We are all creatures of habit. It’s always interesting to me to notice that certain human reactions are actually connected to our animal instinct and will always be something that we share with our animals. Jealousy is an obvious example. I think the reassurance and security that we find in our habits is another.
My horses have the same habits in their lives, day after day. I am in the habit of feeding and opening up their stalls exactly the same way each morning. Siete is in the habit of checking out her hay and then, immediately stepping outside to see her mother and determine if her hay tastes better. The dictionary defines habit as: “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. In our barn, when we can flow along in these habitual motions, there is a sense of calm and harmony in our lives. Everything seems “normal”.
Once in a while, I vary the routine, which interrupts the habit. I have always made Siete wait in her stall until I lead Silk into the pasture first. It teaches the younger horse to be patient. Occasionally, my husband and I lead them out at the same time. Siete will sometimes get very excited and squeal and prance so that everyone has to wait and calm down before the horses are given their freedom. For the last couple of days, I’ve broken the habits, and Siete is allowed to come out before Silk.
I wanted to have a few minutes alone with her to work on some training issues like stopping quietly and backing up softly. She’s been very cooperative and good with me. I turn her loose and go back to lead out her mother. As soon as I approach the gate with Silk, Siete pins her ears and prepares to defend her hay. Since I usually separate the hay into three different piles in the pasture, she can’t figure out which pile to protect. She charges back and forth while Silk and I wait patiently for Siete to choose her favorite hay. Then, I lead Silk in and unclip her lead. As soon as I leave the pasture and close the gate, Siete charges at her mother. Silk doesn’t tolerate such nonsense. She takes a nip at her daughter or bumps her aside. Sometimes, Silk herds Siete away and chases her in circles for a few minutes to show her who is in charge of this pasture.
I was mucking the stalls, watching Mama teach her daughter a lesson when it occurred to me that there’s also the “habit of not”. Silk was teaching Siete the habit of not being aggressive. I considered all the “habits of not” that I have. There’s the habit of not listening and the habit of not giving someone my full attention. I can rarely be accused of the habit of not seeing, but I live with several people who might be guilty of that one.
What it all comes down to is the habit of respect. If one is respectful of others, all those “habits of not” disappear. So, I’m going to try to make that the number one habit for both me and my horses and see if it makes life better not just around the barn, but inside the house too.