The Labyrinth of training: why you have to go back to go forwards

I walked a Labyrinth a few days ago. Twisting and turning around the circle, spiraling inward, and then surprise! The path turns back out again.

What is this? The path is taking me back to the outer rim of the circle. I don’t want to go that way,Embed from Getty Images I want to go inward. But no; to go in, I have to go out. I must keep walking the Labyrinth, trusting that following the path will eventually bring me to the center (my goal), no matter how illogical it sometimes seems. “Illogical.” Now I sound like Spock.

I like Labyrinths. And yes, this will have something to do with horses in just a moment. Patience. For those of you unfamiliar with Labyrinths, they are patterns made from hedges, rocks on the ground, tiles, bricks, or even paint, usually in a circular pattern. You walk them in order to pray, meditate, or think deeply. They slow you down and give you time to reflect. This was not the first labyrinth I’ve walked but this day I suddenly realized that the labyrinth was just like training a horse. Training a  horse is supposed to be linear: go from point A to B. In Dressage, we go up the Training Scale. HA!

Dressage Training Pyramid

Dressage Training Pyramid

In my experience, that’s not always how it works. As I take a step forward, sometimes I find myself taking two steps (or more!) back instead, returning to fix or address something that never really happened earlier in the training; maybe something that I glossed over or kind of head faked, or something that I’ve let slide or get sloppy.

You know how it is: someone kindly (perhaps) points out that there are HOLES in your training. Oops! Or maybe you realize it yourself. You know you have to get this fixed. Without really getting it right, you can’t move forward. You have to loop back in the Labyrinth, seemingly going AWAY from your goal.

It’s frustrating at the time. It seems like going backwards. For goal oriented people like me, anyway. Process oriented people are just fine, they’re all about the journey. Lucky them. I’m learning to enjoy the journey, but I really do like to check things off my list and I want a sense of making PROGRESS. I want to proceed quickly up the levels of dressage, earning awards along the way. Right? Well, maybe I need to take the road less traveled and go back in order to go forward. But for me, going back to fix something feels…like failure.

The lesson of the Labyrinth is that going backwards is not failure, it’s just part of the journey.

The journey of training or growth as a rider is not all one straight, predictable line because neither we nor the horses are machines. We all learn differently, at different rates and in different ways. We’re not going to progress at the same rates. Sometimes we’re going to progress by leaps and bounds, followed by a time of plateau when we’re building muscle or just getting some foundational things straight.

People walk Labyrinths at different speeds. Some are fast, some are slow, but everyone gets there eventually IF they persevere.

As I walked my Labyrinth, I noticed a few things. The texture of the rocks that lined the path. The flowers planted in banks outside the circle. The sound of the wind. The smell of the lavender, the feel of the sun on my skin. Embed from Getty ImagesOnce I accepted that this would take a little time, I slowed my pace and my breath and just walked. I followed the path and let thoughts come and go as they would. In the same way, people of faith for millenia have used labyrinths to meditate in prayer and connect deeply with God. I enjoyed the journey instead of fretting over how long it was taking.IMGP0019 2 I eventually reached the center, but the center of a Labyrinth is just a place. There’s nothing much there except a momentary cessation of the journey before you return outward again.  In walking a Labyrinth, it is the journey of steps, waiting, and patience; of twists and turns; of breaths, and thoughts, and learnings; of meditations – and prayers if you’re so inclined – this journey is what matters deeply.

Perhaps those of us who are goal oriented with our horses would do well to learn another lesson of the Labyrinth: the journey is more important than the destination, and there is joy along the way.

Perhaps you feel stuck in some twist or turn of the Labyrinth right now, or maybe you’re in a “two steps back” portion right now. Persevere. Keep walking. Know that things will likely change soon, hopefully for the better. Maybe you need a friend on the journey to help you get through a particularly twisted part. Asking for help is wise! There are resources out there – friends, mentors, trainers, books, videos, and people who have gone on this journey with horses before us. While each of us rides alone, we also ride together. May you have joy on your journey and enjoy each moment with your horse as a gift.

Who could resist Finn's cute face?

Who could resist Finn’s cute face?

The gift of a horse friend

The gift of a horse friend

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