Saturday, March 22, 2008


I subscribe to a magazine called the Eclectic Horseman, and I just received the latest issue. There’s an article called “Matter-of-Factness” written by Tom Moates that started a dialogue in my brain ever since I read it yesterday morning.

Moates attended some clinics with horse guru Harry Whitney in Arizona. At one point, Whitney asked him to help bring in a couple of horses from the pasture. They drove out in a ATV that Whitney calls his “mule”. Without thinking about it, Whitney hopped back in the quad holding the lead line and prepared to drive back to the barn. Moates worried about some “what if’s” like the horse spooking or slamming into the vehicle. He kept his mouth shut, however, and got back on the”mule” holding his horse on the lead line. The two horses trotted along calmly as they drove off.

It led Moates to decide this matter of fact approach, which he believes is based on unconscious confidence, is something he is going to emulate. He thinks that all those “what if’s” that go through his mind, like what if the horse goes berserk, are the opposite of this matter of factness. He suggests that a “what-if-ness” approach is just looking for trouble and indeed, even asking for it.

Now, I understand that a horse can sense a person’s uncertainty, and this can set off a series of very unnerving responses. I’ve had it happen many times myself. So, I know that there’s a core of confidence and calmness that you must carry inside you in order to communicate successfully with a horse. What I also see is that people who blithely assume the “matter-of-factness” without having the awareness that includes “what-if-ness” can get into serious trouble.

I admit that I’m a “what-if” kind of girl. A friend once told me that I’m allergic to not knowing. I tend to worry, but it’s a trait that has made me a successful TV and film producer for many years. When someone asks me what the producer does, I reply, “I’m the one who worries the most.” I can’t help wondering if at some point before that day with Tom Moates, Harry Whitney didn’t let the horses sniff the “mule” or even stand still tied next to it a few times before he started driving along with them trotting beside the moving vehicle. Each horse is going to react in its own individual way to every situation, so to just assume that things will be fine seems a little naïve. There’s a famous saying in my business: “Assumption is the mother of ----up”,

Just this morning, I experienced a positive re-enforcement of my “what-if-ness”. I gave the horses some hay and opened up the barn so they could go out in the corrals. Then, I noticed that I should do a quick muck in Siete’s stall. There’s a back door leading out to the yard, so I went in through it and cleaned up, leaving the muck bucket outside the door. As I stepped out to empty my forkful of nuggets, I thought. “What if one of the horses raced in, and the back door was open?” As a precaution, I stopped and hooked the door closed before I dumped my fork in the bucket. Instantly, Silk charged into the stall, running right up to me at the back door. She probably heard me and thought there might be some more food to be had. If my back had been turned and the door was wide open, I’d be chasing a loose horse instead of sitting here drinking my coffee and writing my blog. So, to my mind, a little “what-if-ness” can go a long way to avoiding a big drama.


Leanne said...

lol, I'm a what-if kinda girl too and it drives my husband crazy. I am a newbie to owning horses and I have a lot of what-ifs. When ever we are going to try something new with the horses I start. We just put up a new riding ring and the horses have never been it,, well what-if... what-if.....what-if. I'm glad I'm not alone

Victoria Cummings said...

I think it's important not to let "what-ifs" paralyze or scare you. Usually, awareness and some patience will get me through any tough spots with my horses. And trust your gut reactions. If you're feeling nervous or weird about doing something, the horses will know it.

Rising Rainbow said...

I think there is a difference between being prepared and what-if-ness Moates was talking about. It's one thing to think ahead like you did about closing the door and another to worry when you take a hold of a horse that they are going to be naughty.

Even when I do something new with a horse, I expect that they will do it for me. Sometimes they don't and I deal with it. But I think more times they do it even though they are unsure because my confidence tells them it's ok.

I'm sure when you take on a movie you expect it's going to go well. You do what you can to see that it turns out that way trying to cover all the bases. But even if you did that preparation and felt unsure of yourself or the project, I think it might affect those working for you and could affect the project as well.

My guess is that doesn't happen because your confidence shows through. The same thing with the horses can make a big difference in how they behave.

billie said...

I think there's room for both ways of thinking. I tend to be a what-if person, but in certain situations, I am a definite matter-of-fact'er. What's hard for me is bringing the two ways of thinking into areas where I typically use opposite one!

I suspect some what-if-ness is precognition, too.

Victoria Cummings said...

MiKael - Very wise and well said. I think you're absolutely right. Thanks!

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - I know what you mean. And even with the best horses, there's always a chance that they'll surprise you - especially if you lose focus.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I agree with you what if's are necessary when dealing with horses, I say it is better to think what could happen instead of waiting for it to happen. On the other hand a matter of fact calm attitude is also needed so I guess as long as there is a balance and you know your own horses fairly well, these two trains of thought should get you through most situations that arise with the horses behavior.

Viv said...

I just wrote my own blog and then came here later and mine was also about 'what ifs'! :) It was about what ifs scaring you into paralysis, really. Funny that we should have the same ideas at the same time. :)

Anyway, here's to healthy forethought but none of the fear-thought!!


M. C. Valada said...

Yeah, I'm definitely a "what if" and it does drive my husband crazy.

I've done three clinics where I've ridden with Harry and I've watched several others he did out here (I've never been able to get to Arizona, unfortunately.) While not the point of the story (and I sure wouldn't do it myself), I'm sure Harry had worked with those horses long enough to know they could handle the experience. I've watched him load several of his horses into a trailer by pointing, and each one walked into his space and stood quietly while Harry secured each one. He's the most amazing clinician I've ever met.