Monday, June 16, 2014

A near miss is as good as a win

Sarah Lewis: Embrace the Near Win

Let's define terms.  A "near win" or a "near miss" can look quite different depending on perspective, and this is where learning what success looks like is crucial.  So we'll start with "what is success?"

Success is a personal achievement, right?  It's making the grade.  It's getting the Big Break.  It's winning the blue ribbon.  It's seeing your name in lights.

Or is it?
"Nice effort!  Next time let's try going over the jump together."

Success is also doing better this time than the last.  And it's getting to the finish line in the best possible way, win, lose, or draw.

An article on Success Criteria by William R. Duncan puts out some very clear standards for determining success.  In fact, most erudite writings on the subject offer the same standards.  To wit:

1.  Was the project completed?

2.  Was the project well-managed?

You may not see your work with your equine partner as a project, but it most certainly is. There's a goal, a plan, a starting point, and an endpoint, and there's a product that will result. If that isn't a project, then butter me up and call me a biscuit.  And like most projects, it's ongoing.  There is not just one endpoint.  There are a series of them leading up to the cessation of the project when there simply is nothing more to be achieved or one of the partners ceases to exist.  That's a pretty definitive endpoint.

If you want success, you need a plan.  I don't recall who said it first, but the statement that "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail" holds true in almost every situation, and equestrian activities are not an exception.  Sure, it's dandy to just go hang out with your horse, but if you're astute, you'll note than even your hangout time has small goals involved.  The goal may be a small as teaching Buddy Boy not to frisk you for treats when you enter his space.  Or it may be as large as teaching him to walk off with you by watching your feet and matching his steps to yours.  It may be small like dropping his head so you can apply halter, fly mask, or bridle or as large and complex as the fine movements of a passage in time to music.

Each of those will go better if it's planned in advance, but spur-of-the moment teaching works as well, simply because we are hard-wired to put a frame around behaviors.  We may not have a conscious thought (in fact, I've known horsemen who haven't had a conscious thought in decades) about the way we intend to get Fluffer Nut to step back one stride to get off our foot, but our logical minds usually come up with one in the blink of an eye.  It's those who are not very logically-based, the ones who approach a situation with hand-wringing and screaming hysteria, who probably should find something to do that doesn't involved animals who are, by nature, reactive.  Nothing says "Chaos" like a screeching, flailing human toe-to-toe with a prey animal ready to turn and bolt at the gentle rustling of a squirrel in a tree.

So name your project.  Pick just one at a time, if possible.  We've done Task Analysis to death, so I won't recap here.  Find your start point and define at least a short-term endpoint and drive for that.


The good management piece comes in when you actually apply task analysis and keep your wits about you and your nerves calm while you handle the problems that crop up.

But I started here with the assumption that your goal may not be reached.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  The effort is never wasted.  That "near miss" or "near win" teaches us a lot.  It's about toning down expectations.  Keeping our dreams tethered to reality and enjoying the process as much as the victory will go a long way to making our interactions with our animals (and each other) productive and as stress-free as possible.

So go forth and Near Win!  You'll feel better for the effort.

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