Monday, May 07, 2012

Character Education and Educating Characters: Last Part

First, a word about horse power

Before I get to today's bit of Social Psychology for the Random Horse Addict, I want to talk about another kind of horse.  I've long felt that there's a strong divide between those of us who tend to cling to the furry type and those more attracted to the steel-paint-rumble variety, and that was never clearer than at Island Dragway in Great Meadows, NJ, this past Saturday.  My partner, Cliff, earned his trip to the Doug Foley experience the hard way, by keeping all the farm equipment and me humming along nearly glitch-free.  A true gear-head, this was much more to his liking than a half-day trail ride, which he considers pure torment as he's convinced there's evil intent between those fuzzy ears.  So off we went at the crack of dawn for a thrilling two drag runs in one of Doug Foley's dragsters.

Talking to the other drag aficionados and their significant others, I had to note that they were just as pumped about the number of horses under the hoods of these little beasts as I am about the ones pooping in my pasture, but at the end of the day--Derby Day, as luck would have it--the winning horse at Churchill Downs pulled a better time than the 450 pushing these beasts down the track.  Now, give those ponies a full quarter-mile, and I bet the numbers would reverse quickly, but over the short-haul, the hay-burners took it hands down.

There's probably a moral in that, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is, so whichever kind you prefer, Gentlemen (and Ladies), start your engines!
Getting the toy car charged up...
And he's off!


If you're interested in swapping sides for a test run on either the four-wheeled or the four-legged, check out the options at Experience Days.  


Character Education, Final Installment

f you’ve been following the bouncing blog post effectively, you should now understand why your horse makes more sense than you do, how to tell when you’re too terrified to consider riding, how to get rid of the tension, and you’re ready to unlock your Emotional Potential.  You are coolness personified, and so is the horse you rode in on.

If you were a good little Do Bee and googled CASEL as per the assignment last week, then you know that emotion-laden skills (those are the ones that evoke one or all of those fourteen “feeling fingerprints”) require special handling. Anything you’re asked to do that is scary or upsetting or worrying or makes you or your horse feel like no one will ever ask you to the prom is an emotion-laden skill. In order to teach them successfully, the following must be understood and incorporated into the learning process:

1.      Self-awareness (you and your horse have to notice that you exist and are doing something and what it is that you’re doing)

2.      Recognition of your own motivation 

3.      Self-regulation of emotion and controlling impulses

4.      Self-monitoring and performance monitoring (how are you doing and how is Buzzcut progressing?)

5.      Empathy and perspective-taking (feel him, notice how he’s feeling and try to see things from his perspective even if his perspective is standing on its hind legs with its eyes rolled back in its head….especially then!)

6.      Social skills in handling relationships (this is not a one-way street, you know)

In my humble opinion, that first is probably the hardest for most horsemen.  Being aware of your horse is sometimes an issue in itself.  I’ve seen an awful lot of erstwhile trainers (and remember that every time you interact with your horse you are teaching something whether or not you intended to do so) who seem oblivious to the reality of the animal at the other end of the lead line.  They’re so focused on the routine they’ve memorized and their personal goal and ego-involvement that the big ol’ hairy beast is nothing more than an inconvenience.  But even harder is to focus on the animal and notice what you are doing, feeling, thinking, and why.  There are moments when it’s important to take a step back, literally, and sort out what’s really going on in your mind before you re-launch your training regimen or riding effort.  How are you standing, sitting, moving in relation to the horse and what you’re trying to do?  Are you fast?  Slow? Stiff?  Floppy?  Just right?  A blithering idiot who shouldn't be allowed in public without adult supervision?

The “why” is a biggie that follows logically after the self-awareness piece.  What’s your point?  Why are you doing this?  Is this about meeting some goal that will result in a happier horse and a happier you?  Are you satisfying some need that has nothing to do with your horse’s eventual successful integration into your riding plan, or are you trying to impress someone who has no stake in your success and would dearly love to YouTube a vid of your failure?  What’s up with your motives?
Cliff, doing a fine job of self-regulating and empathy

Me, erstwhile and doing a fine job as blithering idiot

Self-regulation of anything is tough.  Ask any dieter.  Self-regulating emotion and controlling the impulses that result from emotional surges can be very, very difficult.  Can you see yourself as others see you?  If not, you might want to have someone (a friend without a phone cam would be good) watch and tell you when you seem to be  getting stressed, angry, mentally exhausted, or frustrated so that you won’t give in to the impulse to sit on your horse, burst into tears, and shriek, “Why are you doing this to me?  Will you just *&#%$-ing walk?”  That was a personal low in my training program with Zips Moneypit and a verbatim quote.  We’re both better regulated now, thanks.

Self-monitoring is easier.  If you’ve taken the time to make an actual plan for the session you’re engaged in, then noticing whether or not you’re sticking to it is easier than monitoring emotions, which are harder to notice when you’re in the throes of a tantrum.  Use note cards if you need to.  My lovely daughter showed me how to use clear packing tape to laminate 3 x 5 cards with my riding plan and stick them under the pommel of the saddle for easy reference.  Cool kid, my daughter.  Monitoring your horse’s performance is a little easier yet since you can look at him and tell whether he’s walking, trotting, doing side-passes, spooking at squirrels, mentally humming show tunes, or whatever.  The important thing is to notice even the smallest changes in behavior.  Stay focused. 
Focused and empathetic is a lot more attractive and effective

Empathy and taking the perspective of the “other” in your duo is a skill that needs to be learned.  It doesn’t always come naturally, especially to horse people.  We tend to get a little caught up in the latest training method and forget that Old Bullpucky really isn’t on board with anything more challenging than grazing in the sun.  It’s this skill that keeps us from trying to force dressage on a horse that really wants to run barrels or a Western saddle on an animal that gets upset if his leg wraps don’t match his pad.  I had a mare who, after a bath, wouldn’t even step in a puddle for a week.  Trying to make her into anything requiring, say, sliding stops with all the dust and dirt surrounding them would have been a fool’s errand.

Finally, you need to get that what’s going on at the two ends of the longe line is a social relationship.  Your horse may not be your BFF, but he’s your partner in this endeavor.  You need to be socially responsible and you need to teach him to be so as well.  You don’t want him chewing on your sleeve, and he doesn’t like when you smack him in the head.  Call a truce, set some ground rules, and learn to be friendly and cooperative at all costs.  Both of you.  That means you too. 

I will leave you this time with one of my favorite examples of how easy it is to misunderstand something that seems simple.  Read this aloud:

                        30 wolves
                        28 sheep
                        How many didn’t?

And here are two points to remember as you travel down this twisty road to your horse:

            “We’re born to win and conditioned to lose.”

            “A rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.”

(All of the above mind-bending stuff is from Bob Moawad’s The Edge. Read about it.  It will be on the final exam.)
[Pretend this is typed upside-down:  the answer to the riddle is 10  (read "twenty ate sheep")]

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