Monday, February 25, 2013

RIghting Wrongs

Both of my horses are incredibly bored right now, and Silk is especially cranky. We have lots of ice, more than a few inches of snow, water and mud in the corral and pasture, and there’s not really any more that I can do to make it easier to get around in there. Fortunately, both horses have the good sense not to run and try anything dangerous. Still, as they stand there, I feel like they expect me to “fix” it – make the ice and mud go away, make the grass grow.  I know that I’m just imposing my own frustrations on them when they actually are much more accepting of the mess than I am. Nonetheless, we’re not happy campers in the here and now.

Luckily for me, I can distract myself from the February blahs by reading a good book. I just got Linda Kohanov’s “The Power of the Herd”, and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s like sitting down with a very smart friend and opening up my mind to new historical information and insights into both horses and leadership. Who knew that George Washington was such a cool guy? And learning about the concept of “cathedral thinking” puts a whole new perspective on how one might regard one’s accomplishments. Kohanov really gave me an important series of “A-ha!” moments when I read “The Tao of Equus” many years ago, and I admire all of the ways that she has helped humans and horses get along better in the world. While I am only half-way through her new book, I did read something that set me thinking about how people misperceive horses’ “bad” behavior, and it made me aware that I am so much more in tune with Silk and Siete than I was when I first began caring for them.

Kohanov says: “Inexperienced equestrians often mistake a stress response for an attack, needlessly escalating the situation. Violently punishing a frightened or frustrated horse raises his blood pressure, accentuating the flight-or-fight response, causing him to act out more dramatically. Immature trainers also tend to hold grudges, treating the horse as innately stupid or arrogant. This hopelessly critical attitude, reinforced by defensive, mistrustful posturing, virtually guarantees that the rider will continue to misinterpret the horse’s behavior and overreact to perceived threats, resulting in greater confusion, fear, anger, and resentment- increasing the possibility of panic and injury in both “partners”.

Looking back on early experiences with both my horses, I recall several key instances when trainers responded to Silk and Siete’s behavior in this way.  I knew that they were mistaken, and I felt enormous frustration that I couldn’t find a teacher who would show me a better way to interact with my horses.  I quickly came to realize that I had to figure it out for myself since what I believed was so different from what most trainers were insisting was the ”right way” to do things. Linda Kohanov was like a beacon in the fog for me, letting me know that I wasn’t crazy or “wrong” in the way that I was relating to my girls.

I’ve also been thinking about how many of those harsh, grudge-holding trainers eventually came around to realizing that there were other less painful and more successful ways to handle horses.  As Henry Shukman, a writer and Bhuddhist philosopher, points out, “ Being wrong can, and often does, bring us closer to being right.”

Before I start to pat myself on the back for seeking out kinder, gentler ways to be part of my herd, I also need to stop and take a look at my own reaction after I have any of those “A-ha!” moments. Shukman also says, “We tend to cherish the new insight rather than notice the more important giving up of the old viewpoint. Perhaps this is the very mechanism by which we all but inevitably end up turning the new view into the next old one, which must in turn also be relinquished. And so our path goes on.”

Silk and Siete don’t harbor any resentments for the inconvenience that Mother Nature is causing them. Yesterday, in the moment of standing on ice, after eating all the hay that I gave her, Silk let me know that she was not happy about the situation. I get it that as Silk was pinning her ears the day before as a way of telling me “this sucks”, it wasn’t because she was blaming me.   This morning, she didn’t look out the stall door and get depressed that here was another day where the corral and the pasture were still in a dismal mess. She had let it go. Here I am, wishing that the weather report was different, getting frustrated that I can’t do anything to make life better faster, when maybe I should just trying being more like a horse.


Lori Skoog said...

Victoria! You are such a good Mom to those two horses. I love the way you study them and the people who write about training and relationships with these beautiful creatures.

Our snow is almost gone. There is a very serious hay shortage in this area. How about where you are?

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Lori - They give me more than I give them. We aren't having a hay shortage yet, but I am hearing that by mid-April, we may be finding it hard to get any second cutting. I need to stash some away soon.

C-ingspots said...

In many ways of I think that we would better relate to our horses by living in the moment. We would be ahead in our relationships by correcting wrongs swiftly, then letting them go; and by rewarding good behavior, even if measured in tiny increments, and recognizing that small try. Building on anything positive creates a loving and trustful bond, as does not being overly critical of mistakes. We all learn by our mistakes, human or animal. I too, believe we have much to learn from our equine friends; but we have to leave our egos behind when we come to the playing field. We aren't always right, far from it. But to have a horse's respect, we have to assume the position of "leader" and be deserving and worthy of that position in their eyes. Good horsemanship is a journey that takes a lifetime. And it's worth every single minute of our time. Sure hope you dry out and get some warmer weather soon...spring is almost here! :)

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Sounds like a book I'd like to read - thanks for the recommendation.

Also - re animalintex - I used it in every poultice for Val. It seemed to give him comfort. I think I got that tip form GHM too!

Striving to become better (more compassionate) horsemen invariably makes us better humans. :D

billie said...

We have another day of rain happening right now, which means my herd will be hanging out in the barn. They usually spend some time standing in their various areas just gazing out at the rain. When I see them doing that there is nothing else to do but stand and gaze with them. They pull me into being present without a single word.

Hope your snow and ice and mud clear soon so the girls can get out and really move around!

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Like the Shukman quote. The grass is already beginning to grow here, near the ocean, not far from Vancouver.

Máire said...

I have been there and I know so many others who are there. What is it about horses that we think they are out to get us? When in reality they astonish with their readiness to cooperate.

I hope your weather clears soon. We have a misty rain over here.