“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Anonymous
Rarely does one enter a restaurant, peruse the menu, and then recite to the server a list of items that are not only undesired, but are NOT even on the menu. It would be ludicrous, a waste of time and make no sense to the server. Yet we do this all the time when working with and training horses.
I recently discussed this with a client who shared another human example. The command “don’t run on the pool deck” is commonly heard by children at aquatic centres. But think about it: “don’t run”… what is really being said? Can they skip, skate, jump, or dance? Or do we just want them to walk? By focusing on what we don’t want children to do we are leaving a big gap in communicating what we want them to do. The same with horses.
Why do we do this? Why do we often put extra effort in transmitting what we don’t want our horses to do? Why not be clear from the onset?
I believe it’s the Reader’s Digest version of managing behavior. In other words, a short cut. For example, if I don’t want my horse to run me over when I lead him to his paddock I may make quick corrections like shanking and hitting. It may work in the moment but my horse may never know what I really want. He may even be confused as to why I am hitting him. Worse, he may end up rebelling at anything I ask because he is afraid of getting hit.
Managing behaviour in this way can be effective in the short term but it is a band aid solution which never works in the long run. It doesn’t work for society, doesn’t work in raising kids and certainly doesn’t work with horses. In fact, it usually makes matters worse. The only positive to this method is that it is quick and there is a sense of accomplishment, however misleading, we’ve done something to stop the behaviour. The problem is that the behaviour seldom stops for long and may evolve into something even less welcome.
Teaching horses what we want them to do takes TIME, CONSISTENCY and PATIENCE. There are few shortcuts. The rewards, however, are great. Once the horse knows what is expected and is praised for it, the poor behaviour stops and the relationship of trust between horse and rider deepens.
For example: A clients states that she doesn’t want her horse to crowd her and pin his ears when she is feeding him. Okay, I say, what would you rather him do? Be respectful, she says and give me some space. Awesome, I say, let’s teach him that.
Training horses is a humbling experience. It requires us to check our ego at the gate, dig deep within and be accountable to not only our horse but to ourselves. In being responsible for providing a nurturing environment for our horses and supporting them in becoming confident, happy and well adjusted beings, we support ourselves in the same goal.
This is heart centered leadership.