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January 14, 2018 1 Comment
How many people can you say, truly get horses? I'm not talking about loving them. Thousands of people love their horses. I'm not talking about training. Thousands of people train their horses every day. I'm talking about what it takes to be a true master.
In my book, "Leadership and Horses," I talk about being the kind of leader that can be as firm as necessary, and as kind as possible. Not wishy-washy. Not soft. Not easy, or lazy, or meek. And not mean, frustrated, or domineering. Perfectly balanced between firmness and kindness, but willing to go either way in the appropriate situation.
Let me ask you a question.
Is it OK to hit your horse?
And Yes! But of course, the "yes" is only situational. What if your horse was trying to bite you, or kick you? Would it be OK then? Yes it would. What's not OK, is to not balance out the firmness with kindness.
Let me ask you another question. Is it OK to give treats to your horse?
If you read my last blog about giving treats, you already know the answer, but in case you didn't, the answer is... YES (treats blog post)
But the answer is also NO, because there are situations where feeding treats would be detrimental to your progress and to the relationship between you and your horse. Learning timing is critical.
One more question... Is it OK to ride a horse?
Answer: You probably already guessed. Yes and No.
It's OK, when it's good by the horse. It's not OK, when the horse hates people. That's called slavery.
So what makes a great leader? What makes a trainer so talented that even the worst horses begin to comply and even enjoy putting in effort to work side by side with a human?
Answer: A leader who sees both sides of the coin. A leader who is firm, but cares deeply.
Horses learn to love soft leaders but never respect them enough to trust them in scary situations. Horses need firm leaders! It's that simple.
But being firm alone can make some people seem mean. It's not enough just to be firm. You also have to see the horse for what it really is. For what we've made it. It is an animal of servitude. There is no way around that fact. But knowing and feeling from your core that his plight is not doomed to average imprisonment of utmost importance. You can make his or her life a happier, healthy life, working side by side with a human. You can become the kind of leader that serves the horse as much as he or she serves you.
The only way to make the kind of progress that so many novice trainers hope to one day attain, is to become firmer if you lean toward too much kindness and kinder if you lean toward too much firmness. Getting a horse to cross a stream, requires firm leadership. Getting a horse to load into a trailer requires firm leadership. I'm not talking about hitting a horse. (there are better ways) I'm talking about proving to the horse that you will not give up, even if it takes two days, you won't back down. Some people give up. Some people aren't strict enough with their outcomes or clear enough with their goals. Sometimes people get distracted by the smallest details and negative expressions in the horse and back off their intended purposes. But master trainers know better. One must be firm when necessary. One must stand his or her ground and be a true leader.
And of course, once progress is noticed. Once effort is being demonstrated by the horse, a master must bow to the horse. I literally mean, praise the horse. One must make the horse believe that the effort he or she gave was worth it. One must bond with the horse in a way that the horse appreciates. The rewards must far out way the challenge of the day. Any leader who can do that, will become a master.
It really always comes back to the training to bonding ratio. If it's out of balance. If a trainer, trains too hard without ample rewards, the horse begins to show signs of stress. If the trainer, trains too little without testing new skills, and offers too many rewards, the horse never shows signs of progress.
It's a long road from teaching a horse to carry a saddle, to riding at the canter, to performing arts and competition. But it's a marvelous road, full of exciting turns and stops. Anyone willing to join me on that road will learn more about themselves and their horses than ever before. Anyone who's already been on that road, or perhaps traveled the road many times, will tell you there is no other road on the planet as scenic and awe inspiring.
Join the quest to mastery and learn to balance your training/bonding ration. Learn how to be a leader that is firm, but cares deeply and uncover your hidden potential!