Hands-on learning

Baxter Black

There are some things you can only learn by hand. Imagine reading a book with instructions on how to milk a cow:
1) Secure the beast
2) Grasp the teat
3) Squeeze and pull

The same instructions (with slight alterations) could apply to picking an orange, lancing a boil, cracking a safe or trying to open one of those titanium formed plastic wraps that a new tool or toy comes in.

The cow-milking instructions skip the part about a scoop of grain, loose head catch, cow kicks, letdown, flies, switches with cockleburs and flying manure.

I think of the knowledge required when I send my son to the next ridge to check for cows on the other side. Although I’ve spent hours on end explaining things to him, words alone can’t give him a feel for his horse, a sense of where to cross an arroyo, an ability to spot a cow amidst its mesquite camouflage, a caution of “snaky” places and the increasing confidence that takes him further from me every day.

He continues to increase his cowboy savvy with every ride, every gather and every branding. Every morning when he feeds the horses, the dogs and the birds, he adds sediment to his sea of knowledge.

Knowledge accrued by hand.

There are subjects that can be taught in a classroom like history, pharmacology, social studies or political science, that a student might grasp without lifting a finger, so to speak. But as soon as you drift into chemistry, computer science or agronomy you are forced to participate more than cerebrally to learn the subject. Thus chemistry lab, soil judging and mouse training.

Is it possible to be a piano teacher and not be able to play the piano? Theoretically, maybe. But most useful skills require a hands-on approach. Children progress from learning how to shovel with a spoon, to whistling, to making that obnoxious sound by placing their hand under their armpit and pumping.

So, while there may be millions of books written on how to improve your golf game, train your horse or flatten your abs, unless you put that knowledge into practice you will never truly learn how. And practice you must; here, let me get my hand inside my shirt and show you.

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: