Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Habit of Not

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.


40whatever said...


I have been lurking here for a few weeks and I just want to tell you that you are now an integral part of the horsey websites i visit daily. I can hardly wait to check your blog, it is just wonderful. This is certainly teachings of the horse and i am so glad i found you!

Our stories parrallel: i too bought the horse i currently have, Miss Holly, during a mid life crisis at about age 38. I showed horses as a youth but gave it up to go to college. But I kept dreaming of a horse...

I too have 1 daughter, she is 17. I bred my mare, 6 years ago, and have a wonderful little 5 yo stinker named Junior now. Sound familiar?

Now, if i can just find the perfect farmette/horse property then my horses would be in my back yard too!

Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights and your true love of the equine with us!

Farm Girl said...

Very good observations. I was aware that my horses have certain little habits that are just theirs, but I never could have put it into words like you did. Thanks for that post. So timely.

Molly said...

That's a lovely picture of your two lovely girls.
You made me pause and think of my Nots. Lovely post.

Victoria Cummings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victoria Cummings said...

40- We do sound like we're on the same path. I love the mother/daughter thing. It's the best connection any woman can have.
Farm Girl - I'm so glad that you don't think I'm crazy. I wrote this post and almost pulled it off because I thought no one would get it.
Molly - Your girls are lovely too! Thanks for coming to visit.

Audrey said...

I've enjoyed readying your blog. I found it listed in the blogger blog roll for Jan 08. You've got some very nice photos here.

Ewa said...

NOT habits... hmm... sometimes list can be long... sometimes they are not understood and noticed.
it is important to stop and see it - then one can do something about it.
'seeing' is most difficult.

Bones said...

A beautiful post. Thanks.