Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.) suggested we look for inspiration in the streams around us. “Water, he wrote, “is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” Horses are the living embodiment of this contradictory notion: when we are rigid with them, when we try to strong-arm them, they become unyielding. They pick their heads up. They set their necks. They brace against us with their prodigious strength. They respond to strength with resistance.
But when treated with a moment of soft touch—at the right instant–a horse will learn. The problem for most of us as trainers and handlers is that, first, the more strength we apply, the more difficult it becomes for us to time our yielding to bring the best out in our horse. Secondly, the more the horse’s mind becomes focused on resistance, the less he is able to find that moment of yield. So our horse can teach us this spiritual principle: we are at our best when we become water. The flowing brook knows where to eddy and wait and where to spill and fall. It finds the path of least resistance to make its way to the deep pools of tranquility. Our horses teach us this same life lesson: when we learn when and where to yield, they flow effortlessly into a profound and respectful partnership with us.