Who enjoys being under pressure day in and day out? Do you? I don’t. Most of us work very hard to keep pressures from piling up. The proactive among us have learned what important tasks in life need to be carried out regularly and consistently to keep from becoming pressure situations. If we avoid them, procrastinate them or just plain ignore them, we know that very predictably they will create pressure down the road. You might wish you could turn all these pressure causers off, but you can’t, so instead you do that thing we all said we wanted to do when we were kids – you grow up. You accept the fact that you have certain responsibilities and you meet them. As you realize how rewarding it is to keep your responsibilities in line, you may even begin to enjoy your daily tasks and relish in the sense of accomplishment and growth.
Welcome to one more thing you have in common with your horse. Just like you he prefers to not be under pressure. Just like you he realizes that whether wild or domestic, certain pressure causers are a fact of life. And, just like you, he’s willing to put effort into having some control over them.
And………that’s as far as I plan to anthropomorphize the horse.
The subject I want to touch upon today is finding the balance between pressure and kindness. I often say that if you want to compliment a person who speaks another language, learn a compliment in their language. If you want to be kind to your horse, be kind IN horse.
Well, then, that begs the question “What is kind to a horse?” To boil it all down to one word, you are being kindest to your horse when you are being CLEAR.
To lose sight for an instant that a horse is a prey animal and things eat him is to lose sight of all that is the horse. Every horse is born as wild as a deer and the instincts of his ancestors are as strong in him as in his wild born cousin. Given the opportunity to live in a herd situation, he will place safety above all else, and in his world a well functioning herd is the single most important factor in that safety. If there are questions of hierarchy, they are handled immediately, definitively and CLEARLY. Where he eats, where he sleeps, when he drinks, who gets to breed, even who watches east and who watches west are determined by this hierarchy. They are CLEAR. They are not negotiable, they are not put to a vote. You won’t see campaign signs littering the field this time of year. The leader is the calmest, smartest, bravest and most consistent. She is steady, dependable and the same horse day in and day out. Her requests are often given almost too subtly for us to see, but they are not optional, and if they are not followed promptly, they will rapidly escalate to something you WILL see and to any level necessary to get the required response. Because it is absolutely understood that she will ALWAYS follow through, she usually doesn’t have to. As a matter of fact it’s actually rare to see the established alpha in an altercation, but it is common to see altercations closer to the bottom of the herd. (and in that statement is a HUGE hint – if you are constantly in an altercation with your horse, you may not rate in his herd where you think you do.)
So…..a lot of build up so I can share one line with you.
“It is not who uses the least pressure who is the kindest, but who uses pressure the least.”
The next time you are encountering resistance to something you know that you know that your horse knows how to do, and you think you’ve asked as hard as you can ask, and you’re hesitant to go any further for fear you are not being kind, remember this next line.
“You set the rein, the leg or the spur and your horse sets the pressure.”
You make the request as kindly as possible, but your horse decides how firm becomes necessary. With a permanent attitude of fairness and justice you will begin to feel to him like that alpha around whom his world revolves (and if you’re saying, but my horse IS the alpha in our herd, remember, even an alpha wants an alpha.)
Pat Parelli often says horses must have been husbands in a prior life because they can’t stand to be nagged!
Be as firm as necessary when necessary and sooner than you’d imagine you’ll be able to be as light as possible. But, be muddy, unclear and nagging in the interest of being kind today, and one day down the road you’re either going to have to give up or even worse, you’ll have to be a WHOLE LOT firmer than ever would have been necessary today.
So today, be kind to your horse. Be CLEAR.