No Need to Spot the Genius

We're delighted to welcome William Micklem as EN's newest columnist. Click here to access all of his columns for EN, and click here for much more on his website.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless at WEG. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Fernhill Fearless in his Micklem bridle at WEG 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The race for the Oscars is gathering pace. The leading runners are on the promotional round that leads to short-term glory and long-term inclusion in the history books. Out of all the nominations, I recommend The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the brilliant computer scientist and mathematician.

Turing’s success at decoding German messages in World War one probably shortened the war by one to three years and saved seven to 21 million lives, based on the seven million lives lost each year of this brutal carnage.

So what has this got to do with horses? The first and most important point is how lucky we are to live in relative peace in the horse world. Sometimes equestrian tunnel vision, made worst by competition emotions or positions of power, make us blind to wider priorities and to our ability to simply treasure health, friendship and the sheer pleasure of working with sport horses — things denied to so many of our parents and grandparents. We should all give thanks for our many blessings and be a little kinder to each other in the horse world.

Of course, people were not kind to Alan Turing, a homosexual when homosexuality was illegal. He chose chemical castration rather than imprisonment for this crime, and when just 41 took his own life. Alan Turing’s first love was a friend at school who said this to him: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

He carried this thought with him through his life as an oddball who was not afraid to break new ground, be different and dare to dream beyond the norm. It gave him both a sense of self-worth and purpose.

In Ireland we have a blind and paralysed motivational speaker called Mark Pollock. He echoes the second part of this quote when saying that we should “challenge conventional wisdom,” and that we should not “respect the gap between reality and fantasy.” He believes that “we all have the innate ability to invent and solve problems.”

This attitude of mind needs to be an integral part of a developing horse world, but it is the first part of Turing’s philosophy that is the most important … ‘the people who no one imagines anything of.’ How many people do we dismiss or undervalue for all sorts of different reasons? Because they look odd, speak strangely, went to a bad school, write badly, are emotional, or possibly are hot headed, or worst still are different!

A good idea has to give way to a better idea, and the better idea doesn’t always come from an Olympic rider. (It is not the same with spotting potential and worth in horses?)

I have been fortunate enough to break new ground successfully with my Micklem bridle, my idea of Constants and Variables when riding, and with my GO! Rules to improve performance. But I am not a genius — just someone who tries to keep looking at things from a new viewpoint.

There are others who can do the same and then test their ideas to see if they are good. However, they need continuous encouragement and support to do this. Therefore, I welcome this week’s new competition for event riders at Wellington, just as I welcome new ideas to ensure more humane training methods in dressage.

However, the area I would most like to see new thinking is in the promotion and marketing of eventing. It is the core discipline. It takes its place at the centre of all horse sports because of the all around nature of the training required and the type of horse it produces, which is what I would describe as the ultimate leisure riding horse.

It is probably good for the whole horse population of the world because of the very high standards it produces for both stable management and training, and, for many, it gives a sense of excitement, achievement and satisfaction like no other. And for good measure our top riders are under-promoted gold. It does not take a genius to realise that in the world of eventing, we undersell ourselves!