Friday, March 07, 2008

"You can't let them win these little battles."

I was in a situation this week where I was asked to help out with a horse that wasn't doing what it was being asked to do. The request was reasonable and being made in a calm way. The interesting thing to me was that the instant the horse didn't comply, the time factor kicked in, and the stakes were raised. The situation escalated. My only contribution to the situation was to suggest that the request be made in a different way. One the horse might accept more easily.

It worked. I felt good seeing what I considered a success. The horseowner's response was this:

"You can't let them win these little battles."

This jolted when I heard it, even though I suspect I've said the same thing myself in the past. But hearing it this week I realized I no longer see my encounters with my horses as a series of battles I must make sure to win. Rather, I see my encounters with my horses as opportunities to have a conversation, to make a connection, and to find places where both I and the horse can be calm and happy.

It's interesting to encounter other people and their horses. It teaches us a lot about ourselves.


Single at 50 said...

I have been reading several blogs by horse owners. I find them fascinating, as I love horses and was around them for a while. But, what I really find interesting, especially about what you have to say today, is that one could apply the same techniques toward other people. I encounter people every day who seem to think they have to "win these little battles". I love this sentence; Rather, I see my encounters with my horses as opportunities to have a conversation, to make a connection, and to find places where both I and the horse can be calm and happy.

I feel like people should treat each other that way too.

billie said...

I'm so glad you wrote this! I feel the same way. Sometimes I equate it to the way we've chosen to raise our children, which is vastly different than the way I was raised and contrary to what many people think children need to grow into respectable, tolerable, and tolerant people.

The whole idea of engaging in power struggles and having to win the battles is becoming alien to me. I still do it sometimes, don't get me wrong. But more and more it feels like a waste of energy and a block to joy.

Thank you for reminding me!

Grey Horse Matters said...

You are right about your theory of winning little battles. I don't see them as win or lose battle situations. I see any kind of correct sensitive training as a positive situation where there are no losers or winners, just the two of us interacting and figuring things out together.

billie said...

Arlene, I like your use of the word sensitive, which I interpret as being sensitive to the horse (or child or other person).

The suggestion I made this week had to do with exactly that - asking for the same behavior in a new way that was sensitive to what I felt the horse was saying with its behavior.

Victoria Cummings said...

That horse was very lucky you were there. I don't want to think what would have happened if you hadn't been. It would be interesting to make a list of these kind of statements, often made by trainers and self-proclaimed experts. I know I've heard this one before. What I also know is that the horse won't forget, so if you chose to make it a "battle", in the end, you will destroy this horse's trust in people.

billie said...

I know, Victoria - the thing that puzzles me about this way of thinking is its short-sightedness. What building blocks are you laying for the next times?

The other thing is this: I know that if 1200+ lb. Keil Bay decides to engage in battle, he will win. No question. So why would I ever choose that method of interaction with him? One I could never "win" if he chooses to truly engage?

It's amazing to me that these huge prey animals are willing to partner with us and put up with the very thing their instinct tells them is wrong - having a predator sitting on their backs, asking them to forego their own impulses and listen to ours. I have no desire to battle - just to participate in the magic.

Rising Rainbow said...

I can't get it through my brain how this woman can figure the horse "won" anything if you accomplished what you were requesting. The fact that you did it in a way that was good for the horse doesn't mean you allowed the horse to do something naughty that might later bite you.

Because I deal with stallions I know it's really important to be paying attention to body language and herd dynamics by the horse but that doesn't meant that convincing the horse that I am in charge has to be harmful to the horse. I want my horses to like me as well as respect me and it really is possible to have both even from stallions.

billie said...

I so agree about wanting the horses to both like AND respect us. Our trainer often says you don't have to be the alpha horse - you just have to be one rank higher than the horse you're working with.

Janet Roper said...

It's so sad that most people think the only way to have power is to have 'power over' instead of 'power with'. What a different place the world would be if more people realized that 'power over' actually weakens and separates all involved, while 'power with' strengthens and creates a nurturing environment that benefits all - 2 legged and 4 legged alike.


billie said...

Janet, thanks for your comment - I went to your website and am fascinated with your work as an animal communicator and musician!

I love the thought of "power with" - there was a horse-rider workshop I wanted to take two years ago called "The Power of Two." That really sums up the partnership we can have with our horses, for me.

I'm so glad you stopped by and commented!