In our everyday life as in our horsemanship, it’s the way we support our intended outcome that either gets us what we want or gets us something else. Let us look at two different examples, an example from life, and an example from horsemanship:
It’s 10 year old Johnny’s responsibility to take out the trash every Friday. How his family or caregiver supports him in getting the trash out, in the teaching phase, will sway Johnny’s attitude; our relationship to Johnny and his responsibility around taking out the trash and potentially other responsibilities as well.
With our horses, how we support our requests will shape their attitude and our relationship to our horse and his ability and attitude around taking responsibilities. Let’s say it’s Dobbin’s responsibility of standing in the barn isle while we groom him.
If we start reminding Johnny to take out the trash on Thursday morning, then again on Thursday night and come Friday morning, we are waiting to see if Johnny doesn’t take out the trash, what attitude from Johnny, do you think that will elicit. Back to Dobbin in the barn isle, if we start out by putting him on cross ties so he is not able to look around, move or share opinions or ideas about things, we will elicit a certain attitude from Dobbin.
If we put him in the barn isle and drop his lead rope on the floor in front of him and tell him exactly what we want, then allow him to take his responsibility, we may elicit a very different attitude from Dobbin. If we wait until Friday night or Saturday morning to see if the trash is out, and then support Johnny’s actions, either with praise or consequences, that could elicit other attitudes from Johnny.
Gratitude and Consequences.
So what are the possible ways we could supportJohnny and Dobbin in taking their responsibilities and being happy about it? Gratitude, natural consequences and positive reinforcement is one way to be while we support and distrust and punishment or negative reinforcement is certainly another way. Laying out natural expectations and natural consequences in advance is honest and forthright. Laying these things out ahead of time creates good will and clarity about what is to come. If we are to trust that they will respond to gratitude and good will, we need to let them make the mistake before we correct them. Come Saturday morning, if the trash is not out, then it is time for the natural consequences; If Dobbin wanders into the tack room, the natural consequence is to put him back in the barn isle.
in a time where we do not need horses and they do not have actual responsibilities, like, carrying the families livelihood to and from the market or pulling the logs from the mountaintop to the homestead sight or to carry our warriors into battle, these animals who have been domesticated and employed into the service of human kind for centuries will make up stuff to do! Truly, a job or responsibility like stay where I put you or maintain gait or maintain direction or stand still while I get on is very little to ask of horses who are partly responsible for the advancement of human society as we know it!
Even the most talented race horse, an elite member of his kind can manage multiple responsibilities like stand still when I ask and go fast when I ask. Self discipline is an important skill for all and the way a horse’s or human’s community supports them in being responsible shapes the behavior and attitude of the one being supported!
The things that are important to you are the things that will be important to your horse and the humans around you! Moreover, those little things are the things that make life with those around us happy and easy and create value for those in the future of our horses.
Look around to see where you are taking away opportunities for your horse to be responsible. How about self loading in the horse trailer? What about maintaining the walk on the lunge without constant encouragement? How about follow the rail or follow the trail without stopping to eat? The thing is, you want to be clear about what the desired behaviors are, then look for positive ways to reinforce them. Attitude and Time are great tools for teaching!