Monday, April 28, 2014

Be happy with what you have while you're working for what you want

That Helen Keller quote might be just the thing for a tattoo on your whip hand.

Who among us hasn't let frustration creep into the equation when we're engaged in something challenging?  The drive to move forward is human.  The drive to run over everything in our path is equally so. Fortunately, the race has spawned some wiser minds amid the rabble.

To start you off on a better foot today, here is a link to someone's list of The Best Happiness Quotes.  I'll wait while you read them.

Whatever you do after this today, why not start by feeling happy about where you are, what you have, and what you are about to do?  Imagine how much better your day will be with a little front-loaded appreciation.  Your horse does that instinctively.  It's morning; nothing ate him during the night;
he's happy.  That's not to say that there aren't cranky horses or horses unhappy with their abusive or neglectful circumstances, but even under the worst conditions, a horse always seems happy to see water, hay, sun, grass, companions...just another day above ground.

Little kids have a built-in joy.
If you can't find any of your own, go look for a little kid
and borrow some.

So you get up on the wrong side of the bed, can't find your cell phone, burn the toast, and spill coffee all over the desk, and from that auspicious start, your day goes swiftly downhill to the moment when you turn the key in your car's ignition and hear...nothing.  You've got dinner plans, and now you have a twenty-minute wait for Roadside Assistance to come and fire up your dead battery.

And tonight you're going to have a lesson on your horse with a trainer who is bound and determined to get both of you through a show this weekend with honors enough to earn her a new student or two among the railbirds.

Good grief!  Is there any wonder your horse is wound tight and your voice is shrill and your muscles tense?

There are a few things you might want to do to turn this day around, and the first is to take stock of your situation.
  • Do you have clothes?   
  • Do you have a job? 
  • Did you eat today? 
  • Will you have a dry place to sleep tonight?  
  • Were you able to look in the mirror today and see something pleasant about yourself?  Your smile, maybe, or those bright eyes your mother said were your best feature?
  • Is there someone in your life you can call "friend"?
  • Do you have hope that things can always get better?
  • At the end of the day when the crazy has departed and you look your horse in the eye, can you smile because for some reason known only to him, he lets you sit on him and ride the lightning for just a little while?
If you can't answer a resounding Yes, Ma'am! to at least most of those, there's probably something in your head preventing you from feeling the joy of the things you do have.  

Remember Helen Keller, whom illness struck blind, deaf, without much hope of an education in an age when "deaf and dumb" was an accepted category.  Remember what she accomplished in her life with the help of Anne Sullivan and a drive to succeed that was overpowering.  Remind yourself that she didn't start at the top and fly a smooth path to fame and happiness.  Odds are you're in a far better place today than she was when she began her journey.  Be happy with that.

Then see if you can't be happy about just being here...just a little happy will do for now.  If you're reading this, you probably have animals, most likely a horse or two (or five).  Not everyone gets to say that.  Not everyone gets to ride the lightning at will.

So if your horse isn't in the mood tonight to master the sliding stop or the piaffe or the four-foot vertical spread, so what?   You've got a horse!   And you've got tomorrow.  He couldn't care less whether he gets past beginner walk-trot work.  He's happy you showed up, and if you gave him a carrot chunk, that's gravy.  He'll be completely content with a slow walk around the property or a few made-up games in the arena, and there's no pressure from him to master anything at all.  You've got ample opportunity to learn from a peaceful species that there's as much joy in a blade of spring grass as there is in a gold trophy.  If you're not getting that, you have work to do that doesn't involve collection and extension but might give new meaning to "flying change".

Let's start with this quiz to see whether you are a "Maximizer" (those folks always looking for the greener grass in someone else's pasture) or a "Satisficer" (those who can  manage to find happiness with what they have even if it looks as if they simply have no drive to succeed).  I've posted about this before, so if you're not sure about how this applies to your life choices, you can reread that and the article linked there.  

Then let's move on to what your style is doing to your life and to your horse's life.  Somewhere in the middle is a nice spot for you to rest and just smell the clover while your equine partner breathes some sanity into the space that used to have all that confusion and anger and frustration stuffed into it.  If you're reading this while you're waiting for the AAA tow truck in the company parking garage, all the better.  Maybe  twenty minutes of quiet reflection will make all the difference in your horse's day too. 

It's the least you can do, and the most.   

Monday, April 21, 2014

Are you cheating on your horse?

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Dealing With Excuses | TechCrunch

I got on Zip yesterday after a long, miserable winter that seemed to start in August and just kept rolling till this weekend.  Oh, I could have ridden him during the brief thaw in January.  Or during the nice days last week.  Or on any of the days when I rode Dolly, Leo, or Dakota or made Duke run his little legs off at the end of the longe line.  But I didn't.  I have a whole list of accumulated excuses.  Some of them are in my last book, Horse Bound: The View From the Top of Mount Manure, for you to use at your discretion.  The article linked above is full of some of the classics that we've all used more than we care to admit.  Read and learn.

Most of my excuses this winter were Zip-specific, however.  He's a special case.  I'm not afraid he'll buck or rear or do anything else that would drive the standard fear response.  Nope.  My lack of enthusiasm is completely based on his.  If he refuses to move or balks in the middle of something that should be fun, then the ride and all the fun and joy associated with it meet an unceremonious end, and my day morphs into a post-mortem rehash of what I must have done wrong this time.  I hate that.  It's not dangerous or foolhardy or painful, just distasteful, and I'm distastefulness-averse.

Road ID Ecrumbs
This is not paid advertisement.  I just love Road ID
It's also available at Google Play store for Android OS.
What are some of your favorite excuses, and how are they affecting your life?  Are you an "I don't have time" kind of person?  Have you realized yet that you'll never have all the time you want for whatever it is you need to do?  Are you more of a "Phase of the moon is wrong" kind of person?  Does there always seem to be a sign somewhere that you shouldn't be doing whatever it is you know you actually should do?  Do you get that that's just bullpucky?

It's often hard to tell whether you're just giving in to the reality of your situation or coming up with reasons to avoid aversive activities.  If you're a mom with a sick child, you know you need to stop what you're doing and tend to the child.  A sick child isn't an excuse for not going to work or not making lasagna or not working Fuzz Butt over fences today.  It's a fact of life and a duty you've agreed to discharge.

But having just come from having your hair done, legs waxed, nails painted...those are things that fall into the Marginally Acceptable Excuses bin.  If you have a child and he musses your hair, you smile and hug him (hopefully).  If you have a horse and the idea of putting a helmet over that hair just makes your stomach clench, you need to rethink your priorities.  Get your hair cut in a helmet-friendly style.  Have your nails done with clear polish.  Forget your legs; they don't see daylight unless you're on vacation anyway.

Or change your life.

There are enough real-life emergencies and exigencies to fill your day and block out any hope of hitting the saddle.  Making up more of them isn't cost-effective.  If you find that you're looking for ways out of something you used to like, it's time to reconsider your options.
Without excuses, the sun just shines.

There is no law that says that once you're a horse person you have to stay that way, just as there's no law that says you have to wear the blue power suit to every meeting you attend.  These are choices, consciously made and unconsciously made into necessities.  We choose something every heartbeat of every minute of every day--sit, stand, breathe slowly, sip coffee, look up, read that passage again--and being conscious of those decisions is the best thing we can do for ourselves and the world at large.  Call it Mindfulness or call it paying attention.  It's what makes us aware.

So make today Get Real Day.  Start by thinking about the things you don't want to do today and why you don't want to do them.  If you can cut some of the fringe, think about how best to do that.  Then do it.  Weed your mental garden until it looks like a fine place to spend some time.  Only you can do that.  Until you do, every excuse you make is just a cheat.

Cheaters never win.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

What kind of mentor are you?

A recent series of discussions on a popular social media site got me thinking.  How, exactly, can we best mentor young people today, and potential horsemen in particular?

Many suggestions have been tossed about over the decades.  There are clubs and activities geared to whatever future endeavor the mentoree might be grooming for. There are books and targeted websites.  There are lots of older people in the same field willing (sometimes) to share their wisdom. So why are there so many complaints about how poorly the current crop of youngsters is faring?
If you looked at this and winced, silently
thinking someone could get hurt, go back
to square one.

The horse business is as specialized as any other quasi-scientific arena.  It takes many years of exposure and experience to make a horseman, just as it takes a lot of education to make a teacher or a scientist or a musician, right?  So why aren't those years of exposure paying off?  Why is it that so many horsemen fall into the category of folks who shouldn't own a pet snail, let alone a horse?

Here are the things I've concluded are missing from out mentoring process.   If we stop letting little kids pet horses and focus on these simple concepts, we might find ourselves building a better future for our business and our society.

Teach the children to:

1.  Hammer a nail

2.  Measure and cut a board with a saw

3.  Stand in the cold rain for an hour without moving and without whimpering

4.  Walk more than a mile

5.  Look at the sky and figure out what the weather will be for the next hour

6.  Do math

7.  Visit the Land of Ickydonttouchthat and touch everything

8.  Fail gloriously and be willing to learn from their failures

9. Expect nothing back from an experience other than the learning

10. Work together respectfully

Of course there are many more items one might add to that list, but in my twenty-five years of public high school teaching and my 53 years around horses, those things seem to have fallen by the wayside.  No horse girl should stand around waiting for a boy to show up to help her nail a broken fence board.  No horse boy should feel he's lost his dignity because he didn't make the cut for the rodeo team.  No horse person of any gender description should be unable to stand hard work, dirt, bad smells, crowds of strangers, scary situations, and the need to make snap decisions and live with the consequences thereof.

Imagine what a step up the horse biz might take if the young people involved were realistic in their goals and willing to learn.  Imagine how much saner the whole country might be if consequences were real and there was no one around to step in an mediate the outcome.  Imagine what we could do with a little strength of character.


Monday, April 07, 2014

Numbers don't lie, but....

Statistics.

The go-to for proof of anything from life on Mars to Schroedinger's Cat is the underlying theory of statistical analysis.  I did this number stuff in college in the dark ages when a computer arriving in the psych lab was a huge source of excitement even though it was nothing more than a key punch machine.  If you're old enough to remember those, 'nuff said.  If not, the deal was you used a typewriter-style keyboard to type the formula (of which there were many) into the machine which punched holes in a card.  Then each piece of data was entered in the same way on a separate card and the whole mess was stuck into the top of the next machine.  In a few hours, another card would come out the side.  That was the solution to the problem.  That got stuck back into the machine for a printout of the answer.

Now you need only ask Google because someone else asked another computer to do that math and put it online...you lucky duck!

That early computer was not much in the way of technology, but it was a heck of a lot better than doing it longhand on paper as I had been doing for the first three years of college.  We psych majors sweated bullets for our shot at the Sensory Deprivation Room.

Now, keeping that scenario in mind, think about how many rats I had to put through the maze or how many  humans I had to have hold their hand on a spring while they did an anagram puzzle to get even a semblance of reliable data.  The answer is mostly less than 50.  Yet that data was important, and, in the spring-thing case, led to a scholarly paper on learning theory--not by me--and dozens of other experiments.

[thanks XKCD]
Here's the thing about statistics:  In most cases, the sample is limited.  It's not every person over the age of 12, everyone who has ever driven a Chevy, or every horse in the world.  It's whatever size group of those the researcher was able to accumulate before starting the experiment.  In the case of the spring devices (which I had a custodian build, much to his delight at being part of the process), I was out to prove that stress in the form of physical discomfort would lower scores on tests.  My subjects were two junior high classes at a nearby school.  That's about 50 kids.  Period.  Based on how 50 kids handled (or didn't--there's always a control group that doesn't get the medicine or has the springs loosened) the effort of an unfamiliar test while holding a tightly-wound spring down with full pressure, a theory was born.

The researcher then takes the data and sorts it.  The first thing that happens is that the outliers--the scores completely out of whack with the average that suggest cheating or some unexpected variable like a stuck spring--are dumped.  So now there were maybe 45 in the sample.  Based on that, I was able to report that the physical stress made no difference.

Ta-da!

But, was that accurate?  It was for that group.  Period.  For those students in that school in Worcester, Mass, during that week, and with that device I created, it was.  The professor who borrowed my springs and my theory took it to the next level and I don't know what he found.  I graduated and couldn't have cared less.  But you can see where this is headed.

Recently statistics have been all the rage.  Just last week someone said to me that 73% of Americans share a particular position on an idea.  Funny, but no one asked me.  No one asked anyone I know.  So how does a think tank come up with the "majority" position?  By picking a baseline group of likely humans and extrapolating--guessing--from there how the rest of the universe would respond.


The study done last year on how our public school kids are faring on the SAT used a sample of 6,000 students.  Six thousand out of many millions.  No one mentioned where they were located, what sort of schools they attended, how wealthy or poor their families might have been.  They were just 6,000 students chosen for reasons only the researchers knew...like my classroom kids who were within walking distance of the college.

Just this week, results of a study on the efficacy of joint supplements in horses were reported in The Horse.  The conclusion was that they don't work.  The sample included 24 saddle horses (out of some 6 million in this country alone) and one chemical compound (out of at least a dozen available at any given time).

There's a huge difference in the type of data reflected in statistics.  Seventeen years ago, the NJDA came around and counted the number of horses we each had.  They showed up in person and took a head count.  How accurate might that statistic be?  Well, I know for a fact that they missed the guy around the corner who has six sheep and a horse.  And the biggest boarding farms in the area tend to house upwards of 100 horses at any given time, and that population is in constant flux as owners move their animals, or animals die, or new ones are born.


When you read that 180 people were in attendance at an event, and that last year's event only drew 120, that's a stat you can rely on.  It's simple enough for whoever sold the tickets or took the entry fees to count how many there were.  I could tell you on any given day exactly how many students were in my English class.  The number only changed by virtue of absence or transfer, and the students were easily accounted for.

But when you see a headline that states that there are X number of something world-wide, it's probably wrong.  It's probably very wrong by the regular Joe's standards.  "Statistically Significant" means the actual total of something the research is looking for is more than X number of "standard deviations"  from the average (mean) the results were.  We can make it even more complicated and questionable by throwing in the three M's--mean (average), mode (the answer that shows up most often), and median (the middle of the pack numerically speaking)--and making our statistics reflect something completely different.

Let's also throw in the biggest ringer, which is that dealing with live subjects is inherently flawed.  I can do that spring experiment today, and then follow the subjects for ten years to see if they developed PTSD from my tinkering.  But I can't go back in time.  I can't account for other experiences they might have or prior craziness.  The same goes for any animal.  The researcher can't undo what's been done to see if not doing it would make a difference.  I can give my horse a supplement and decide that he got better (or didn't) because of it, but I can't go back and un-give it to see if that makes a difference.  I can't un-teach the student, un-ride the horse, or un-shoot the gun to see what would have happened if.

So take your statistics with a handful of salt.  They give us something to think about, but the thinking piece is up to us.

Start with this.