Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hello? Is anybody home?

How to Stay in the Present Moment in Everyday Life: 5 Simple Habits

Once again I'm sending my readers to one of my current favorite life coaches.  This time it's Henrik Edberg, whose Positivity Blog is a great place to spend a post-Snowpocalypse afternoon.  Take a moment to sign up for updates or an RSS feed to your news reader.  Sometimes you just need a hint of sunshine on a cloudy day (badoobadooba).
Just a tree.
Don't overthink it.

I chose this particular article for my horse  fiends friends because the mid-winter doldrums can easily overcome our best efforts at becoming one with our equines and offering teamwork instead of Epic Fail YouTube entries come spring show season.  This is the time to prepare mentally and physically for what's to come.  Let's all start the year with a better attitude, shall we?


I would start by suggesting that you log off all social media to that end, but that would defeat my own self-serving efforts, so instead I'll begin with asking that you unfollow (unlike, un-whatever it is on Twitter and LinkedIn and the other non-Facebook sites) anyone and any group that feels more like a drain on your brain than a boost to your caboose.  If you're going to be positive, you can't surround yourself with negativity.  You're not that tough.

And without a positive aura surrounding you, you are not going to be present in the moment.

Let's talk about being capital-p Present.  As you read this, I'll bet actual post-holiday pennies that your mind has already started to wander to one of several places.

1.  Shit.  I thought this was going to be about something interesting.
Animals are always present
in the moment...sort of.

2.  I wonder how I should break it to my ___________ that I'm not hosting a damn Superbowl party again this year.

3.  I need new breeches before my thighs bust out of my old ones in front of all the b*****s at the barn.

If you don't see yours here, it's probably along the lines of hearing that odd sound coming from the fridge (dog/washing machine/neighbor's house) again and hoping you won't have to call the vet/repairman/police.  Or maybe you're more global and are thinking about those D***  _______________ (non-yours group of humans you're currently hating on).

Look...all of that is probably important on some level.  I'm not putting down your choice of thought process.  I'm telling you that if you want to improve your relationship with your horse or any other being of any species, you need to shut off the internal iPod and pay attention.
Free your mind from crap.

I used to start my annual Teen Frustration Festival (aka:  Study Skills Class) on Day One of the school year with the following lesson:

1.  Everyone stop talking, stop moving, stop trying to set fire to your neighbor, give me your cell phones...just STOP.

2.  [silence for 5 minutes]  [okay, I lied....3 minutes]

3.  Take out a paper and writing tool and list the things you heard.

This invariably led to blank stares followed by a few tentative scribbles, followed by a torrent of hands in the air and pronouncements like "I heard the radiator...it ticks!  Did anyone else hear the radiator ticking?  Is it going to blow up?"

Thereafter followed the question, "What is the difference between hearing and listening?"  The cool factoid I dropped on them was that one hears 24/7.  There's never a time (unless deafness intervenes) that your autonomic nervous system shuts off your hearing.  Period.  You can test this by waiting until your dad is asleep and sneaking into his room, waiting for his eyes to twitch (indicating REM sleep) and whisper something like "Your head fell off."  In the morning, odds are you'll be treated to a cool response like, "I was dreaming about the manifold I need to replace on the car, and my head fell off!"

Hearing is universal and endless.  Listening means paying attention, and that's being present in the moment.  Voila! 

When you go to the barn next time, shut up.  Just don't talk; don't let your mind wander to how you look, how your trainer is going to see you, how your horse's clip job sucks....just nothing.  Let there be nothing while you look at your horse.  Look at his ears, eyes, the way he's standing.   Is he twitching with energy?  Shivering from the cold?  Did he seem happy to see you, or is his butt facing you in hope you can't see him?  As you groom him, listen for the sigh and watch for the relaxation of his muscles.  You're allowed to coo to him, but no chattering to barn mates.  Just silence with intermittent cooing.  You can do that.

When you mount, take a beat.  Don't hop up and ride off into your usual routine.  Sit for a moment, stroke his withers, relax.  Then walk off.  Walk a lot.  Notice everything about him.  Feel him.  Feel where your legs are, your hands, your seat.  Feel your seat bones.  Are they both feeling the same amount of pressure, or are you listing to one side?  Straighten up!  Feel your spine from your head down to your butt and on down to your feet.  Breathe!

If you're not asleep (this is actually self-hypnotic induction), you can go ahead and start your slow circles at the walk and trot and move on into the practice of your choice.  And you will feel awesome.  So will your horse.  He'll know you're with him, maybe for the first time in months.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Doing Horses on the Cheap...Really?

Cut Horse Costs

I found the linked article interesting, mostly because the author makes several assumptions.  The assumptions that I found a little out-of-place involve writing an article about going cheap with your horse life and aiming it at people who are at higher-level stables, going to shows, and buying luxury horse items.  Most of those people don't really need advice on cutting costs. They've got the money to spend, and they're spending it with abandon.

Yes, my friends and I delighted in haunting eBay and consignment shops looking for bargains on high-end products, but it was a lark, not a necessity.  And the annual clearance sale at Beval's Saddlery was a fun time to load up on all sorts of odds and ends (like last year's Breyer Christmas ornament and nearly-expired horse cookies) for pennies.  But we always ended with lunch at a nice restaurant in an area where "nice" means $15 tuna salad sandwiches.

In reality, there are a lot of people who got into the horse game when they had money (or thought they had money) (or were pretending they had money) who no longer have the disposable income.  Nothing disposes of income like a high-maintenance hobby that eats.  You can simply not drive your Maserati and save a few bucks on gas this week.  You can't not feed your horse.  Not if you want to avoid the huge vet bills and rancor that come with not feeding him.

Can one actually do horses on the cheap?
Cheap horses

This is a question that pops up whenever I see pushes on social media for people to adopt animals of any species.  My first thought is "if they're looking for a freebie, they probably can't afford it."  There's no such thing as a free animal.

I adopted a cat.  I've adopted many, but usually from people I knew who found a clutch of kittens under their deck or in their tool shed and were hoping to send them packing ASAP.  Those were free in the sense that they didn't have a purchase price.  At least one friend would have paid me to take the  kitten off his highly allergic hands.

Yes, they were free for the taking...and then came the trip to the pet store for all the accessory necessities like food, litter, flea collar, ear mite treatment (why do all free cats have ear mites?), toys, and so on.  That was followed by the vet visit for an overall check. shots, de-worming, blood work and the other procedures that keep my small animal vet in digital x-ray machines.

The last adoptee, however, came from a rescue.  I went there and picked her out on purpose.  By the time I paid the adoption fee, made a small donation for food for the rescue (not required, but damn they know how to lay the guilt on), then did the vet visit, the shots and neutering, and got all the other stuff (I had to pick one that can't tolerate scented litter, so add a few bottles of carpet cleaner), my adopted kitten had cost me over $1000.  That's four digits.
Not-cheap horses

Now multiply that by the size difference between a 2-pound kitten and a 1200-pound horse.  It's amazing anyone can keep a horse at all!

My recommendation is that if the suggestions in the linked article make your eyes bug out because you can't imagine being in a situation where cutting down on your lesson time is the key to financial peace, you're in the wrong sport.  If finding out that a barn without an indoor is the only one you can afford sends you into a crying fit over the inhumanity of your situation, you're reading the wrong blog.  If you can't afford to buy a new pair of low-price breeches and have to shop second hand, but you still feel you "need" to ride in horse shows with all the ridiculous expense even the low-level competitions command, you're in need of more help than you're going to get here.

And it's that huge communication and finance gap that is the crux of the problem in the horse world.  It's fine to introduce young kids to horses if you also intend to take on the financial burden of their growing horse lust.  If not, then keep your hobby to yourself.  Let the kids pet Fuzz Butt when you're not headed for a show, then send them home with warning stickers pasted to their jackets so Mommy and Daddy won't get sucked into the "But everyone else has a pony!" whine.  The sticker should warn parents that the "free" pony their beady-eyed neighbor is offering their child is going to cost a minimum of $1200/year if they keep it in the garage and feed it home-grown grain and hay.

There's a way to keep costs down assuming you can afford the basics.  But horses on the cheap?  Nope.  Not happening.
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Steps to Productivity, Eisenhower-Style

How to be More Productive by Using the “Eisenhower Box” (James Clear)

I grew up with President Eisenhower in the White House.  A brilliant man, he was a master of organization and sturdy decision-making and a worthy model for the hyper-productive lifestyle.

I've seen this sort of rubric before under many names and guises, but whatever you call it, it's a beautifully clear solution to complex modern lifestyles that tend to get out of hand easily.  Just as the President was, we are now called upon with increasing regularity to make decisions quickly and effectively, and many of us find it difficult to clear the field sufficiently to make the process simple.

The "Eisenhower Box" is an elegant representation of clarity of thought.  I'm not going to reproduce it here as it's nicely done in James Clear's blog post linked above.  The parameters, however, are simple and easy to grasp as a list.  Everything you need to do with your own life and your horse training and care regimens can be put into one of these categories:
A visual to-do note
reminding me that the
post needs replacing.
Important, but not
urgent.

1.  Urgent and important (Do it NOW)

2.  Important but not urgent (Do it ASAP, but finish your coffee first)

3.  Urgent but not important (Call the barn manager and tell her the check is in the mail)

4.  Neither urgent nor important (Yeah...we'll just get to those filthy saddle pads when the spirit moves us...or toss them and buy new ones)

The sorting process is reminiscent of cleaning the basement and garage and sorting your priceless possessions into those ever-present boxes labeled "Fix", "File", "Garage Sale", and "Dump".  The hardest part is getting started, so start where you have to.  What's on your desk (or kitchen table) this morning by way of post-its, bills, and articles you plan on reading?  What topics did you intend to search online today?  Why?  If it's not apparent that you have an imminent need for some of your activity, can you put it aside?  Permanently?

I've got a system for sorting through the huge pile of catalogs that come in the mail daily.  I'll call it the Friedman Folio.  It goes like this:

I go through each and dog-ear the pages where something has caught my eye.  Tack, clothing, housewares, books...  The good stuff gets marked.  Then the catalogs go on my desk in a pile with the most important on top.  Important usually means the catalogs that I use to order my horses' meds and supplements.  Down from the top they range in importance from "buy this week" to "really..?"

I wait a day, then start on the pile.  The Must Haves get ordered and the catalogs tossed.  Then down the stack I go.  If whatever I noted needs the approval of another party, or if it requires measurements or other information I didn't have on hand when I turned down the corner, those things get addressed next.  Off-season horse stuff falls into that category.  I might post-it a note to the front of the catalog to do a count of summer waterproof sheets in the barn before I put in an order, but with a deadline that coincides with the end of the sale pricing.
Visual to-do note:
Need to order more of
these socks before they're
out of season and not in the
catalog.
Urgent but not important.

Down the pile will also be items I think I should point out to someone else who might need them.  And finally, at the bottom, the luxury catalogs with the designer stuff, artwork, and other things that I'll never order because I have no actual need for them nor even a place to put them should fancy overcome logic.  Those will sit around for a week before they hit the recycle bin because I don't actually care enough to even give them a second look.

I want to thank James Clear for posting this, as it's something that is so obvious that it's nearly invisible.  Put it to work for you, and at very least you'll limit your muddling to trying to decide which category fits the task of trying on all those old show clothes and donating or selling the huge pile that no longer fit.  And I suggest you sign up for his email updates.  He's an ace at organizational skills...which is something we busy horse people sometimes fake and often lack entirely.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Multiplying Effectiveness

Behavior Multipliers: Four Factors That Can Lead to Success

Given the right situation and tools,
learning can't help but
happen.

  • Rapid Feedback
  • Simplicity
  • Environment
  • Ability


There ya' go.  There are James Clear's Four Factors that can multiply the effects of behaviors.  Lest you worry that we stray, this also applies to horses and our work with them.

If there's one thing I learned early on as a teacher of miniature humans, it's that we all need to be aware immediately of whether or not we're on the right track.  This is my biggest complaint against homework in school, and it's our horses' biggest complaint against heavy-handed trainers.  No feedback or slow feedback teach all the wrong things and are frustrating and infuriating to the learner in the scenario.

Teaching children is an art, even when the children are nearly full-sized humans.  Then it's also subterfuge, but that's a different article.  The secret to effectively getting the most from a student of any species is to  let them know as quickly as possible when they've done what's required, and to let them know equally quickly when they're veering off-course.  With humans, speech makes it a little easier to give feedback.  "Nice job!"  That works.  A smile, a pat on the shoulder, a tap on the paper accompanied by a frown...all of these are quick, simple feedbacks that let the student know where s/he stands on the spectrum of successful completion of a task.

For instance, telling my Favorite Barn Brat, Melissa, that her floor sweeping has improved greatly has had the effect of improving her floor sweeping greatly.

Horses can't speak our language, but they can learn to connect our words and gestures with positive and negative feedback.

[NOTE:  For those prepared to jump on this as a vindication of punishment or even negative reinforcement, you're veering off course, so just keep reading.]

We've learned from "Natural" horsemanship that release of pressure is a reward.  It is.  So is tone of voice.  Listen to horses communicate. When they are feeling all warm and fuzzy towards each other (or, at feeding time, towards humans), their vocalizations are low and soft. When they're worried, anxious, or excited, they're high and loud.  Tune your voice accordingly.  If the horse responded as desired, a low-pitched gooooood booooy will do wonders, especially if accompanied by a cookie.
This successful moment brought
to you by the perfect storm of
multipliers

The simplicity piece is pretty much a given.  I've written about this before.  KISS isn't just a band, you know.  You have to steer the elephant.  The elephant is the horse's response, and you are the guide.  Keeping the elephant from running into barriers is your job.  Clear the field.  Make the requests and the platform as simple and clear as possible, and you'll see an immediate improvement in response time from your ele-- er, horse.  A cluttered work space could be the biggest problem you're having in moving your horse forward in his training.  I have a mare who, after some 18 years of training and competing, still gets upset if a jump rail has a fence behind it.  She may be nearsighted.  It may appear to her that the fence is closer to the rail than it is, or the lines may converge into one impossible jump.  So I try to make sure there's nothing in her line of sight that might create conflict.  It works.  She relaxes and gives me 100% of her attention, which is what I'm after.  It's what we're all after.  When the horse loses focus, s/he "forgets" we're there and disaster is not far in the offing.

Again, this is a workable piece with children.  A student who is put off by too many questions on a page will perform much better when the number is cut and lots of white space is injected.  Same number of tasks; cleaner format.

This is also where task analysis pops in.  Regular readers know how I love task analysis.  Break it down.  Consider what steps are required to get where you're going, and roll back to the very first one that has to be accomplished.  With horses and humans, the first step is always the mental pre-set that something is about to be taught.  It's that Hellooooo, are you listening? moment, and it's critical.  Find a way to tell the trainee that he's about to learn something new, and start with something old like standing still.

A learner in an environment where learning is expected will learn faster and better and with more retention.  A learner in a slapdash atmosphere will fail.  Turn off you phone.  Don't text in the middle of the learner's learning process.  Don't busy yourself with Snapchat photos of the event.  Create an atmosphere where learning and performance are evident all around, and watch your learner soar!

Finally, work with the ability level at hand--yours and your trainee's.  You can't teach what you don't know, and s/he can't learn what s/he isn't capable of.  Duh.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't push.  It means you can't get upset or angry if Fuzz Butt just doesn't have the four-foot jump in him.  You can't throw up your hands in disgust if Little Billy gets lost in the "guzintas", as one of my students labeled long division.  And if you're not on top of things yourself, if your skill set is somewhere south of advanced beginner and you're trying to teach flying changes and spins, you and your student are doomed from the get-go.  Be honest with yourself first, then set your goals.

The bottom line is that learning is a skill in itself, and a learner needs all the appropriate structure around him or her in order to succeed.  The teacher needs the same.  When both are working with the most effective set of circumstances, then both will succeed up to and even past their basic ability levels.  Trust me.  I know stuff.  I've got the Big Four covered.

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