Tuesday, January 18, 2011

very wise words for living and working with horses

Progress in very small increments. Make smart choices in the sequence of exercises. Never ambush your horse. Never skip a step. First establish trust. 
-Faverot de Kerbrech
I read this quote this morning on Thomas Ritter's Facebook page and immediately copied it to print and put in the tack room on my bulletin board. 
I absolutely love the line "Never ambush your horse."  I think much of what we do to horses in the name of training them and dominating them could easily be considered ambush - not so much the what we do but the HOW we go about doing it. 
Usually because we get in a hurry, expect too much, and then blame the horse for being rude or not responsive or stubborn. 
When I get impatient and demanding with my horses, I try to think about what it feels like to them. They know me. They trust me. And yet, it's still rude if I march up and suddenly demand that they do something without engaging with them first - letting them smell my hands, blowing softly into their nostrils (and then breathing in THEIR breath that they are giving back to me), allowing them to smell the halter or the brush or the bridle or the saddle pad or the whatever it is I've decided they need me to do to them in the name of "good horse care." 
What would I do if someone, even someone I love and trust, marched up and said "Get in this box. I'm taking you to a show. Sorry you have to leave your friends. We'll be back soon." I assure you it wouldn't be a very pretty sight.   
Long-time readers here will know that I have a needle phobia, and that one of the things that helped me overcome it to the degree I have was when Keil Bay needed Adequan injections. 
(note: he no longer needs them - I discovered that human grade glucosamine and chondroitin given together at tx doses for his weight works even better and costs MUCH less) 
What most readers won't know is how I got the needle phobia. When I was very young, I was afraid of the shots I needed to get, and at that time it was considered okay to simply hold the child down and administer the injection. They did that to me until I was old enough that I have a very clear memory of two nurses (it took TWO) holding me so the doctor could stick me with the needle.
By gosh, I got those vaccinations! But I also got a lifelong phobia that really needn't have been the result had they only stopped to think:
Progress in very small increments. Make smart choices in the sequence of exercises. Never ambush your horse. Never skip a step. First establish trust.
Funny how the words apply to all of us. And that NOT following them can have similar results whether we're dealing with a child OR a horse. 
How many times in a day of working with our horses do we simply demand that they submit to our will? It makes about as much sense to them when we demand and insist as it made to me when those two nurses held me down. And you can bet I never did cooperate. I fought harder the next time.
Some of us fight harder, others give up and comply - but in some ways that is worse. A little bit of our spirit dies when we have to submit to something we are not sure about. 
Find your own example of a time you were ambushed. And then think about that the next time you do it to your horse. You might be surprised - I always am - at how that impatient, demanding person you've become in the moment simply melts away. And even more surprising - your horse will feel the melt happening and what was difficult will likely become that much easier to accomplish.

18 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

When I first read the quote I also zeroed in on the ambush line. I agree with your thoughts completely and find it very thoughtful.

I like your analogy of the nurses and the needles. I can't think of any ambushes in my childhood except maybe for the dentist. I'm still uncomfortable going to get work done on my teeth, but I do it because I have to.

Kate said...

Great post! One of the things I've always liked about Mark Rashid is that he always asks "how does the horse feel about that?" Being able to think about things from the horse's point of view, and how you would want to be treated if you were the horse, really makes a difference to me.

harperitis said...

My horse used to behave beautifully for the farrier. Then I moved him to a friend's place and her mum would hold him for the farrier. The farrier was newly qualified (oftentimes only the apprentice got sent out) and didn't always handle the horses in the best manner. He wasn't mean to them, he just had a tendency to be abrupt. And that was fine until Simba went lame and the vet diagnosed him with an abscess. The vet dug out the abscess while Simba objected very strongly about the whole thing. That would have been fine too, but the abscess had to be re-bandaged daily. So my friend's mum had the farrier (who lived next door) help. Simba steadily got worse and worse about even picking his feet up, and eventually it got to the point where he wouldn't even let a farrier near him.

Now I just think that if I'd paid just a bit more attention to what Simba was telling me when he objected to having the abscess dug out the whole issue could have been avoided. But because we kept pushing the issue, Simba now has a fear of farriers and can only be shod when sedated.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Wow Billie...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. I realize I've been guilty of this recently, even though I told myself at the time my actions were "right".

Thanks for the reminder.

billie said...

Arlene, the interesting thing about me and needles is that when I started riding lessons and began to work with horses, my ability to withstand the stress of needles lessened - because every time I got a shot I imagined my horse getting one and how very brave he was while getting it!

And to this day if I have to endure any kind of needle stick, I try to think of the horses and how they stand and allow it.

It fascinates me that I use myself as a model when working with them and them as a model when working with myself. :)

billie said...

Kate, Mark is actually here this weekend (locally, not on November Hill) and I was not able to sign up to audit because of writing group weekend - which has now been canceled so what do you think? Would I get a lot from auditing?

billie said...

harperitis, what a perfect illustration of how pushing past a fear can end up creating a real issue.

I would bet that this could be worked on but you would have to have a very amenable farrier to go along with you to repair the damage to Simba's level of trust.

It's taken me awhile to get comfortable with saying no to the vet if I think what they want to do is not a good idea. And to make pro-active "this is how we are going to go about this" statements when I know what will work best with my horses.

The wonderful thing about horses is that they will often forgive and create a "new path" if we offer them the time and patience to do so - if you decide to try this with Simba please keep us updated. I'd love to have you do a guest post as to how things go.

billie said...

Well, obviously in my comment to Arlene above I mean my ability to endure the needles INCREASED. Fingers typing faster than my brain was correcting there!

C, we all need the reminder, every single day. Which is why I revisit this general issue over and over again - it's a way of reminding ME. :)

Máire said...

Very wise words. The needle analogy is good. For me it was the dentist. I think of that phrase used by Alice Miller: "For your own good" - how often are things justified that involve force for just that reason.

billie said...

Maire, there is so much in Alice Miller's work that could speak to horses as well as children.

ponymaid said...

Billie, I have made Herself commit this to memory. I understand your needle phobia completely. We had a veterinarian long ago who decided before he had even met one that donkeys were stubborn and difficult and consequently he delighted in jabbing me as if I were a pincushion and saying "see, donkeys have to argue about everything". He is long gone but my needle phobia endures even though our current medical man is quite gentle and hands out treats.

billie said...

Sheaffer, it still boggles my mind that anyone thinks donkeys are stubborn and difficult by nature. If they are difficult, it's because they were made that way by stupid people.

I think we should make up business cards with this quote on them and hand them out to everyone we meet.

Jane said...

Billie this is wonderful. I think I feel a cross post coming on. :) The quote applies to all relationships, if we want good ones, don't you think?

I so admire Dr. Ritter's attitude and stance on good horsemanship.

billie said...

Absolutely, Jane.

Breathe said...

You would get a great deal out of auditing - make sure to go to the very first day/intro if he offers it. I just was in a clinic with him and it was amazing.

I believe I will take this quote and carry it around for a bit. Really does capture so much in so few lines...

billie said...

Unfortunately, Breathe, I missed it - hopefully I will get another chance sometime. I have corresponded with him in the past hoping to sponsor a clinic here on November Hill - and now that I have 4 neighbors with horses I am thinking we may all want to do it together at some point.

allhorsestuff said...

Hullo,
I popped over from Calm, Straight's place after she mentioned you.
I really like your thought process and blog here.

THIS is perfectly great! Reading this quote/ mode of opperandum, from you now. I'm in a new path of absorbsion of many different writers- all saying the same thing.
I wrote that quote down, immediatley!
Thanks

billie said...

Hi, ahs, I'm glad you popped over and esp. glad you like what you read. I just came back from visiting your blog and really enjoyed your trail ride post. Please come back and comment regularly - would love to hear more from you!