I've started a 100 Day Horse Challenge with a local horse group. The goal is to improve your horse skills through riding and/or training horses, at least 100 days out of the year. A day in the saddle always counts towards the challenge, but anything else has to demonstrate that you're working toward an objective, rather than just hanging out. One hundred days doesn't sound like much, but with the slow start I got this month being sick since New Years, I've only been able to log 2 days.
The timing couldn't have been more perfect to start this because I have been reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success , and so much of it can relate to teaching our horses.
The book looks at two different ways we think about learning, with a "growth mindset" or a "fixed mindset." The fixed mindset says, I was born this way. There is only so much a person can accomplish. Some people are more gifted than others.
Whereas, the growth mindset says, I can be anything I want to be. Talented, successful people are only different in that they continue to push themselves, learn, and grow. And, there is nothing I can't accomplish, I just have to put the work into it.
I've had the growth mindset for a long time, but most of us don't fall completely into one or the other. My own saying has long been, "The gift is the desire." In other words, if you have the love of doing something, the desire, it is the gift--the rest is practice and hard work. That belief inspired me to start piano lessons again at age 34 and take up the guitar this year. I don't think there's an expiration date on learning something new. I bristle when I hear someone say, "Oh, they're just gifted at this or that." It's not true. There's always a lot of hard work and dedication behind any talent.
The last couple of days, as I've been working with Beautiful Girl, it occurred to me, I have to approach training/teaching my horses with the same growth mindset. I can't hold the past against them, and I can't assign concrete attributes to them. For example, instead of saying, "Beautiful doesn't like to be tied." I need to say "Beautiful needs more practice at standing tied." Whether it takes a week or a year, it doesn't matter--the fact remains, she can learn to stand tied, but it will take practice.
I'll be writing more about this in the next few posts, especially as it relates to looking at myself and what I need to change when I'm not seeing the growth and progress in my horses' training.
I'll give another quick example, since I almost got kicked in the head yesterday, and it's fresh in my mind.
Beautiful Girl has been on stall rest for about two months and is ready to be reintroduced to the herd. Unfortunately, however, it's almost like I've brought in a new horse, and when I switched her to a stall near them yesterday, they were all snorting, running, kicking, striking and trying to bite her through the bars. During that amped-up time frame, I needed to move her to her permanent stall on the same side.
I grabbed the rope and halter and went in to get her, but she didn't stand for me. Instead, she ran into the stall. I went into the stall to get her, but she ran back out into the run. Then, I cornered her, and even though her ears were back and her eyes were glossed over (she was deep into her reactive mind), I approached to throw the rope over her neck. She left and, while leaving, threw me a kick that was about 5 inches from my face. My husband even got to witness it. He asked if I'd like to exit the stall pronto. But I thought about it and all the many things I had done wrong in a small space of time, and I knew I had to do it right and finish the job.
If A is getting the rope and halter and Z is getting her safely to the other stall, I had tried to go from A to Z leaving out all the other steps. So, I approached her again--she sent the same signals again. "Like, how dense are you? Didn't you get my message last time? Am I going to have to really kick you now?"
Aside: I truly believe that when a horse wants to kick you, it will. There are times they will kick out at a fly, or another horse, and get someone by accident, but when it's just you and them and they send out a kick, if they want to land it, they will. She didn't land it, therefore, I chalked it up to her being deeply afraid in the situation and unwilling to give up her control to me.
I proceeded with approach and withdraw to get her to pay attention to me and lock on and, that time, I respected her body language (not wanting to get kicked in the head), until I got a soft eye and some connection, then I haltered her and took her out for some work on the basics.
Today, I went out to work on tying and picking up her feet and, for a moment, I thought--what if she kicks me in the face? I was seriously in the fixed mindset for those moments.
But then I thought, No, she is not the same horse right now. She's not scared. In fact, it was never her that did anything wrong yesterday--it was ME. I had done everything wrong, while she was just being a normal horse. All horses run, buck, kick, bite, strike, and eat hay. It's up to us to know how to be around them and safely interact.
I picked up her feet and then spent a long time brushing and braiding her hair. It was a lovely morning. (And, I didn't get kicked in the face.)
Beautiful's mane is much lighter than when she was a young filly. It used to be jet black, but now it's this light gray.
I went out to see Leah and Cowboy this morning while they were eating, and both of them left the hay bale to come see me. That was normal for Cowboy, but big progress for Leah. She has tuned into me! What a difference. I feel like we have a relationship now.