The quest for mastery
Few people achieve true mastery of horses, but the process of working toward it can not only improve your horsemanship but also enhance your appreciation for what’s important in life.
Few people achieve true mastery of horses, but the process of working toward it can not only improve your horsemanship but also enhance your appreciation for what’s important in life.
The largest problem that confronts every beginner in horsemanship is figuring out what “mastery” means. The beginner may think that her biggest problem is how to stop double-bouncing at the posting trot, or maybe how to pick up the correct lead or get her horse to go close to the rail---but her experienced teacher knows better. The beginner is the person most in need of expertise kindly and judiciously applied, but she is unfortunately also the person least able to recognize real expertise even when it is standing right in front of her.
What is a master horseman? A technical expert, certainly. But mastery involves something more. Webster’s gives “command” as a synonym, and I think this is a good place to start. What does it mean to have command over horses? Or over students?
It seems in retrospect that my own path has been one long quest after mastery. I am a teacher of horsemanship, equestrian history, equine anatomy and biomechanics---and in addition to that, I sometimes work at the intricate and multifaceted task of teaching people how to handle, ride and train horses. If mastery requires expertise, how does one gain expertise? Not by mere years in the industry, I think, nor by going through a formal program, although those may help. Whether one earns an “equestrian” college degree or a rating or certification by one or another of the national or international equestrian federations is, I have found, much less important than time spent learning directly from an older horseman or horsewoman who thoroughly knows the business. To achieve mastery, one must have met it face to face.
The problem is where to find it. From my 20s onward I continually sought out the best instruction that I could afford. Results were mixed: Some self-advertised “masters” turned out to be no better than aggressive, meanspirited, greedy (and expensive) frauds. Some were narcissists---people with no humility and a large need to control--for whom talent in a student constituted a threat. Some meant well but were in various ways incompetent. Some were timid conformists reluctant to question the ethics and values of the horse-show world. I believe that, in many of them, a secret fear that their skills and accomplishments were really nothing to brag about drove them to regard themselves
as Defenders of the Status Quo. They would brook no discussion and certainly no criticism of a discipline they “belonged to” as if it were a religion. Ninety percent of them applied, with remarkable dullness, the same program and techniques to all riders and all horses.
By circumstances that I can only regard as providential, during this same period I encountered a series of teachers who really were masters and who taught me by sheer example what mastery is. Not all whom I encountered were horsemen, because mastery can, of course, show up in any walk of life. Robert S. Hoffmann, PhD, a worldrenowned mammalogist and zoogeographer, was the first one that I knew. My favorite professor in graduate school, he encouraged me toward a unique and diverse career involving all aspects of the species Equus caballus and its relatives, fossil and living. Another was Ellen B. Wells, who before her untimely death was head of the Dibner Library of rare books at the Smithsonian Institution. Ellen sparked my interest in the history of equestrianism and greatly helped me by immersing me in all the ancient literature. Still a third was Alexander Mackay-Smith, whose detailed research and unmatched grasp of the history of breeds forms the reference base for our recent series on the history of American horse breeds. The broad basis supplied to me by these teachers underpins and informs all my teaching, whether in writing or in riding.
The first riding instructor I ever had was also a master, and more’s the pity that I---as a beginner---was unable to recognize it at the time. A wizened Kansas stockman, Gale Mott was an old man when I knew him. As a teenager he’d been a stunt-rider with the 101 Wild West Show, and from the 1940s onward he ran riding academies in Topeka and Lawrence. Riding lessons at Mr. Mott’s ranch were safe, fun and productive even though very informal. Instead of being drilled in steering and longed to develop the seat, he had adult beginners playing a lot of “red rover, come on over” and “capture the flag.” We had a great time with lots of laughter and gained essential skills involving balance, feel and timing without even being aware of it. We cantered for the first time by doing a “slow” cavalry charge, led by Mr. Mott, uphill across the face of a sloping pasture. There were also long, relaxed, but closely supervised trail rides around the ranch. And as far as “command” goes, it is still a legend around Lawrence that when Mr. Mott said “whoa,” every horse in the county stopped.
It would be eight years before I met the next master: Franz Rochowansky, the legendary former bereiter from the Spanish Riding School. “Rock” was in his 80s when I knew him, but like Gale Mott’s, his career went back a long way: I have a film of him and two other bereiters performing a private demonstration for Eva Braun during the Nazi occupation of Austria in the 1940s. The film shows that the riders were coerced---but the horses, trained in the pre-War era, were utterly lovely. Mr. Rochowansky was an absolute master of technique, and he hated forceful aids or any form of coercion (including especially the pillars or any other form
We had a great time with lots of laughter and gained essential skills involving balance, feel and timing without even being aware of it.
of cross tie, tie-back, running rein or headsetting device). Known as the “master of piaffe,” he could relieve a huge warmblood of the panic it had learned to feel when the whips came out as it was pushed up against the wall with the demand for performance. Time and again, I saw Rock transform these horses into calm, willing performers with a few soft words and a touch. This reinforced for me another aspect of mastery which I think is missing from the dictionary definition: It has something to do with the heart. It involves conveying to the animal---and to the student--that they are safe and loved, valued for something greater than merely their ability to perform.
I met Rochowansky by his initiative. He had been invited to give a riding clinic at the stable where I was boarding my palomino Quarab mare, Sadie, but I’d been told I could not enroll in his clinic. Nonetheless I had to work my horse, and I won’t say it was entirely by accident that I “happened” to be longeing her at the exact time that Rock was teaching in the next arena. It was windy and hard to hear, and Rock’s English was none too good. But with only half my mind on my own horse, I strained my ears to catch any mote of his wisdom. Pretty soon it was lunchtime and I saw the spectators in the bleachers dispersing. I was startled when, a couple of minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I stopped my mare, reeled up the longe line, and turned to see an old man with a kindly face and big, bushy eyebrows. “Vaht is your mare?” said Rock. “She reminds me of ein Lipizzan!”
“Oh!” I said, taken aback. “Well, I guess she is kind of built that way, muscular and with a big cresty neck, yes?”
“Vhy are you not in ze clinic?” asked Rock with a mild frown.
I replied, “Oh, well, sir---it was full. I couldn’t get in. I would have liked to.”
“Vehl,” said Rock, “you are in it now. I vahnt you to come zit in for the rest of ze time." With a twinkle in his eye he added, “Because of your very gute ‘Lipizzan’ mare.”
This was the first of a series of sessions which I was privileged to have with Rock. I later found out that I was not the only person Rock personally picked out after seeing them demonstrate “something” in their relationship with their horse which he was apparently looking for. My friend German Baca, a Peruvian chalan who in the 1990s took a horse called Don Diego de la Vega to multiple U.S. National Championships, was another who received Rock’s special help.
Unfortunately, I was able to have only a few meetings with Mr. Rochowansky before he died. But those few were of crucial importance in preparing me to meet the next master horseman. The encounter was not long in coming.
During the late 1980s I was invited to teach a series of clinics in southern California. Sherry, the very accomplished rider in charge of that barn, was open to knowledge and had a number of horses with interesting physical problems. The most vexing was a warmblood gelding who could be a good performer one minute but, with almost no warning, would suddenly leap into a bucking fit so violent that he twice broke Sherry’s thighbone.
Understandably, she was looking for solutions. I was able to locate the problem---the animal had a 19th rib on one side. Turning in that direction gave him knifelike stabs of pain that would set off the bucking fits. Although I could demonstrate the cause, I felt bad, because I knew this was not enough: What good does it do to have a name for
a problem that you have no power to fix? I returned from that clinic feeling very frustrated and was relieved to get a call from Sherry a couple of months later. “Deb,” she said, “the problem is totally fixed! The horse doesn’t buck anymore.”
“Wow,” I replied, “that’s just wonderful! How did you fix it?”
“Well,” she said, “I didn’t fix it. I had help. Right after you left, some people told me about this little old man up in Merced County who could do magic with horses. They put me in contact with him, and he invited me to come up there with the horse and ride with him for a few days.”
“So what was this old guy’s name?” I asked. “Tom Dorrance,” she replied. Expecting to hear the name of some famous competitor, some well-known Olympic equestrian or at the very least a high-powered veterinarian, I had to admit I’d never heard of this guy and was somewhat skeptical. “And what did he actually do that fixed the horse?” I inquired. “I---I’m not actually sure,” she admitted.
Much later, I would learn that this was a very common reaction to Tom’s ministrations. Sherry’s report made me highly curious to say the least, so a few months later when I was again in California, I called Tom and asked if he would permit me to interview him for EQUUS magazine. He and his wife Margaret welcomed me warmly. In his 80s at the time, Tom’s weather-beaten face readily broke into a sympathetic smile, which brought up apple cheeks and sparkling blue eyes. That first day, we began a long-running, rather deep conversation about what it means to own, ride and train horses. I didn’t know it at the time, but our dialogue was destined to go on for another decade. It would probe me to my depths--an effect that masters have on students which is quite characteristic. That first day, though, it took only 10 minutes for me to realize that I would never write a feature article about Tom---to quote another writer who knew him: It would be impossible, because to report on Tom would be like trying to summarize God. And that’s another mastery characteristic: There is something very deep about it, an elusive power that flees any attempt to grasp it, to own it, to make a grim competition out of it, or to market it. Faced with mastery, one must either laugh or die.
Four more years went by before I actually rode a horse under Tom’s eye.
That first day, it took only 10 minutes for me to realize that I would never write a feature article about Tom Dorrance–to quote another writer who knew him: It would be impossible, because to report on Tom would be like trying to summarize God.
In the meantime, however, I met one more master who greatly helped me: Ray Hunt, who was Tom’s friend and chief protégé. Two men more different in temperament could hardly be imagined: Tom the creative visionary with the coolness, depth, subtlety and patience of an infinite ocean; Ray the spiritual warrior wielding controlled strength, blazing passion and fiery commitment. A broad-shouldered working cowboy, Ray’s teaching was often conveyed in witty, pithy Stengelese: “Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult” … “Always reward the smallest change and the slightest try” … “If it wasn’t effective, it wasn’t understood” … “It ain’t what happens; it’s what happens before what happens happens.”
At Ray’s clinics, everyone was equally welcome: horses of whatever sort and students of every economic and skill level. How refreshing it was to be free of the ugly politics, the false “levels” and the constant, grinding judgmentalism that I’d encountered in riding clinics on the East Coast---and just go ride in a pasture with a teacher whose ability I could totally trust. To ride in Ray’s horsemanship class was like working with a strict old housemaid who turns every bolster wrongside-out with a firm shake, and never thinks of quitting until every floor, carpet and stick of furniture in the house sparkles and every bit of brass is burnished to gold. More than any other horseman or horsewoman I’ve ever met, Ray understood the value of practicing essential skills to repletion. He made this into a class protocol that challenged all students to build it into a lifestyle.
Back in the 1980s, during the same period that I began riding with Ray Hunt, an experienced martial arts teacher by the name of George Leonard wrote the book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment. The question he addresses is one that I also heard Tom Dorrance pose: Why is it that so few people who take up a sport, a profession, an art or indeed any endeavor ever master it?
Leonard ran an aikido dojo, and over a long span of years he saw students come and go: Few persisted despite a great place to practice, reasonable fees, a welcoming atmosphere, clear instruction and the great expertise of the teacher. I have to tell the truth and say that this is exactly what I noticed over the years I rode with Ray Hunt, and it’s what I still see at many clinics, including my own: People come the first time, and then the next time I see them they have made no progress at all---in some cases, year after year for years on end!
This concerns me, and I know it concerned Ray: I watched him just about bust a gut giving special attention, doing extra demonstrations, searching for more than one way to explain something in the effort to try to help particular students. All good teachers try as hard as they can to help students succeed, but sometimes we---both teachers and students---can be our own worst enemies. Leonard’s book identifies several
different types of students, and that’s the ultimate reason for this article: to help you identify your “pattern,” and by that help you make changes that will put you on the path to mastery.
Ray Hunt said, “I hope you people are here today to succeed with your horses. I hope you’re not just trying to get by. Because if you do that, you cheat yourself, you cheat me and you cheat your horse.”
LEARNING TO LOVE THE PLATEAU
Leonard observes, “Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it. The curve is necessarily idealized. In the actual learning experience, progress is less regular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way.
But the general progression is almost always the same. To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently. But while doing so---and this is the inexorable fact of the journey---you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.”
Here then is another aspect of the true master: one who practices diligently while being free of ambition---in other words, not for the sake of a prize or a championship but primarily for the sake of the practice itself. This is one of the great secrets of mastery: Prize winning is not a goal but a side effect of practice. The penalty for trying to do it the other way around is steep, because the effort to gain new skills inevitably involves failing. I have noticed that many riders confuse practice with showing, so that they are trying to be “on show” at every moment, or at least at any moment when they think somebody is watching them.
It is not possible to “win” all the time, particularly in the beginning. But many riders cannot accept this idea. Thus, they either drop out or else they “stall out,” going for years making almost no progress.
Leonard categorizes the students who are most likely to miss their chance at mastery as Dabblers, Obsessives and Hackers. He also observed the Fantasizer, a type I think is especially common among horse owners. Truth be told, there’s a little of each of these patterns in all of us. Can you recognize yourself in any of the following?
“The Dabbler,” says Leonard, “approaches each new sport, career opportunity or relationship with enormous enthusiasm. He or she loves the rituals involved in getting started, the spiffy equipment, the lingo, the shine of newness”---and horsepeople might add, “the fun of shopping at the tack store.”
Leonard continues, “When he makes his first spurt of progress in a new sport … the Dabbler is overjoyed. He demonstrates his form to family, friends and people he meets in the street. He can’t wait for the next lesson. The falloff from his first peak comes as a shock. The plateau that follows is unacceptable if not incomprehensible. His enthusiasm quickly wanes. He starts missing lessons. His mind fills up with rationalizations. This really isn’t the right sport for him. It’s too competitive, too noncompetitive, aggressive, non-aggressive, boring, dangerous---whatever. He tells everyone that it just doesn’t fulfill his unique needs.”
So the Dabbler starts another sport in order to give himself the chance to replay the energizing scenario of starting up. Or, he’ll “go shopping”: We horsemanship instructors notice that it’s the Dabbler who is the first to change instructors or sample the latest “hot” clinician who comes down
the road. The Dabbler never finds a school that he is willing to call “home” because to do that would require that he focus on the “boring” process of honing essentials.
We’ve all met this one---the “type A personality.” It’s the Obsessive who wants to get his posting down pat in the very first lesson and be going over jumps within two weeks. More than other types, the Obsessive tends to treat his horse as a mere vehicle, and he wants---he demands---that the horse JUST DO IT. He doesn’t grasp---or pay much attention to---all the talk about breaking lessons down into little pieces and then giving the horse (or himself) whatever time it is going to take to master each chunk. He hears the instructor go on about subtleties---“feel, timing and balance”---but it goes in one ear and out the other.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s really driving the Obsessive. Often it’s a desire to win at horse shows, but it can be other things: I know one whose secret desire was to get on TV (he did). I know several others whose secret desire is fame and having a large following of fans who adore them as minor gods (some of them achieved this). All these individuals pretend to teach, but I have yet to see any of them teach even one essential correctly. Because the Obsessive is driven by ambition, competitiveness and self-interest, he cannot “rightly” hear the meaning of the teachings of master horsemen, and thus is blind to the true significance to the horse of any exercise. He has no real interest in the “heart” aspect of mastery; he applies techniques without insight; he works entirely on the surface. As a result, we have seen a number of these false, self-promoting “masters” lead thousands of students astray and damage hundreds of horses.
Leonard points out that the path to mastery makes the same demands of all. So the Obsessive, like everybody else, inevitably finds himself on the plateau; but when that occurs, “he simply won’t accept it. He redoubles his effort. He pushes himself mercilessly. He refuses to accept his instructor’s counsel of moderation. He’s tempted to take shortcuts for the sake of quick results…. It’s a jagged upand-down ride toward a sure fall.” Notice that, apart from the Obsessive’s willingness to force results, his pattern---initial progress, followed by plateau, followed by crash---is really no different from the Dabbler’s. More seriously, we should recognize that these patterns aren’t confined to the riding arena or the martial arts dojo, because “getting high, flattening out, crashing” is also the pattern of the drug addict and the alcoholic.
“After sort of getting the hang of a thing,” says Leonard, the Hacker “is willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely. He doesn’t mind skipping stages essential to the development of mastery if he can just go out and hack around with fellow hackers.”
To put this in horsemanship context, it’s easy to think of the Flatbottom Horse and Pony Show (these go on regularly in every town during the summer months, and there’s sure to be one by some similar name wherever you live). If you sit in the stands at one of these shows, you will be lucky if in an entire day you see one single horse who moves straight, round and soft; who has no difficulty picking up either lead; who can lengthen the stride at a trot instead of just speeding up; who can function in a crowd of horses without getting upset; who doesn’t spook when spectators applaud; who can be ridden with precision from marker to marker; who can safely help his rider open and close a gate; who can be moved onto or off of the rail with ease; who loads and unloads from the trailer with quiet confidence … and on, and on.
The lack of horsemanship seen at horse shows uncovers the fact that many “show” horse owners do not practice essentials at home.
Many students throw all the responsibility onto the instructor, whom they refer to as their “trainer.” Because they don’t consider themselves responsible, they don’t work at understanding what they are being taught in lessons or clinics, so when they get home they can’t build on it. By contrast, Ray Hunt described the profound and moving effects of his first encounters with Tom: “I went to bed thinkin’ about it---and I got up thinkin’ about it.” Hearing Ray say this taught me to look for a prime characteristic of the superior student: the ability to grasp the essence of a lesson (which might have occurred in the indoor arena) and creatively modify it to suit new circumstances (say, the student and his horse find themselves in the round pen, a field, the outdoor arena, or on a trail ride). The future master is one who doesn’t just execute techniques like a brainless robot, but who grasps the underlying principle and who is thus able to creatively modify the particulars as circumstances seem to dictate.
The Hacker, on the other hand, is specially distinguished by the dullness and sameness of his rides, which tend to remain on the rail: few changes of direction, few transitions, no figures, uneven rhythm, lackluster walk. Or, if they are so-called “dressage riders,” we are appalled to notice them completely fall asleep in their head, like a traveller tired after hours of driving. On numerous occasions I have observed such riders spend 20 or 30 minutes at a time riding on one 20-meter circle at a trot or in one direction along the arena track: no setting the horse up for corners, no changes of tempo or energy level, no concern for making straight, no understanding of free forward flow or of playing with “the life in the body.” As for “arena toys” and the crucially important “trick” training: In a burst of enthusiasm, the Hacker may actually build a platform or a grid of cavalletti, but after the first month they get overgrown with weeds. It is the Hacker who will spend (and who will WANT to spend) 50 percent or more of the lesson time sitting on the horse talking (or, a variant, arguing) with the instructor, rather than working.
I define fantasy, in the context of success on horseback, this way: “Desire magically fulfilled without practice.”
In his book, Leonard expresses the opinion that our culture is engaged in an all-out war on mastery. He suggests that you “try paying close attention to television commercials…. Men are shown working at their jobs for all of a second and a half, then it’s Miller time. [There is] an underlying pattern…. [Many] commercials … are based on a climactic moment…. The race is run and won; beautiful young people jump up and down in ecstasy as they reach for frosted cans of diet cola. Life at its best, these commercials teach, is an endless series of climactic moments”.
I think the most important observation Leonard makes is that, “In all of this, the specific content isn’t nearly as destructive to mastery as is the rhythm. One epiphany follows another. The present fantasy is crowded out by the next. Bottom line … there is no plateau.” His insight here echoes one of my favorite observations of the human condition, also in the book, “The essence of boredom is rooted in the demand for
endless novelty.” The demand for endless “highs” is not the pattern of the master, but of the addict!
Novice horse owners are especially prone to this fantasy. The point is that it is a fantasy: “Horse whispering” is not ESP or some kind of special talent; Silver doesn’t really come at call because the Lone Ranger has “hero power”---it just looked that way to you when you saw it on TV as a wide-eyed 5-year-old. Trigger came when Roy Rogers called, though---because of hours of practice off-screen. Melanie Smith Taylor’s jumper won at Aachen and Los Angeles because they had analyzed and mastered every jump before ever going to the contest. Melanie, of course, is a protégé of both the great George Morris and of Ray Hunt. Jim Hicks has earned Silver medal status from the U.S. Dressage Federation by schooling his horses in the essentials taught by Ray Hunt. Buck Brannaman’s horses are exemplars of precision, power and elegance---he can do things on horseback that almost nobody else in our time can do---because Buck learned from Ray to practice essentials to repletion and to make this the basis for lifetime horsemanship.
Your horse will come to you out of a field full of his buddies, or create for
you any type of performance you desire, once you learn how to cause him to desire to be with you more than he desires anything else. This can happen only when you awaken from fantasy. When that happens, you will stop pretending that he already knows how to do it, and thus you will stop demanding that he just do it.
THE FACE OF MASTERY
The Olympic Games, so easy to view nowadays on cable TV, bring Leonard’s next observation into sharp focus. He says, “Sports photography … has been captured by the ‘thrill of victory/ agony of defeat’ school. Again and again we’re shown climactic moments (prodigious exertion, faces contorted with pain or triumph)…. But it seems to me that mastery’s true face is relaxed and serene, sometimes faintly smiling. In fact, those we most admire in sports seem at times to enter another dimension. Besieged by opposing players, battered by the screams of the crowd, they make the difficult, even the supernatural, seem easy, and manage somehow to create harmony.”
Leonard is here describing “the zone” that sports psychologists talk about. In horsemanship, we say that the goal is to be able to ride “in a bubble of OK-ness.” This is developed by dedicated, creative practice of essentials AT HOME. Once the “bubble” starts to regularly appear---and only then---can you safely take your horse off your own grounds, whether that be for the purpose of novel experiences in trail-riding or to the horse show. In order for you and your horse to be safe, and particularly, in order for your horse to be safe around you, you have to be able to bring that “bubble of OK-ness” with you wherever you go.
In terms of horse competition, the fact that most people are Dabblers, Obsessives, Hackers or Fantasizers has led to terrible things. Saying that most competitors never achieve mastery is exactly the same as noticing that they are willing to settle for very little. This is what Ray Hunt meant by, “You’re cheating your horse and you’re cheating yourself.” One form this takes at horse shows and training barns is the use of all the quick-fix stuff---tiedowns, martingales, draw reins, weighted shoes, patent bits, longeing “developers,” etc. Another form it takes is crop-and-tip photo manipulation. This has for almost a century been characteristic of the saddle-seat world, but we now see it in dressage, too. The technique is to rotate the photo so that the horse appears to be going uphill, then crop the margins to the new, false vertical, and then frame the picture. Crop-and-tip sends the happy ribbon-winner home with a photo she can stare at---or run in a magazine ad---that makes her horse look lighter and more “on the haunches”
than he ever really was. “Settling for very little” also manifests in the obliviousness of most competitors to the crookedness of their horse, his lack of prompt and willing obedience to the aids, and the general sloppiness and imprecision of the ride.
People hear me speak critically of horse showing and then sometimes feel an urge to explain that they do intend to keep going to horse shows, but I am not to worry---because they don’t go with any “serious” desire to win. What these folks are trying to do is have their cake and eat it, too. Because the truth actually is that nobody who goes to the horse show and wins a ribbon is going to march right back to the show office and say, “Here, take this ribbon back because I don’t deserve it! To win it I put my horse in a situation he was only half-prepared for---one that stressed and probably frightened him some--and because of that, even though we won, we made only a fuzzy sketch of the actual maneuvers or transitions called for in the class.”
There is only one way that anybody can go to a horse show and be fair to both himself and his horse, and that is to go fully prepared, and fully intending, to win every class entered. This implies that:
(1) The student will thoroughly study the rulebook, which gives all the requirements for each class, months before going to the show.
(2) The student and his horse will have understood and practiced each and every particular requirement at home and mastered each one to a level in excess of that anticipated at the show, before entering the show.
(3) The student will also have taken care to expose his horse to all of the conditions found at the horse show grounds that do not usually occur at home. This would include bunting and balloons, popcorn thrown at the horse, crowds of strange horses in the same arena enclosure, hoses making fizzing noises, puddles of water in the arena, the judge’s box or the open horse trailer where the judge sits half in the dark, crackling noises as well as speech coming over a loudspeaker system, and bursts of applause. Some of this can be arranged as practice sessions at home, while some can and should be part of a “field trip” where the person takes his horse to the showgrounds at the time when there is a show on the grounds, but does not enter that particular show, using it merely as an opportunity to educate the horse.
If your horse could talk, and you asked him, “What time is it?” he would reply, “Why—it’s right now. That’s what time it is: It’s now.”