"A behavior that's caught when it's in the form of a thought takes much less energy to redirect in the first place." Mark Rashid, Whole Heart, Whole Horse.
This quote boils it all down for me--the reason why some seasoned horse people make horsemanship look so easy and effortless, basically, why some of the greats out there can accomplish so much with what looks like so little effort.
There's a question that I've had in my mind for a while now--and it was brought up again by Laura Crum at Equestrian Ink: Do you believe it's difficult to be a good horseperson using non-coercive methods if you haven't had first-hand experience with more traditional methods (alpha-human-leader theory)?
I answered the question yes, but I was curious what other people thought, so I brought it up at our Cowgirl Coffee yesterday. The group of friends gathered there were all women who have grown up with horses and have horses now. Some took small breaks from horses, some didn't. When I asked the question, we were finishing up so there were only about six ladies left. All but one answered it, yes.
First, they wanted to know what type of person we were talking about and what type of horse. I answered, A complete newbie to horses, and the horse such a newbie might buy--cheap or free and ill-trained--maybe even with issues or trauma.
They all said they thought since they wouldn't really understand the differences between horses and dogs/cats (pets), or the language of the horse, they'd probably need the more coercive methods to establish boundaries and safety. Or, at least, to start with that perspective, rather than misunderstand the other, and put themselves in harm's way.
The one friend who answered no qualified that it could only be done well if this person (newbie) with green horse--immersed him/herself in daily lessons with that horse or clinics--just reading a book wouldn't do it. But, if this person had a mentor/trainer who was there with them day in, day out, it could be done.
I agree with both answers. I think the biggest issue facing a newbie (besides the first horse they might buy--pretty, spirited, fancy, or free) is not being able to read horses--as Rashid said, to catch the behavior when it's only a thought, and then redirect it.
Much of this work starts at the very beginning--leading, since leading is the heart of boundaries.
In my opinion, horses love boundaries. They love to enforce them and respect them. Also, they are quite capable of understanding that different circumstances may change those boundaries.
Rashid asks the woman in his clinic what her boundaries are, but she hasn't ever really defined them. Not only that, but she has mistaken pushiness for affection and her horse is shoving her around. Rashid says:
"A horse that pushes on us to see if he can move us isn't showing affection. He isn't necessarily trying to establish dominance over us either, although I believe it can ultimately turn into that if we aren't careful."
Anyone who has been around horses knows, horses love to push and chase. It's their natural inclination. (And the reason why we ladies at coffee yesterday all agreed you could teach a horse to cut cows with non-coercive methods by using their natural tendencies). But a person who hasn't been around horses could easily mistake it for, pet me, I love you.
I want to say, I do love to love on my horses, but I don't ever think they need that loveyness. They get all that from the herd. There is a working partnership between them and me, and a comraderie of sorts--even an enjoyment of one another, but their main needs for affection are met with each other. That's why I never feel guilty when I let them be in the winter. I know they're happiest when they're out there eating together and doing what's natural.
I've said before, my friend who trains for a living once told me she preferred to train horses that had never been touched by people. She said the training always went much faster. Unfortunately, many bad habits had been taught when the horses were young and what they were doing seemed "cute" since it was relatively harmless. However, when the horse was full grown, what seemed cute before became dangerous and even deadly. Rashid pointed out that sometimes we teach things we don't want to teach, simply by not understanding what our horses are saying or doing. Rashid says, "Most of the time this all boils down to awareness." And, by awareness, I think it means understanding what a horse is all about.
A statement in this second chapter that I found very surprising was this:
"Before I started doing clinics for the public, I never gave any thought to boundaries between horses and humans, I guess because I don't recall it ever being an issue. Even when I worked for the old man back when I was a kid, we never had any problems with horses pushing on us or mindlessly walking into us when on a lead rope. Not during all those years working ranches, even when we had strings upwards of one hundred twenty or thirty head, do I recall ever having problems with it". (Mark Rashid, Whole Heart, Whole Horse)
What happened to change it? Is it because there are less working horses and more "pets"? My friends at coffee yesterday also brought up the question we've all talked about before and one that I'm sure I've blogged about--would you rather have a horse with a cute personality (peoply--in your pocket type) or a horse that knows it's a horse and does its job for you--goes up every hill, through every stream, across every river? None of us really answered that--so I guess we want both.
Today's shaping up to be a beautiful day, so I'll be out on the trails--and, hopefully, I'll have some pictures to bring back.
As always, opinions are encouraged on this blog. I think of this as more coffee talk among friends. I throw out an idea and, hopefully, you throw out yours. There's something to be learned from every visitor who stops by.
Happy Trails! Hey, I misspelled that for a second and it was Happy Trials! Funny. Well, I hope both your trails and trials today, ultimately, bring you much happiness.