingly carried out in the arena. Only now it can be fun.
Marshall McLuhan, one of the great thinkers about the impact of media on society once wrote: “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” This statement is valid across the entire spectrum of learning from the round pen to kindergarten, from college to pottery classes. A teacher, a trainer, a parent must stop himself or herself when they see the learning turning into a chore and say: “If it’s not fun, I’m not in the right mind set and my student(s) can’t be either.”
One summer at camp, I took a several week-long program in sailing. I was about thirteen and in order to qualify so I could eventually skipper a sailboat, I had to learn how to tie dozens of different knots, terms from meteorology, the taxonomy for various parts of the boat, and “rules of the road” or navigational right of way standards. When I was done, I had reviewed more than a hundred pages and had to also undergo a written and practical exam—something I would never have done willingly had I been in school. How could I have volunteered to take on so much hard work? Because I loved it so I did it willingly and there was never a moment when it wasn’t fun. Yes, I was learning how to sail but it never felt like going to school.