Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sometimes the Answer is 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.