Monday, July 21, 2014

Most Respectfully

A Matter of Respect | Considering The Horse.


I am in no way going to mess with what Mark Rashid has so brilliantly written in the linked blog post above.  In fact, I'm going to recommend that you subscribe to his blog right now, because he is, in my opinion, one of the top three equine behaviorists in the world.  And he's got a clear eye when it comes to human silliness as well, so prepare to be a little embarrassed.

I've recommended in the past a book I love written by Jim and Lynda McCall entitled Horses Behavin' Badly.  It is the book that restored (some of) my sanity years ago when I was caught up in exactly the stupidity that Rashid describes in his blog post.  I was taking my horse's behavior 1) as negative, and 2) 'way too personally.  The McCalls were the first writers I came across who stated plainly that there is no such thing as negative behavior in animals.  It is simply behavior.  Period.  Horses behave.  We label it good or bad or aggressive or stupid or whatever because we can't help labeling stuff.  It's what makes us human, but it's one of our less attractive traits.  We just have to make everything in our environment relate to us in some way as if we were the Big Mucky-muck and all forces circle around our egos.

How sad is that?

Stole this from my daughter's Facebook page.
Two guys just hangin', no one upset, angry, or
fearful.  Nature at its best!
Here we are, a species so fragile that most of us can't live a week in high temperatures without dying of heat stroke, having long since lost the ability to rationally choose to drink water and stay in the shade.  Here we stand, unable to deal with each other's quirks without becoming hostile and openly threatening.  And here we stand at the center of the universe?  No.  We're the center of our self-made world, and we need to at least grasp that just saying something doesn't make it real.

The only thing real about what we've created is our thumbs.  Without our opposable thumbs, we'd have nothing built, nothing made, and nothing to suck when things go awry, at which point we rail at a "creator" so involved with our minutiae that it will purposely make our horse go lame before a show because we didn't say thanks for all the fish or whatever.  We blame outside forces that we don't understand for things that aren't within our purview anyway because randomness never is.  Ours.  To control.  That's why it's random.

And we made that up too.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we were discussing the idea that how we move makes a huge difference in how our animals (and friends, and the UPS guy) react to us.  That's the closest thing to real we have, so we'll run with that.  As Rashid says in his blog and the McCalls in their book, horses react to the things around them.  They don't stop to wonder whether we'll be upset by their reactions.  In fact, it's pretty much a given that aside from noting that they need to balance us on their backs and learn a set of communication skills to keep us from being stupid around them, they most likely give us little thought at all.  They see something they consider a threat, and they react first.  As Rashid points out, for a prey animal, not to react immediately can mean death.  They're hard-wired.  We force them to take our dominance as a force to trust by training them that if they don't, the alternative will be far more threatening than the rock at the side of the road, no matter how much that rock looks like a cougar.

And what they most likely can't fathom is that when we're fearful, it's not of some rock or something in a tree but of them.  If they're not actively threatening us (and they most certainly can do that if they're angry or upset enough), then they don't get that we are afraid of what they might do.  They might buck.  They might run off with us.  They might not be on top of our game at a show.  They might behave in some way that they see as what the situation demands.  All of that causes fear and tension in us that they sense and automatically ascribe to an outside force.  So they're afraid because we're afraid, and we're afraid because we might not be able to handle their fear reaction or their "disrespect".

Aaaaaaaargh!

So the movement analysis from last week's post has to include the idea that if we move in a jerky, hard-fisted, stiff manner, they're going to interpret that as aggression or fear and react accordingly.  In turn, we're going to experience (and telegraph) fear.  Talk about a lose-lose!  If we're smooth, calm, and matter-of-fact, they will assume we don't have an inside scoop on something about to kill us both, and they will relax and listen with their bodies and minds.

Slow down; speed kills (relationships)!  

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