Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sometimes the Answer is NO

One of the important lessons I learned from my camp experience is that it's okay to say no.

But wait, you say.  Doesn't this contradict everything we've been told?  The horse is always right.  Don't make him feel wrong.

Well, yes and no.

Allow me to digress . . . years and years ago I read about a study done with children and fenced yards.  The researchers found that children who played in fenced yards were more self-confident, less fearful and more exuberant than children who played in yards without defined boundaries.  Hmm, how interesting.

My interpretation of this . . . The fence provided a clear, consistent and unemotional NO.  On the other hand, the children in the open space might freely roam into the neighbor's yard one day but be scolded the next.  A frantic parent might grab the child inches from tumbling into the street but later pull them back 10 ft from the curb.  Inside the fence, you won't find children sobbing because the fence is there nor will you find them constantly running into the fence, expecting it to move.  No, what you will find is joyful, exuberant PLAY.  You'll find kids running from one end to the other, whooping and hollering.  In the open space, you might find the children are hesitant to run, unsure of where the real boundary lay. And should the parents encourage these children to play, you might see hesitation and refusal.

So how does that relate to horsemanship? I'm sure you've already figured out where I'm going with this . . .

Every time my horse asks a question, it involves the boundaries of our relationship.  It's a little more complicated than a simple fenced yard but the basic, underlying principle is the same.

One of the exercises we did at camp was to ask our horses to circle.  No big deal except that it was at liberty in the big arena with 11 other horses around.  Every horse left - even Carol's.  Every horse came back with the "Can I come to you?" look and every one of us said, "No."

You heard me.  We all said, "No."

Because the game was circles.  And the horses knew it.  When Cricket left and came back, her question to me was, "Can I come to you?"  And my answer was, "Thank you for asking but could you please find your circle."  I don't remember how many times she left but each time she headed towards me, I thanked her and reminded her we were playing circle game.  When she found her circle, I said, "YES!" and brought her in.

It's difficult to say, "No."  But establishing boundaries and creating an expectation of responsibilities is more liberating than saying "Yes" all the time.  In my last couple of ground sessions, I've raised the bar and Cricket has offered more exuberance than I've seen in ages.

Of course the key is how you say, "No."  It cannot be authoritarian or dictatorial or emotional.  It must be prefaced with, "thank you for asking but could you please . . ."  You must have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish and reward the moment - the absolute INSTANT - your horse hooks on to the idea even if you don't achieve the final product.

It's okay to say, "No" because often there's a much better YES! on the other side.


Anna Mae Gold said...

Absolutely fabulous post. YES! I mean, NO!

No is a complete sentence. It often is saying YES to yourself, YES to honoring your boundaries, honoring your needs and requests. It is a YES to your initial intention when others offer you to be happy with less.

I've been working on my own NO in various situations lately. Life is generous that way... It keeps offering situations to practice until we get it right.

Interesting how the theme comes back to me once again, by reading your post. Thank you!

Tina said...

I love this, Lisa. So true. We have a fence in our backyard, and I totally understand what you mean about that. I'm really struggling in my yes vs. no relationship with Dixie lately. *sigh* I shouldn't say struggling, I should say, I'm currently being fascinated by the challenges it brings. Have you read Cryshtal Avera's blog on Parelli Central? Very good, very relevant to this post. You rock, girl! Keep it up!

Lisa said...

Tina - this has been hugely challenging to me as I try to discover the key to unlocking L4 with Cricket. As a LBI, she's a master at getting me to do more while she does less and less. Not the picture of what is needed for L4. At camp, Carol really helped us understand how to *play* and how to invoke "the game." Part of that has been saying NO to what we've had before. In just the week I've been playing with "camp concepts", I've gotten Cricket further in our on-line and finesse than I have in months (or years, in the case of finesse). And oddly enough Cricket seems more excited about interacting with me than she has in ages. Interesting to say the least!

Anna Mae Gold said...

Interesting indeed... I noticed it in my yo-yo, that when my sent became better, the draw became better. My horse Rumi is an extreme RBE (I have his horsenality chart done) and extremely skeptical. I used to be very careful not to scare him or drive him away but to my surprise it worked the opposite. The better the sent, the better the draw...

How interesting!

Lisa said...

Anna Mae - what is it Pat says, "if your horse is afraid of turkeys, get him used to eagles." I had a lesson with my good friend and 2* Jr Instructor and we played with my RBI TB mare. My instructor talked about "bringing up the butterflies" and teaching my mare that when things go south, all she needs to do is look to me. Too often, with our RB horses, we tip toe around and end up babysitting their emotions instead of helping them learn to cope with emotionally stressful situations.

I wrote a post specifically about this towards the end of April/beginning of May. The basic premise is this: does the alpha mare care how the herd feels? Not really. Of course we ask far more from our horses than an alpha mare but sometimes I think we place too much stock in how the horse "feels" about what we are asking.

Don't get me wrong - I fully understand that Cricket is a sentient, emotional animal and that is as much a part of her as anything else. But something I read in a Mark Rashid book said, and I paraphrase, "horses cannot separate how they feel from how they act." So if I can affect how my horse acts, I can affect how he feels. Which to me is much more natural to a horse than trying to affect how he feels and hope it changes the way he acts. Even when I'm playing with the psychology, it's still not about feelings.

Really, it's all about love, language and leadership in balanced (I wouldn't say "equal" since some horses need more of one than the others in order to reach equilibrium) doses.

Anna Mae Gold said...

YES! Lisa, I just absolutely love the way you think. Just profound. I'll be licking and chewing on this for a while... I'm glad I found your blog. Good stuff. Keep it coming. I'm not just your "follower". I'm your fan! ;-)