Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Raging Against the Machine?

How Big is your Circle of Control? | Mr. Money Mustache

In this era of mass communication and instant flashing views into the lives of others, it's easy to get the impression that we are all far more powerful than the facts would suggest.  Note that only 10% of the entire US population agree with Congress's decision to mess with the slow recovery from a major recession.  Note that 90% of the population can't stop the idiocy that's afoot.  I rest my case.

The chart in the linked article is a truly accurate assessment of the reality of our lives.  There are things we can control, and there are things we can try our damnedest to influence with nothing to show by way of results.  Nowhere is this any more obvious than in our interactions with each other and our horses.

For instance, this excellent blog post from The Horse website gives a nice rundown on what a boarder's rights are at the average boarding farm.  Spoiler Alert!  The answer is pretty much none.  Here you thought all this time that by being rude or withholding payment or snarking around behind the barn owner's back you were going to force the hand that feeds your equine buddy.  Instead all along you were simply moving closer to the precipice yourself, rapidly approaching that "Get your stuff and your damned horse off the premises by sundown!" moment.  Now you know that all your screaming about calling a lawyer and suing the owner for all he's worth is just making you look like the loser that you actually are.

In reality, you have full control over two choices.  You can stay or you can go.  Period.

The same goes for a lot of what we try to do with our horses.  We in no way (much as breeders might try) control for a horse's basic physical abilities, let alone for his social or athletic preferences.  If you think this is something we humans have mastered via selective breeding, read anything by Temple Grandin and go rethink yourself.  We may have some influence over the size of the progeny (though we likely gave up something meaningful to get that and just haven't seen the outcome yet), and color pre-selection has become a pretty safe bet in many breeds.  But as much as we'd like to believe that taking two "good-minded" horses and combining their genes will leave us with a like-minded offspring, that's just not a given.

Dolly indicates her opinion of my efforts to control
the herd.

What we do control are these things:

Feeding, which can affect size, health, and longevity within certain limits.

Socialization, which can affect mental health and sometimes limit quirky behaviors.

Training, which, done incorrectly, can have a huge effect on mental and physical health on both sides of the saddle.

Our behavior.  'Nuff said.

That's pretty much it.  Sure, we can control what color blankie our furbaby wears during the cold months.  We can also control whether or not we clip fancy patterns into his rump hair.  We can't control whether or not he will like or even tolerate those choices.  Another bit of equine research just reported that even horses that appear calm are actually very stressed by what we think of as necessary evils.  The study specified body clipping, but I know for a fact that my App gelding, Prince, took serious exception to any blanket on his body and particularly the bright yellow rain sheet that cost me a bite on my upper arm.

I doubt there's anyone who hasn't heard the oft-repeated Doctor Phil-ism that you can't control someone else; you can only control yourself.  It's oft-repeated because it's true, and it applies to your horse.  You can make attempts at control, but that's all they will ever be.  But your own behavior is totally within your sphere.  It's you who decides whether anger, panic, aggression or patience will be your reaction to the uncontrollable equine behaviors that your horse has every reason and right to exhibit.  Your behavior can escalate a bad situation or de-escalate it.  You can make a good time better or ruin it for everyone involved.  You can be strong and healthy enough to do this horse thing, or you can spend time explaining why you can't.  You can be a dancer or a rock.  That's the part you control.

My recommendation for today is that everyone take stock of the things that are actually controllable and stop wasting time raging against the things that are not.  Time is precious.  Horse time is priceless.  Use it wisely.

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