What can Arlo Guthrie teach us about horsemanship?

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Friday’s Opinion

Driving through Massachusetts yesterday morning on my way to Thanksgiving with family in Connecticut, I started flipping through radio stations (any of you who have driven the Mass Pike from points west know how quickly signals fade on the dial through the Berkshires and beyond).

I tuned in half way through a song I hadn’t heard in a long time. Alice’s Restaurant grabbed my attention and put a smile on my face. I was amazed as this station faded to find another with Arlo Guthrie’s voice ringing through again, but it sounded at bit different and some of the words didn’t seem quite right. Apparently, the first recording of this song was made live in 1967 in town in Massachusetts (according to what I heard as I continued to try to find audible station).. I suppose it makes sense since Stockbridge is a feature, but it just never occurred to me before.

From what I could gather, he returned in 1997 and made some live updates to add to the mix. It was hysterical. Find it if you can, but in case you can’t, here’s the short version: he rambled after the draft scene about how music can change a nation (admitting, of course, that he wouldn’t have believed it either); went on to retell of his invitation to the Carter inauguration, a tap on the shoulder from Billy about his album being in Nixon’s library and his associated query as to whether it had been opened; an explanation to the whet behind the ears crowd as to who Nixon was along with his penchant for taping things – and the fact that it wasn’t the taping that caused Nixon’s trouble, but the erasing (eighteen minutes and twenty seconds worth, according to Arlo). Of course, he’s much more clever in his presentation than I could ever be, but somewhere in the mix he indicates the song in the first album release of Alice’s Restaurant was about eighteen minutes and twenty seconds and goes on to explain how he thinks music could have changed the course of history. I was laughing out loud listening to this update and hope it’s something that is still out there (if any of have a pointer to where this version can be found/identified/bought, please leave a comment in response to the blog post to help readers share your glee).

So, how does this relate to horsemanship? Alice’s Restaurant is a classic and an inventive creation that seemed impossible to improve upon. Sequels to great ideas usually pale in comparison to the original as trying to improve on what was done right the first time often dilutes the message of the premiere version and undermines the impact. Today, we’re seeing a lot of interpretations of horsemanship, bastardizing of classical precepts, individuals using old-school monikers to foster their approach or product of the moment and a lot of confusion in the marketplace (particularly among novices, but a good number of professionals to boot) about what constitutes true horsemanship.

What if what we could take what’s great about the old and get creative in improving on horsemanship principles to make a richer version with incorporated contemporary knowledge? So much of the horse world seems to be about defending turf, standing ground, attacking so-called wrong thinking/actions/positions/practices, introducing outlandish and marketing-centered material/products in an attempt to create a movement (maybe Arlo unwittingly contributed to this one J), posturing and politics. Consider how much richer your equine experience could be if you were open to new ideas that built on the teachings of the classic masters.

Jim Rohn asserts “No one voice has all the answers.” He’s right, and has backed up this philosophy with his achievements, while passing on this wisdom to a good number of mentees (including Tony Robinson). He also recommends people “Be a student, not a follower.” Rohn advises all interested in excelling in their respective endeavours to “learn, try, evaluate, refine and pass it on.” Of course, Rohn also underscores the importance of achieving “measurable progress in reasonable time.” These are great ideas to implement in the quest for greater horsemanship understanding.

In the US, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week. How much could your horsemanship knowledge improve (and the associated knowledge and appreciation that comes from this introspection) if you spent some time reflecting on classical teachings, considering some new principles with an open mind for tiny gems of applicable wisdom, trying it out, seeing if it works for you, amending the approach and passing on your experience and associated results to others?

Rohn’s conviction that discipline, attitude and personal philosophy are critical for achievement, ring true in the horse world too. Guthrie’s a lot more light-hearted in how he demonstrates his craft, but his artful approach to enhancing the old with creative, inventive and observant reactions to contemporary information demonstrates how much fun being a little outlandish in making connections can be.

Any passion we pursue as a career requires a bit of art in the mix to make our efforts pay off. This applies to the hobbyist too. We all draw creative fodder from those who have trod the path before us.

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant . . .” and so, too, should be able do the same with equine objectives, provided you’re willing to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and take it all in with a grain of salt. Just because you don’t agree with most of what someone says, are dedicated to an old-style approach as right, have tons of experience, feel you’ve found a guru that knows it all, have been frustrated with approaches that don’t work, are celebrated in your niche, feel passionate about an approach, or are simply totally confused by all the information that’s out there, doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from all the equine enthusiasts and professionals you encounter. Try it all and see what sticks.

Do yourself a favor, though, and learn to think with your own mind to choose what works for you vs. being led blindly by others. Let your creative juices flow and you may find you discover something that’s better than what has been presented as gospel in the past. Real horsemen never stop learning. How much fun could you have tomorrow incorporating ideas from other industries into your equine solution idea mix and finding laughter and associated conclusions that lead others to stop, listen and think when you share what you’ve discovered?

“He looked at the twenty-seven 8 X 10 glossy photos with circles and arrows . . . and back at the seeing eye dog . . . blind justice . . .”

Nanette Levin

Nanette Levin


Nanette Levin is a writer, author and equestrian specializing in young horse training and horses with issues. Look for Horse Sense & Cents titles on Amazon, Audible and other major online retailers.

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