Warwick Schiller introduced himself to me at an event in Paso Robles, California, seven years ago. He came across as smart, friendly, humble, and deeply invested in learning. Those combined qualities are not something you see in every horseman, so I took notice.
Since then, Schiller has stayed true to that first impression: ever the student and masterful teacher, always willing to think outside the box and take chances with new ideas. His fan base has increased immensely in the process. He has millions of YouTube viewers and a healthy video subscription base.
This year is itself another fresh idea for Schiller. The Australian-turned-Californian is taking a “node year.” It’s a Japanese concept, he explained. Bamboo plants shoot up quickly, but pause at nodes, thick, strong, reinforcing points in the long skinny stems. 2018 is a sabbatical from his usually intense, international schedule of teaching to the public.
Warwick’s been working on Warwick. Like fine horseman before him, he’s learning that a lot of horsemanship isn’t really about horses at all. “It’s about what emanates from you. It’s about sorting yourself out,” said Schiller.
Like most of the Best Horse Practices Summit presenters at last year’s inaugural event, Schiller took time to sit in on other presentations and visit with fellow horsemen.
“I remember listening to Bryan and Randy,” said Schiller of the inspiring evening talk on the Dorrance legacy by Bryan Neubert and Randy Rieman. “And I talked with Martin Black, too. I got to thinking: this horsemanship stuff is really about mindfulness. Randy and Bryan are really spiritual dudes.”
Schiller and his wife, Robyn, recently took a five-week road trip. They traveled with three horses and their living quarters horse trailer, enjoying trail rides and working to qualify for the FEI World Equestrian Games in reining. (Robyn is an accomplished reiner with scores of national accolades to her credit.).
This year, he’s headed to Canada to visit with Jonathan Field, hopes to take in Harry Whitney, Anna Blake, Patrick King, and Elsa Sinclair. He wants to take jumping lessons and ride dressage.
Schiller is coming to believe more and more that it’s all about process, not outcome. He posted this video on “Training like a 10-year old girl” which celebrates the quiet, goalless moments that enrich the horse-human experience.
He describes research and reflection on the Dorrance brothers and thinks they were Buddha-like. “I think it comes from being with animals all the time,” he said. He’s facing some personal stuff, too, and taking cues from folks like Brene Brown who he paraphrases here: “Shame is the scourge of society. Vulnerability is the antidote to shame.”
How does this play out in his horse work?
He goes more slowly and deliberately and ends up making better progress. When he once taught horses to be obedient, now he’s seeking connection.
“My horses and I both got stuck in this low level loop of not letting down. Not really worried, but not relaxed either,” said Schiller. “Now, between every ask, I’m making sure that I wait for them to come down. That waiting builds connection. They can more readily toggle between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. It ain’t sexy, but it’s almost like I’ve found the secret of life.”