Saturday, May 30, 2009

"A Man Convinced Against His Will . . .

is of the same opinion, still." That is a quote out of Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People book. No, I haven't read it, and yes, I probably should. It's a paraphrase from a guy named Laurence J. Peter. The point is, there is no winning side to an argument.

Seeming segue, down the street on the way to Arron's shop is a church marquee. Right now what's been on there for quite some time is "truth is not taught, it is lived."

Both of these concepts spring from the same vein, and I have been giving them a lot of thought lately. Yes, toward, you, my fellow human beings traversing the planet with me, but of course, WAY more as it effects my horses.

I made a comment in another post about the wonder of Jack, my rescue horse, acknowledging me of his own free will and volition and the change that made in him. A few people were puzzled, didn't he already know me? What was the big deal about him recognizing me, that way? I meant to get across the wonder of him reaching for me, and letting me know that I am part of his world. It wasn't that he suddenly discovered me, it was that he brought me in, instead of me reaching for him, and putting myself in HIS space.

I know Colleen Hamer taught this idea at her clinic, awhile back, and I teach it at mine, too. The necessity of getting a horse to acknowledge those things in his surroundings that bother him, whether it's an obstacle, water crossing, a saddle, or whatever. A frightened or unwilling horse can be made to do just about anything he thinks he absolutely has to . . . The horse says, "I Am NOT Okay With THIS! I Do NOT Want To DO This!!" Sometimes there is bucking, sometimes rearing, most of the time, the horse, under lash and spur or just continual urging, will eventually go forward, tear through it, and the rider thinks they've got the job done, because "we made it, finally, didn't we?" Nevermind that the horse is completely refusing to look at the scary thing, blows through, eyes shut, nose pinched tight.

That horse might cross the obstacle more willingly next time or not, but the resistance will show up, again, somewhere. Guaranteed.

The same goes for trying to reach the mind of the horse as well. I used to go out, keep my halter and lead close to my side, get up to my horse and get that rope around his neck as quick as possible before he could scoot away, and I'd have to spend more day chasing him down. I didn't realize how rude that was, and how it set up our relationship from the very get go. I have a dvd of a benefit Ray Hunt put on, there are all kinds of well known names riding in this, first in the colt starting clinic and then in a horsemanship demonstration. At one point they are trying to catch these unhandled young horses, and Ray remonstrates with a guy. "Wait for the horse," he tells him, "let him come to you." The guy leaves his hand available to the horse (all the while looking very doubtfully at Ray), and sure enough, the colt finally turns, LOOKS at the guy, noses the hand, and the fellow is able to catch and go on with him. It sets an entirely different stage for their process than another guy who ropes his, gets it caught and you later see that colt bucking it's head off, a little further into the process. Do they both get their colts rode? Probably. Which one would you rather buy, end of the day?

Wait for the horse. Fix it up and wait. It's taken me a long time to get a handle on this, more truthfully, it's taken a long time for me to have the patience to give it a try, and the willingness to believe it's worth the wait. I'd rather DO something to the horse to get the result . . . but a horse convinced against his will . . .

As far as the catching part goes, there are exercises to teach your horse to hook up with you. How well it goes is your report card for how well you communicated with your horse that being with you is better than not. For those of you who read my blog, you know that my Percheron/Arabian cross, Moonshine, has handed me steady D's in this department. At long last, in the SMALL pen, she watches me, ears up, the moment I come out of my door (and not always at feeding time), she will walk to the gate to meet me, and if I am going somewhere else, she walks along her side of the fence with me. This is nifty, but frankly, I have little hope it will stay with her, once out in bigger spaces, just yet. She has been through a series of trainers, over the years, that all attempted to put their ideas on top of hers, and she's having no part of it. I am making gains with this lovely mare. Once upon a time, as soon as she heard the door open, her ears swept back and she headed for the furtherest corner, back turned. 'Shine rides nice, and has a lot more faith in my leadership once I am on top than she does when it's time to leave the pasture and the herdmates. I will continue to move forward with her, and continue to wait for her and that's how we'll get there. It will occur to her that the things I do have meaning, and that I am a good, consistent and worthy leader, and she will look to me to take care of her when the wolves approach.

It's so not about the catching, the buddy sour, the barn sour, the trailer loading or any of the other symptoms that we run into that tell us the mind of the horse is not with us. A guy named Marty Marten has written a couple of really nice books, they are through Western Horseman, and are Problem Solving 1 and Problem Solving 2. In the first one, Marty gives all kinds of neat solutions to reach the feet of the horse, first from the ground and then the saddle. In Volume 2, he names a bunch of symptoms (in response to reader mail, I am sure . . . "this is good but my horse won't ____, what do I do about THAT?") Marty states, do exercise ______ as listed in Volume 1. If that doesn't work, try this, and then he'll give another nice alternative to go to . . .

Most of the horses (all of them?) on my place are here because they ran into trouble, somewhere else, to some degree or another. I get to see, first hand, what happens when a human tries to force a horse. I get to experience, first hand, how much longer it takes to fix them than it does to build them correctly from the ground up, in the first place, and unfortunately, how quickly the fix can be undone when the horse is placed back in circumstances that remind it of where it came from, in the first place. I have spent a lot of years rehabbing and selling saddle horses. It is a joy to me that on a lot of the rides I go to, events I attend, my alumni are there, and doing well so it is not all doom and gloom on my side of the river.

The ones that do not do well, break my heart. It's one of the reasons I have slowed WAY down on the outside training and trading business. I do absolutely understand that not everyone shares the passion for understanding the horse the same way I do. I really get that some people just want to get on and enjoy the ride. Horsemanship, like any sport, requires a certain amount of education, practice and discipline to get any kind of enjoyment, decent results and at a bare minimum, safety. I think there probably is an okay middle place between the person who saddles up their horse once a year for the big trail ride/social event, and those of us who spend most of our waking moments, thinking, breathing and dreaming about horses and why they do what they do. Darned hard for us humans to put down our ways of coloring everything we look at with our ideas about how they do or should respond to us, what they think of us, and who is going to WIN.

Working horses yesterday, I wanted to fight. My fabulous and wonderful Australian Shepard, Zan, was hit on the road a couple of days ago. One minute he was by the round pen, with me, the next he had run down, unbeknownst to me, to bark at the neighbor's truck as she made her way home. He was barely out of our drive (too much, off the property) but she was deep in her thoughts and did not see him until she hit him. He died upon impact. I wasn't going to share this but I am a writer and processing through my keyboard is what I do. The rage, the pain, the incredible sorrow at losing this dear friend of mine is lacerating my heart. When one of my mares, who is a saucy wench anyway, wanted to bow up and argue with me, I started to resort to the old "you will see it my way as I am kicking your fat butt all over this land" way of thinking that used to be so much a part of me. It lies under the surface, and when I am wrong in my spirit, comes leaping to the fore. As I felt Ginger's surprise at my harsh hands, giving her little opportunity to respond before twisting her some other way, I made myself let her soften. When I picked up my rein again, asking for her hip to move through indirect pressure and she did not do as I wish, I did not growl, or kick, I did not yank. I stayed methodical and even, until I got the response I desired. Thank God it was Ginger, who is not easily offended and is quick to forgive. Had I lost my temper with Moonshine, I imagine it would be a very long time before I got met at the gate again.

Ginger, being the great mare that she is, gave to me everything I asked for. I didn't cry into her mane, again, did the other day, as she wrapped her neck around me in what I think of as a hug, but I patted and stroked her neck and thanked her for being who she is and helping me remember who I am.

Rest in peace, mr. zan puppy. i will miss you forever. i am so sorry i did not keep you safe.


Joni said...

Awww man Terri! I am so sorry to hear about Zan. He was such a cute puppy.

Good Hands said...

Thanks Joni. It was awful and fast and stupid. Arron and I spent the day building the fence across the front of our place we should have put up three years ago when we moved here. Zan was one of the bet people I have ever known. I still won't believe he is gone.