Friday, November 25, 2011

A Reason to Focus

This was originally a much more detailed post, but I realized that the details of what happened don’t matter. Rather, it’s my response to the situation that’s important.

Horses leave the Ranch with a willing attitude (we won't put them up for adoption until they demonstrate it) and the experience of clear, respectful communication. That’s what we teach them. The “down side” of that is that the horse learns that it is possible for such communication to take place. When they reach their new homes, they all too often encounter something quite different.

Our adoptive owners, while they unquestionably love their new horses, are usually not experienced in how to communicate respectfully with them. We teach them as much as we can before they take their horse home, but often that’s not enough to overcome their inexperience and the “old-school” methods that prevail at so many barns. Owners accept advice from the experienced owners and riders around them, most of whom are not skilled in relational horsemanship techniques.

“Old-school” isn’t wrong; I’m not saying that. It’s just different, and makes a different set of assumptions about the horse/human relationship: horse as useful animal versus horse as friend and partner.

The result, sometimes, is that the horse, having learned to expect a certain level of communication, takes offense when that’s not what it experiences. It’s not the fault of the owner, who has no idea what’s suddenly “gone wrong” with his beloved new friend. Generally, the horse gets blamed for its “bad attitude,” and no one understands that what’s really happened is a failure of proper, respectful communication between horse and owner.

My recent experience with “Toodles” was a perfect example. Our new apprentice, just learning (it was her first day!), wasn’t respectful in the way she asked Toodles to flex, and the horse took offense. The result: a fight, and a situation that likely would have continued, or gotten worse, if someone hadn’t been there to correct it.

We had a similar situation crop up last week with a recent adopter. My first reaction was to get discouraged and depressed. That’s clearly not helpful. After a lot of soul-searching, I realize that, in fact, the situation is a good reminder of why Jay and I work so hard at what we do at the Ranch. It reminds me to stay focused and continue our work of educating owners and riders, one at a time.

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