• Sue Steiner

Control; Who Has it, Who Wants it and How Do I Get More?


I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with control.  I like to have it but hate to lose it.  I don’t like being controlled but find it hard to see that characteristic in myself.  It’s not that I never get controlling, but I might be more inclined to describe it differently in myself.  Attention to detail, meticulous, high standards are some nicer characteristics to ‘controlling’ people.  The downside can be narrow mindedness,  inflexible and as an extreme abusive or ruthless.    

I had to remind myself though that some aspects of control are good for us.  Maybe like in many things in life the answer is in balance.  I heard on NPR just this evening about a study that shows a correlation between a child at the age of 4 that shows more self control in resisting the urge to eat a forbidden cookie to later in life success.  The kids who show more self control also had higher SAT scores and more success at college.  As they look further into the same people’s lives they found the kids who lasted longer resisting the temptation of the cookie had better jobs and enjoyed better health.   The kids who could not resist the urge and showed poor self control were not surprisingly more likely to have a criminal record, poor job and school performance and even more likely to be homeless.

Without some control I must admit we would have chaos.  We would spin out of control!  Control in a more positive light brings about order, refinement and movement in the right direction.   Two of my favorite things would be non-existent without control.  Fine motor control is needed in creating art.  Riding horses without gross motor control of the rider and control of the horse would be difficult if not downright dangerous.   Since I like to do both of those things then I must accept and maybe even welcome some aspects of control. Horses and art have taught me the value of refined control.  A common complaint by people learning to paint with watercolor is that it is hard to control. Watercolor painting tends to have a bit of a mind of its own, not unlike horses.  To ‘tame’ it you have to loosen up your idea of control and allow the watercolor space to do its thing.  When it does it is awesome and beautiful.

When I paint with watercolors I work more with the water then I do with the paint.  I make different shaped puddles of water on the paper and dip my brush with the paint into the water and let it do its thing as they interact.  The paint colors mix in the water and creates beauty and interest as it dries.  The secret I have found is to work or control the water and let the paint do its thing.  Trying to paint with watercolors without taking into consideration how the paint reacts to the water will lead you to frustration and probably a bit of a mess.  Watercolor loses its unique qualities if this isn’t taken into account.

Horses are also known for having a mind of their own.  As a living, breathing creature they have their own personality, natural tendencies and opinions and are shy about letting you know.  Beware the person who doesn’t listen to what the horse is telling you.

Clearly established boundaries provide guidance and safety for the horse as they find those boundaries by movement or feel.   Tighten, restrict and overly control a frightened horse’s movement with a heavy hand and you are on your way to a big mess.  Its not hard to imagine that situation spiraling out of control.  Allowing the horse to interact in a way he can process information as they seek safety, boundaries and guidance from his handler will refine the horse’s movements and response.  That is the basis of horsemanship.  Good horsemanship creates happy horses and beautiful movement.   The right movement of water and paint on the paper creates a beautiful image.

Horses blossom when allowed freedom to be who they are within boundaries.  An understanding of horse nature with the right amount of control and finesse sets the stage for the right things to happen in the riding ring.  Just like the different colors interact on the paper to make something delightful so too are horses under the right circumstances in skilled hands.  The control needed to work with what some perceive as ‘uncontrollable’ is not control as much as it is knowing the components, setting the stage, creating an atmosphere of respect and allowing the interaction to create its own beauty.