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How to read horse books

From: Katie

Dear Jessica, you may think that this is a weird question, but I want to know how I should be reading my horse books. I have several dozen because I get them for Christmas and birthdays from my relatives. I love to read. My friend Laurie went to one of your clinics and she said that you said you didn't want people to read like sponges. I always thought that a "sponge" was a good thing to be because it means you absorb everything! Would you please tell me what you meant, if you said that, because maybe Laurie got it wrong. And how should I read my horse books, because I want to always do what is best for my horse!

Your fan, Katie

Hi Katie! No, that's not a weird question, it's actually a very good question. Your friend Laurie is right, I did say that. And no, I don't want people to be like sponges when they read!

As you said, a sponge absorbs everything. This is fine if you're actually a sponge. It's not so fine if you're an intelligent, thinking rider and horse-owner. Let me explain.

Good riders and horse-owners will read a lot, and over your lifetime, you're likely to accumulate a lot more horse books. Even if you aren't an active collector, you may eventually end up owning a hundred or more. Not all of these books will be equally good. Not all of the parts of each book will be equally good. If you're going to get the best from each of your books, and then do the best for your horses, you'll need to develop the habits of critical reading and critical thinking.

This doesn't mean that your job is to find fault with everything you read. ;-) It means that your job, when you read a horse book (or any other book), is to use your brain to sift the information as you read, and to use your judgement to determine which pieces of information are true and useful, and which aren't.

Reading "like a sponge" is what students do when they are cramming for an exam -- they don't think about or evaluate the text they are assigned, they just try to memorize as much of it as possible so that they can produce the desired responses on the exam. This isn't learning, it's regurgitation! It's bad enough to do this for an exam, but it's downright dangerous to do this when what you are reading can affect your horse's welfare. You need to read with a critical eye, comparing what you read with what you already know to be true (and false), and deciding what parts of each book you want to absorb and remember, and what parts you should skim, skip, or ignore. This takes more of a mental effort, but do it anyway -- if you don't teach yourself to read critically, you'll be in danger of believing, without question, whatever you read most recently.

Think of reading in the same way that you think of your riding lessons -- there's work involved! You evaluate, you ask questions, you incorporate the answers or you ask additional questions. You already know that a good instructor will be happy to have you ask questions, and even happier to answer them, or to help you look for the answers.

When you attend a clinic, you do the same things -- you evaluate, compare, analyze, criticize, and choose what you think is most useful and most real. The clinician may offer ten ideas and ten exercises, and you will have to sort through them -- some may be things that you'll want to make part of your own riding beliefs or style, and some may be things that you don't want at all, because they don't fit in with the way you think about horses and training and what's appropriate in terms of techniques or equipment. If you want to get the most from a lesson or clinic, you have to sift and sort and judge as you go, and absorb ONLY the parts that you actually WANT.

When you are reading, you also have to do all of this. If you find a passage or a chapter that doesn't make sense to you, discuss it with your instructor. Compare the books you read -- different authors may have very different ideas about many aspects of riding and horsemanship. The more you learn, the more you'll be able to recognize ideas that fit the way YOU think about riding, horses, and horsemanship -- and the more quickly you'll notice when something doesn't ring true.

So, when you read, QUESTION. Be critical of what you read, and be selective about what you choose to add to your philosophy, your riding style, and your training methods. In time, you'll have a good, effective, fully-integrated system of your own, using the best and most compatible pieces from everything you have read, and you'll have a system that WORKS. If you just read and absorb everything, without ever stopping to think and consider and question, you'll give equal value to information that should be kept and to information that should be discarded.

Nobody ever said it was easy. ;-) I can assure you, though, that it IS worthwhile.


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