Taking charge is not the same thing as taking control although the two are often confused. Since horse training is a good mirror through which to reflect on our human condition, let’s talk about taking charge in equine training. To take charge means to assume responsibility for your horse. It requires that, as a leader, you have the intention of understanding his needs and fears and striving with all your might to see the world through his eyes, to find out how he can best succeed. And to do that, you must be humble. Humble enough to know that you will not always be able to faithfully transcribe your horse’s concerns into your own and modest enough to question your educational strategies and methodologies and admit your mistakes from time to time. In other words, if your horse is not catching on quickly, it’s most likely because you’re teaching him poorly not because he can’t learn something. When you take charge, you understand that there can be many different paths that lead to the same end result. One of those paths will resonate more with your horse than others. By taking charge, you’re saying: “It’s my job to figure out which piece of the puzzle is missing and holding us back.” Usually that factor is most easily identified in the bathroom mirror when you awake up. Finally, taking charge means leaving the credit to others.
Taking control is a whole different matter altogether. Because taking control is about removing choices and limiting options. It outlines one path to one set of end results and tries very hard to constrain the horse so there’s no ability to wander off the beaten path. These are usually the folks around the stable that have highly scripted training sequences and schedules. Part of it is experience: it takes a long time to learn how to read when a horse is thinking and is close to getting the answer on his own. Sure, you can walk right past his moment of choice when he recognizes by himself what you are trying to do. You can take away his right to think and just tell him what to do and put enough pressure on him to ensure he will comply. But you’ve taken away his creativity in doing so. You’ve diminished your partnership with him. You committed death by agenda. And look at how different the language become: the conversation turns to compliance versus choice, compulsion versus consideration. Try to think back to all the classes you hated and the few that made you feel passionate. The ones you loved, no one had to punish you to make you get good grades. The grades were the by-product of work in which you were thoroughly invested. But the other classes? Oh, Lord. There you would have be threatened with some dreadful punishment just to maintain a C average. In fact, punishment is a great way to know you’ve crossed into the territory of taking control rather than taking charge. Lastly, those who take control like to keep the credit for themselves. They need the limelight. That’s why they took control in the first place.