The Gift of Humiliation


Loss of pride, self respect, and dignity? I definitely wouldn’t know anything about that….

I’m an English major, so sometimes I like to put my wordy pants on. You done been warned.

Verbally speaking, “humiliation” and “humility” are not necessarily the same bird, but I have the conviction that they are more related than we tend to admit. “Humility” is a sweet little goody-two-shoes word, a concept of something we are supposed to want but secretly avoid like the plague. Modesty and meekness in importance and rank are not among the highly valued virtues in our culture. “Humiliation” takes its root from the humility family, but has come take on a very different meaning. Humiliation, an embarrassing moment that “puts us in our place” is  another experience we try to avoid.

Humans, like amoebas, like to avoid unpleasantness whenever possible. It’s in our nature to avoid work, pain, and awkward situations. We zig zag around these obstacles on a subconscious level, without even realizing what effect it has on our character.

If you look into the definition of “humiliation,” you’ll find its related to the word “mortify”-ie, to kill off or die. I think of humiliation as a purifying process that burns away the phony masks we wear, our delusions of grandeur, and leaves us only with the solid reality of what we are and the possibilities of what we can be. Humiliation shouldn’t steam roll you and discourage you from riding. In fact, it should be the exact opposite. An experience of humiliation will knock you breathless on your bum. You’ll realize that you are no where near where you thought you were, but you’ll feel very grounded to the skills and abilities that you already have under your belt. You will be able to proceed without comparing yourself with other riders, because you know without a shadow of a doubt what you lack and where you must push yourself.


Humility isn’t a virtue we tend to strive for nowadays. We all want the glory, the ribbons, and the recognition. Even the non-competitive folks secretly hope that their riding and training will get some kind of positive feedback. We organize imaginary shows and events in our heads, in which we and the horse perform in perfect, mind-blowing harmony.

Reality is a little less glamorous. I cringe when I think of my high school days when I used to “start” horses for various horse owners in the community to raise money to show my lesson horse. Maybe it was beginners luck, or that the horses I worked with were certifiable saints and made my job easy out of pity. I was just a cocky little whippersnapper. I just hopped on and went through the motions: lunging, backing, walking, trotting, cantering. Somehow it all came together in the end. Both the horses and I emerged miraculously in one piece after the ordeal and my customers were adequately satisfied with the end product. Looking back, I see myself as being so ignorant. I lacked the knowledge and forethought to do a really thorough, diligent job when I started those horses. I realize now that sadly, my early equestrian years were insanely easy. I never felt humiliated because the horses I was riding were push button ponies (or simply too lazy to stage a rebellion), and the people I rode for didn’t push me to excellence. It wasn’t until college, and getting Shiloh, that I realized that something in my past had been terribly wrong. Before I started trying to dressage-ify Shiloh, I had never truly felt inept or embarrassed in regards to riding. I really thought I was good. Au contraire, mon ami!!!

As I continued to ride and hone my skills, I went deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. The more you know…the more you realize that you know nothing. The body of equine knowledge is so expansive, I know my learning process will never end as long as I live.

If I had to pick one word to describe the theme of the great equestrian journey, it would be humility.

Horses aren’t like people. They don’t know how to lie. They don’t have any agendas. They reciprocate respect only when it is first given to them. They have such an uncanny ability to read into humans and point out where we lack. They are such paradoxical creatures. You can feel so honored that your horse gives you the time of day, but at the same time, ashamed that your horse’s “problems” aren’t his at all, but your own that you reflect back on him when you get lazy.

Over the past three years that I’ve owned Shiloh, I’ve learned so much about this relationship. Where previously I was doing simple changes and half passes on the nice schooling horses, I’m finding that the stupidest, most basic skills are suddenly hard again when I try them with Shiloh. A plain old halt lingers for fifteen feet as I pull back and he braces. A canter transition puts me off balance both physically and mentally as I struggle to keep up.

At every turn I feel myself wanting to take the easy way out and blame the horse, but I’ve come to realize more and more that Shiloh and I are incredibly similar, I’ve had countless moments of frightening self discovery throughout our relationship. We’re both extremely strong willed, stony and hard on surface with a quiet stream of doubt and anxiety flowing beneath. Both of us want to do everything right and get frustrated when we don’t understand what is expected. Sometimes, Shiloh and I succumb to bucking and cursing spells, but I think deep down we both search for peace.

Obviously I’m the one that wants to climb aboard and get things done, so the initial responsibility lies with me.

yoda boy

My trainer keeps telling me over and over:

Easy horses don’t make good riders

I used to think this was just a cute little saying that those average riders with crazeball horses would say to make themselves feel better (that’s me, by the way). Now, I think that saying couldn’t be more true. Yes, the nice ponies that won’t bite your head off are great for learning the basics until you’re ready to hold your own.

But once you get the the basics down and you have that heart-pounding dry mouth thirst to truly learn how to RIDE, you better pray that you get to ride a horse that humiliates the snot out of you.

Happy riding! May you be ever humiliated and strengthened in all your horsey endeavors.



  1. aHorseForElinor · April 24, 2016

    VERY good post to read tonight!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Horse Sage · April 24, 2016

    Wow. Fantastic post. Deeply thought, well expressed. I laughed at the Yoda quote: completely spot on. Thank you for writing this!


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