Sunday, May 19, 2013

R.E.S.P.E.C.T : Find out what it means to me!

In my old horsemanship life, respect was a big deal.  He Who Must Not be Named is all about respect from your horse.  The horse must hop to it when you say go.  Any lagging or anything less than immediate response is interpretted as the horse mentally "flipping you off" and that behavior is dangerous and must be corrected immediately.  Give a horse an inch and he'll take a mile! I embraced this idea whole heartedly and demanded nothing less than immediate respect from my horses.  There are some good things that come of this.  My horses weren't allowed into my space unless invited in.  They couldn't approach me of their own free will or I would forcibly back them out of my space.  It's great for making sure you don't get run over, stepped on, or whacked with a head on purpose or accident.  Of course it makes it hard to give kisses on the nose, but I was doing my best to wean myself from that girlish notion.

In order to get respect from your horse you are taught to act like the boss horse.  You must be the alpha in your herd of two.  Using examples from the horse's social pecking order we can watch the dominant horse in the herd chase the lesser animal from the choice food.  We can see the alpha spin and kick the submissive in the ribs if they don't move fast enough.  This is easy to copy in your horsemanship through a long hard rod.  Obviously we don't beat the horses with the rod with the same pressure a herd mate would.  It's more of a mental tap, so to speak.  It serves to remind the horse if it isn't showing the proper amount of respect through quickly moving his feet that we have "hooves" and "teeth" to back up our alpha claim in the form of this handy stick. 

I am a good and thorough student.  I embraced these concepts whole heartedly and began to teach my horses respect.  My relationship with my horses changed quickly.  They learned I was the absolute alpha and stayed out of my space.  I could make them turn and stop and go again with a simple lifting of my arm.  Of course, sometimes they misinterpretted my lifting arm and jumped out of my space even when I didn't mean for them too.  Ah, but there is a cure for that too.  First we teach the horse to jump and move with a lift of the arm, then through desensitizing them we teach them to ignore that.  How is the horse to ferret out the difference, you might ask?  By intention of your body language, and if they don't immediately figure out the difference there is always the stick!

What I hadn't realized is that I was becoming a bully.  If you are looking at everything your horse does in shades of black and white, either he's respectful or he's not, than you begin to think that those disrespectful things your horse does are a personal affront.   Instead of thinking, "Hey, my horse just rubbed his head on me,  he must be glad to see me." you think, "How dare you disrespect my personal space like that!  Don't you understand who I am?!" and as you ,through aggressive body language, back the horse up out of your space you feel slighted in some way. I would think to myself, "man, my horse was a jerk today!"  Like the horse was not appreciating the relationship you had worked so hard to cultivate.  While a horseman is always supposed to guard his feelings and not act out of anger, human nature naturally channels aggressive body language into anger.  I dare you not feel that anger when you puff out your chest and aggressively chase your horse out of your space.   So, instead of enjoying the companionship of my horses, I was always on the guard for keeping that alpha relationship intact and demanding respect at all times.  Enforcing that respect made me bitter and angry on a level that I didn't fully appreciate until it was gone.   I believe that it channeled into my relationships with my fellow human beings as well.  I think if you carry around that aggressive alpha attitude, you have a hard time shaking free of it. 

Fortunately before I had gone along too long on this course I was suddenly cast adrift and searching for a new way to be with my horses. I had previously been taught to believe that anybody that wasn't demanding immediate respect from their horses was a mamby-pamby tree hugger that babied their horses along. Thank goodness it isn't just two shades of black and white. There are a whole host of shades of grey in between that you can explore and choose from. You can choose what type of relationship you really want with your horse. 

About this time I was introduced to the theory of the Passive Aggressive leader by Mark Rashid.  He proposes another leader in the herd other than the dominant alpha.  This is the lead mare.  Not the lead mare that is pinny eared and kicking everybody all the time, but the other one this is the matriarch that all the other horses take their cues from.  She is the one that can quietly part the herd just by her presence.  She gets the choicest food not because she chases the others off the hay pile but because when she comes in the other move over and make way.  She doesn't back down to challengers but neither does she go seeking them.  If there is trouble and the other horses are looking to know where to go, they will follow her not because she is driving them along but because they know that she will keep them out of harm and trouble.   That's the leader that I choose to be with my horses. 

The other thing that I learned is that respect is a two way street.  That's the key to the passive aggressive leader.  While the other horses will give way and respect the space of their leader the leader also respects them and doesn't pander her dominance by pushing them around when it's not needed.  If they don't move out of her way right away she may wait for just a moment while they take the hint and then walk on in.  She can always defend her rights if needed but it isn't needed so much because the other horses in the herd naturally defer to her standing.

You establish this kind of leadership through trust, not aggressively moving your horse's feet.  Your horses have to learn that when they are with you and listening to you they will stay out of trouble.  You respect their need to be a horse and they learn to respect your need to be in charge.  Most horses are happy to hand that over because they are herd animals that are used to having a responsible leader.  As long as your leadership leads them into a safe and secure environment they will happily follow you anywhere.  

Taking the aggressiveness out of it has helped me with my horses and with my interpersonal relationships.  I don't feel angry when working with my horses anymore.  I feel peace.  It radiates through with everything I do.  Horses are horses and they will challenge you daily, but most of them aren't out to be "jerks" or flip you off.  They are just horses.  Take the personal affront out of it and you will find more peace and less anger when you are working with your horse.  Better yet your horse will learn to be with you and stay with you because he wants to, not because he's afraid of what you'll do to him if he steps out of line. Punishment in any form is murder on try.  Try is the key to keeping a horse learning and growing.  If your horse is afraid to try for fear or retaliation he will mentally shut down. 

I'll still back my horse out of my space from time to time if needed, but if he comes forward seeking a kiss on the nose, he's going to get one before I ask him to quietly back up out of my space again. 

Next time you are working with your horse and you say to yourself, "My horse is being an absolute jerk today!"  take a good hard look at where you are in your relationship with your horse.  There is something there that needs some fixing, I'll wager, and I bet it starts with the rider, not the horse.

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