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October 25, 2022 5 Comments
It's almost Halloween and that makes me think of pumpkins. And thinking of pumpkins makes me think of Cinderella and her magic pumpkin ride gifted to her by the Fairy God Mother who so enthusiastically sang that fun, Disney tune, "Bippity, boppity, boo!"
So now, let's sing along with her, but not for any reason you might suspect. I haven't yet hinted at why we should use her words but now it's time.
Words have power. Enormous power! Language is the foundation of society and its nuances between intention and meaning. Words should be honored, studied, practiced. Words used flippantly or too often create a dullness to life and communication. Think of it like a knife being blunted by too many strokes on hard surfaces. The wrong word at the wrong time can create a sharpness that causes tension and pain. And one word, one very special word... has enough power to ruin your career, especially if you work in the horse industry, like I do.
That word is... "Hit!"
Is it okay to hit your horse? Answer... NO! But what about if your safety or another's is on the line? How about then? YES!
But "hit," regardless of the context, carries weight. It sparks a tone of abuse and unkindness toward our beloved animal partners. So how can we (we as horse trainers) teach others to value firm leadership without having that same root negative tone that "hit" carries.
First of all, horse are tactile creatures, so if you think physical contact isn't necessary to teach them then you're in the wrong industry. If you think I'm wrong and you feel you don't need physical contact, then don't put a halter on your horse and let's see how far you get. The halter is physical contact. Teaching a horse requires guiding movement, and physical contact is often required for that, even if you train without a halter. Horses in nature also kick and bite and shove each other around as a normal day to day expression of language and intention. They live by tactile expression. So, no matter how you spin it, communication with your horse will require touch. But to avoid being abusive, most of us agree we should be kind with our touch and firm when needed without being abusive. So here is what I'm getting at... we need a new word that doesn't have the connotations of the word "hit."
My favorite... "Bippity, boppity, boo!"
In my clinics I often teach my students when leading their horses to back their horses away when they spook forward. Sometimes, in order to achieve this, you have to block his forward trajectory and "bop" him on the nose then follow that up with kind words and a rub on the nose. That's how you get balanced horsemanship. If you don't bop your horse, which many prefer not to, you will inadvertently allow and reward him taking your space and now, you've got a dangerous 1500 pound bowling ball heading toward you. One who's learned that you aren't really any kind of leader at all.
I meet people all the time that get emotional about bopping their horse and refuse to make that physical contact. ALWAYS. And I mean always, these horses are the worst horses in the clinic and it's not until that student learns that they aren't hitting their horse but guiding their horse that they begin to step up as a leader.
When students ask me how I get my horses to do things so quickly and so calmly I often have to point out how I had to be firm. They almost never see it. Not because I'm not firm. I am at times. But because I always balance that firmness with extraordinary amounts of bonding. You can too. Change your language from hit to bippity bop and you're halfway there. Then add the extra bonding time and trust building and you're all the way there. Welcome to mastery with horses.
One last fun twist... don't scare your horse into motion. The saying should go... "bippity, boppity, don't boo."
It's truly a pet peeve of mine to see horse owners smack the ground behind the horse to make them go. It's like they don't get it. Why would you try to scare your horse into motion? Don't you want your horse to NOT be scared into motion? You know, like when a dog runs up behind you or a twig breaks or a bird flies up? If you don't want your horse to spook, then stop spooking and threatening him to go from behind. Let your tools guide him with visual softness and more tactile firmness that starts out soft. Reach for your horse with tactile intention to send him forward rather than strictly visual reinforcement to go. Don't slap the ground behind him. You're only reinforcing spookiness. So... bippity, bop him forward but... don't boo.
I hope you see how I like to have fun with words and make them memorable. I hold no judgements against anyone who trains different to me. We are all trying to do the best we can. I truly believe that. I don't think we ARE doing the best we can but I think we are trying to, and that counts for something in my book. It's a good start to develop good feel for your expectations and communication.
Thanks for reading. As always. I love your comments. Post and share. Thankyou
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