Monday, December 23, 2013

The Waiting Game

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Grandin on Keeping Horses Calm During Handling |
Skip the holiday cookies.  You can give your horse the best gift he'll ever receive if you simply give him time.

Temple Grandin. The name alone evokes the mystery of the inner workings of our bestest animal buddies as this brilliant woman with two PhD's in animal behavior has given us breakthrough insights into how our horses (and many, many other species she has studied and researched) feel about what we do with them.  Not psychic readings; just keen observational skills applied by a brilliant mind with an inside track to animal thought processes due to her position at the severe end of the autism spectrum.

In this article, Grandin lists a neat bunch of suggestions that seem at first reading to be no-brainers, but if you watch horsemen and pay attention to your own behavior with your horses, you'll tip immediately to the fact that we're not all that smart.  We miss a lot.  As I said a few posts back, it's the details that make or break our efforts to relate to these intriguing monster pets.

There's one thing Grandin missed, however, that I'd like to add to her list.

  • Wait for it.

Yes, it's just that simple.  If you're going to ask your horse to do something, you have to wait for him to do it.  Doesn't that make perfect sense?  Sure.  Yet how many times have you watched someone around his horse yelling, pushing, poking, patting, squeaking, treating, brushing...all at the same time.  The result, almost invariably (unless the horse is my big-butted Appy, Dakota, who can tune out everything and focus his entire attention on a mouse in his stall) is a confused animal moving around erratically in an effort to accommodate all the commands he thinks he's receiving.

Ask, then wait.

Zip, at two years, learning clicker training.
Lauren, a former HS English student of mine,
learning about patience.

It might take just an instant if the horse is a very responsive animal.  If I tell my TB mare, Dolly, to "back", she's at the back of the stall before that last glottal stop has left my tongue.  Give the mini, Duke, the same cue, and he'll ask for a kiss first, then back up...unless I'm holding his dinner.  In that case, he's already as far to the back of the stall as he can get, head lowered, motionless, because someone (not I) taught him very well to have good table manners.  Dakota and Leo are never sure the command is meant for them, so they require a poke in the chest ("Yes, I'm talking to you.").

Zip, being Zip, waits.  Not one beat or two but three full beats.  His processor isn't as sharp as it could be, and he's learned 22 tricks, so he always waits to see if there's a string of commands coming.  Rush him, and I'll wind up with his head on top of mine, his foot stretched out where I can fall over it, and his butt on the wrong side of the stall, all part of a line dance I once taught him.  I always say, "Be careful what you teach."  Remember what you taught is more accurate.

So if your goal is quiet, calm interactions with your animal friends, patience and time are key.  Don't turn your interactions into a flurry of movement with little accomplished.  Aim for one thing and get that before you aim for another.  Picture an archer and a target.  If the archer sends one arrow toward the target, odds are he'll get closer to the bulls-eye than if he lets fly a dozen at a time.  Some of those extras are going to wind up on the ground around him, stuck in his foot, in a tree on his left, in the doghouse.  You don't want your commands in the doghouse.  You want them in your horse's repertoire and serving some purpose.

Wait for it.

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