Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Horses and Humans: Perfect together?

Why I'm Never Getting My Daughter a Pony - Horse Collaborative

The article linked above isn't a warm fuzzy thing, and it's been around for a while.  So if you're in the mood for "Oooo...!  Pony!" just move on.

We humans love animals of other species.  It's known as Biophilia. We're attracted to other living things, plants and animals and things we don't even know about yet.  It's a universal draw to all living things as we show in research situations that we prefer the living over the inanimate.  And our attraction isn't confined to watching from afar.  We need to touch, feel, mess with, and fuss over them.  We are seeking oneness with all life, and we're bullies about it.

GUY in CHINO'S and a BALL CAP:  "I'm gonna hug this goddamn alligator whether he likes it or not 'cause I am goddamn one with Nature!"



There's always an undercurrent in the horse world questioning where the next generation of horse owners will be spawned.  We Boomers filled the countryside with horses and other equids, and the next gen is smaller and less affluent.  So who is going to fill the void?  Should we all be forcing our grandkids into the horse life just to keep it alive?

Budding horse whisperer and the best kind of pony for him to own.

This is a much bigger dilemma than it appears on the surface to be.  We have created a huge surplus of animals, some of which never existed in nature but were created by our genetic meddling, and there aren't enough humans to support continuing.  What will become of the overflow?

Turning them loose to run wild hasn't proved to be much of a plan.  The BLM is at constant odds with cattle ranchers over the population of wild horses they are trying to support.  The horses have to be rounded up and re-homed to make room for the cattle.  There's a huge pro-Mustang faction that has yet to address the fact that horses are not native to The Americas at all.  None.  They came here from Spain with the Columbian Expansion post-1493. [Read the timeline and review, then order the three books, 'cause you should.]

Before the anti-Mustang/pro-cattle folks get puffed up, be aware that there were no cattle here, either.  They came in from Africa (yeah, brought by the folks from Africa who knew how to manage them and were indentured, not enslaved, to do just that).  So we have created a war that didn't need to happen (what a surprise!), and we did it through our self-serving desire to have it all and have it our way (ditto!).

Now we're faced with a dilemma, and I have little to add to the subject.  As hard as I've thought about it, I keep coming back to two points:

1)  Some horses are going to suffer and die before we are able to roll this back.

2)  We need to stop breeding horses just because we want something bigger/better/tougher/cuter/horsier.

So, short and to the point, I putting out there that the linked article is an excellent treatise on why we need to stop indulging our whims and start thinking about the minds and hearts of the animals we so callously contact for our own human conceits.  It's time.  Even Climate Change is against the continuation of this insanity.  Ranges are growing smaller and will continue to do so no matter how hard some folks stomp their feet and deny that it's happening.  Hay shortages, pasture shortages, the continued spread of humanity across the face of the planet are all conspiring to make this a non-viable situation.

If you're faced with the choice between buying a horse or not, not is probably the better bet unless you are dead sure that you will be able to accommodate that animal's needs forever, till death do you part (and maybe after that if the death is yours).  That means education comes before check-writing.  I'd like to see more of that.  More summer horse camps where not only petting, grooming and riding are taught, but also the financial and physical end of being in the horse world.  No kid should be allowed at camp until his parents have finished a course or passed a test proving that, should Junior fall in love with those gorgeous pony eyes, Mommy and Daddy Dearest are completely aware and willing to foot the bill into eternity. And that they know what that means.

We need to opt out of owning and get into sharing and simply enjoying.

We've taken the easy route to making money in the horse life.  We open barns and let people bring their horses to live with us, and we take their money in exchange.  We open stables and teach people to ride and take their money in exchange until the lesson horses age out and are shipped off "to auction".  We breed horses and sell them to those same people without a thought for the future plans for the animals we're creating.

We need to take the high road and start thinking with our brains instead of letting our emotions rule the day.  There will still be horses aplenty, but perhaps not in the situations where we often find them.  Better for us, better for them, better all around.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Mark Zuckerberg Calls the 'A-Ha!' Moment a Myth

Yeah? And what does Mark Zuckerberg know that psychology doesn't?

For sure, if you own, work with, or are beset by children or animals, you know all about this experience.  It's that click that makes the light bulb come on.  There's an entire book about it, called, appropriately, Click!

The Brafman book is about social connections, but the mechanism is the same.  The Brothers Brafman describe high and low self-monitors as categories of minds that pay attention to the reactions they're eliciting in others.  The same categories apply to animals, most of which fall into the high self-monitoring group.  It's always in an animal's best interests to know how the other creatures surrounding him feel about him.  Their intentions towards him could mean the difference between life and death, between eating a meal and being one.  Babies are high self-monitors. They mirror their parents' facial expressions in an effort to match the expression to the intention in their tiny, pre-verbal brains and determine whether danger is afoot or cuddling can be expected.

Learning to bow in a silent space

That Mark Zuckerberg can't pinpoint the moment when the idea for Facebook came together in his mind isn't surprising.  If we were always aware of those moments, we'd be in a constant state of arousal and startlement.  Most of them slide by unnoticed.

Sometimes, however, they're so obvious we just have to shout (mentally, at least) "Ah-HAH!"

The mechanism is both stunning and elegantly simple.  It's the moment when the brain finds the connection between the present situation and something already stored away in memory.  Like pieces of a puzzle, there's a distinct snap into place, and suddenly it all makes sense.

What keeps us from noticing the sudden awareness is noise.  Noise doesn't have to be auditory.  It's a constant flood of stimulation, of sensory and mental signals that drown out more subtle signs.

We can make the moments more noticeable by reducing "noise".  If you're attempting to solve a major problem and can't quite seem to grasp the ends of the knot, that's not the time to be multi-tasking.  All those extra thought processes are just noise, not contributing to the solution and definitely preventing the awareness from being focused.  Years ago, research showed that boys were better able to concentrate with music or some other white noise in the background while they worked.  Girls not so much.  But that was long before the Electronic Age.  If you really want to get the job done, silence the phone, turn off the  notifications on your computer, and tell other humans surrounding you that you need uninterrupted time.

Working with animals, we're very much in control of the noise level.  If you want the animal to attend to the cue you're teaching, stop talking so much.  All that babble may seem calming to you, but it occupies the animal's mind with efforts to sort out important information from the stream of unimportant stuff.  Keep your cues to single words that can't be confused with other cue words, and don't add anything unnecessary.

In canine obedience class, we were taught to say the dog's name and only the dog's name preceding any cue involving movement (or non-movement, like "stay"). That formed a clear line of demarcation.  If she heard her name, Gert knew cues were coming.  All cues were accompanied by a hand gesture.  Simple and clear.

In the classroom, the best learning happened when there were fewest distractions.  Being able to close the shades over the windows was a plus in some rooms where I taught.  Keeping the lessons simple and to-the-point was key.

The same works for horses and other animals.  Since animals are so aware of non-verbal communication, this is a good time to follow their lead.  Be non-threatening.  Make sure the surroundings aren't full of chaotic movement and chatter.  Repeat the stimulus-response pair until you feel that connection.  Give the animal a chance to connect with you while s/he's connecting the behavior to something s/he's already learned.  Build from the bottom up, and do it with as little noise as possible.

Keep it simple.  Keep it clean.  Keep it quiet.  You and the animal will both be more likely to notice the click!  It's a terrifically exciting experience, so try not to miss it while you're videoing it for your BFF.  Get small and close and silent.  It's an amazing place to be.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Recovering From Failure

How to Get Back on Track After Disappointing Yourself

We love to point fingers.  Blaming others for our failures is the rule rather than the exception.  Bad showing in an easy class?  Blame the trainer.  Blame the horse. Blame the judge.  Blame the weather.  Blame washing your lucky socks.

We also like to pretend we're so terribly upset over our perceived failure because someone else is being harmed by it.  Blame the trainer.  Blame the horse.  Blame your family.  Blame the tack maker whose product you just shamed.

If we're honest (are we ever?), the only one harmed by our failure one.  Unless the experience was a qualifying round for the Olympics (as if!) and our failure means that the team goes with the alternate, who is a seven-year-old girl on a pony that can't find a lead on a circle, we're the bottom line.  Top line and bottom line.  We are they.

So let's start with getting over ourselves.
Little kids fail constantly.
It takes an adult to teach them to
be disappointed in themselves for it.

We set high goals and believe there's a huge, gold-plated Must welded to them.  When we don't meet our goals, we get all sad and mopey and down on ourselves. We sell our horse, our tack, our children.  We go into mourning.  We get all silly and stupid and unbearable.  And for what?

Whatever it was that we failed at, something else will always come along as an alternative. Okay.  That doesn't apply to base jumping with a chute that we forgot to pack.  But on the whole, barring life-or-death choices, it's all small stuff that we won't even remember six months from now.  Five years from now we won't remember who we were today, let alone what the major disappointments in our fleeting moments were.

By now some of you are really angry that I seem to be belittling your angst.  That's okay.  Go be angry.  Some of you truly get a kick out of wallowing in self-hatred, and I'm not here to slow your roll.  That's for your therapist to address.  But trust me when I say, you're burning daylight.  You're losing days (and sleep) over something that all the anguish you can muster won't change.

What will be open to change is your future behavior.  Start by letting go of whatever just happened.  So, you disappointed yourself.  Dissect (briefly and efficiently) the event and figure out where, exactly, you went awry.  If you can't figure it out, chalk it up to randomness and move on.  If you can find the source of the problem, created a plan for not making that mistake again.  If you need more training in a certain area, plan to find it.  If your horse needs a different job or more work on a particular skill, make the necessary changes.  If your lucky socks have lost their mojo, go find something else that works for you.

Move outside the problem for a bit.  Find something to obsess over that has nothing to do with this particular disappointment.  I've been feeling disappointed that I haven't been able to get my sick horses completely rehabbed.  But I totally get that I'm not in control of this.  Sure, it would be lovely if the weather cooperated, but it hasn't.  It would be great if the horses responded more quickly to treatment, but they didn't.  And damn, would it be fine if I didn't keep getting older!
There should be food. here.

I've been lucky.  My daughter and her kids discovered Fitbit (that's a wireless pedometer, for those who have been living in a cave on Borneo for the past three years) and thanks to their "challenges" (you can network with friends who have Fitbits and compare progress), I've been too busy obsessing on the number of steps, miles, and floors I travel each day.  I don't have the energy for more than one obsession, so this did the trick of getting me focused on something apart from the horses.

And I'll admit here since I know none of them follow my blog that I blew them all away this weekend because we were haying.  That only happens three times a summer, and they'll never guess that I don't normally walk 10 miles per day.  Suckers!  But it was nice to be reminded that I do normally walk more than 5 miles a day doing farm chores, so there's good reason for the feeling that I'm aging faster than I'd like.  I'm tired! 

Let sleeping failures lie and go forth and fail anew!  Every new challenge is a new opportunity to face down failure, get over your need to hate yourself for it, and find a way to get on with your life in a more productive mode.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Show Mom or Mom Showing?

The Pros and Cons of Showing Horses as a Grown Up

This is a great little article on the subject of adults returning to the show ring.  I smiled through the whole thing even while I was sadly reliving my heyday in my head.  Inside.  That's where it belongs.

I'm definitely an adult.  I showed as a teen, though I didn't own a horse.  Few of us did back then in the early '60's.  We showed at open shows using school horses, which was fine because our competition was doing the same.  Even when I rode against a collegiate team, they were all on school horses they'd trailered in for the event.  We were all equal.

Then I went away to college, and the horse thing fell by the wayside with only one exception.  The "townie" kids I tutored pooled their resources and bought me a trail ride at a local hack stable.  It was bad.  Not as bad as the Guinea pig they'd bought me the year before, but bad.  The horse was fine.  It was a long ride cross-country, which was fine.  The stop at lunch at a lake somewhere would have been fine had my horse not stepped on barbed wire and flipped over, sending me to the ER with a fractured elbow and grass embedded in my gums.
Knowing the value of relearning from the best comes with age.

Time passed.

A lot of time passed.

I was in my early 20's the next time I rented a horse for a day.  That was a little better than the college episode, but only because I wasn't the one on the runaway horse with my newbie arms flailing and my sunglasses caught on a tree branch.

More time passed and I answered an ad in the paper for someone to exercise a horse that was going to a big show and whose teen-aged riders weren't highly motivated to ride the creature.  That adorable, flighty Arab left me sitting in the dirt more than in the saddle, but I had the bug and I'd passed it on to my then-three-year-old daughter who was forced to sit by the rail and watch the depressing spectacle of Mommy being deposited in the mud over and over again.  I'm sure she didn't so much fall in love with the sport as recognize that even she could have done better.

So it came about that I got a horsey daughter and the urge to show again.  Showing against kids should have been a piece of cake.  I was wiser [*cough*], more experienced, and with considerable flash and panache at my disposal.  Which was why I brought home a whole lot of eighth place ribbons.  If there's anything positive to be said for the current fad of giving out as many ribbons as there are competitors so no one feels left out, it's that I didn't feel left out.  I was resoundingly worse than the tiny children on the big-butted ponies riding in my "open" classes.
Red ribbon! 

My daughter beating me, however....that was bad.  I needed to step up, so lessons followed.  And more horses.  I'd bought one to share, then added one so we didn't have to fight over whose turn it was to ride.  Then I traded for better horses, and we were on the road to being a Show Family.  If I'd had money, I'd have been dangerous.  My daughter lusted after the moms who quit their jobs and bought  trailers with living quarters and took their daughters (almost exclusively...only one boy in the group) "on the circuit".  Fortunately for both of us, she was stuck with a mom who was serving peanut butter on celery for dinner to have enough cash left to pay the board.

But as time went by, I--we--got better and better.  I took lessons from better instructors than I'd ever had in my life.  I rode with a real competitive spirit.  And once or twice, I beat my daughter.  In the end I wound up with 64 ribbons.   I know there were that many because last year I gathered them up and put them into display cases instead of allowing them to continue to fester hanging from strings tacked up on the family room walls.  I dusted off the trophies and plaques.  And I thought about how showing as an adult was incredibly different from showing as a kid.

The number one difference, of course, was that not only did I not have a Show Mom to dust off my boots between classes and run and get me water or a hot dog or whatever my whim imposed.  I was Show Mom to both of us.  It was exhausting fitting up, trailering, and showing for two.  But I did it.  No, we didn't get to the Olympics.  But there's not a ribbon in my cases that doesn't have a memory attached.  And the fun we had together, my daughter and our horses and I, was priceless.
It's fitting that my first
blue ribbon crowns the
pile of rosettes in this case.

Because I was an adult, she was surrounded by other adult riders. She grew self-confidence like my pastures grow buttercups.  And I was proud for both of us.  And because we moved from barn to barn as money got tight, we did it all.  We did English flat classes, classes over rails and fences, dressage, barrel racing, hunter paces, and trails.  I would never have done all of that if I hadn't been a horsey parent trying to teach a horsey kid the ropes.

So if the spirit moves you to drag your aging behind into the show pen again, don't let warnings and fears of looking silly stop you.  You might find, as I did a few years back, that the effort isn't worth the 89-cent ribbon, and you'll quit again.  But don't let pride get in the way of having a Moment.  As we age, those are few and hard to come by.  Grab them on the fly or you'll wish forever that you had.