Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Doing Less To Get More:

This pose is what is known as FFA or Full Friesian Alert. Sure enough, a moment later, Kanani kicked up his heels and was out of there!


What if you had a friend who only came around when she wanted something?

And when she comes, all she pretty much does is boss you around? Even if she gives you treats--which start to look a lot like bribes since you have to perform first to get them--and even if she does pleasant things like groom you and brush out your snarled hair (plus some unpleasant things like sometimes giving you shots or nasty-tasting medicines)--wouldn't you start to wonder if she's really your friend or not?

Is she the one you would pick to hang out with? Would you drop everything you are doing in a heartbeat to come running every time she calls? (Especially when you know she's just going to make you work for her?)

What if she almost NEVER plays with you or just keeps you company and all it really comes down to is just WORK, WORK, WORK--stuff you might never do on your own, like trot in perfect 20 meter circles or walk calmly past scary things?

From a horse's point of view, this is pretty much what they know of us, their human "friends." Amazingly, they still tolerate us. They do what we want--mostly anyway--even if their hearts aren't really in it. But trust us? Walk calmly out of a burning building with us--or even just calmly past a mailbox they've never seen before that reminds them of a fire-eating dragon?

In an effort to have the best possible relationship with my horse, I am following the advice of renowned horsewoman, Carolyn Resnick, who spent years studying wild horse herds and how horses form bonds or friendships with other horses. Aside from pecking order in a herd, horses DO pick their friends--the ones they feel safe with and most want to be with. These are the ones they go out of their way to hang out with. Their "friends" become their passive leaders, the ones they will follow anywhere--to the next patch of grass, to the waterhole, to wherever, no matter if it's a new, strange or even scary place.

We're not talking the alpha horse here,the one who runs around chasing other horses away from food and water every chance they get, sometimes biting and kicking them and generally making life miserable. Alpha horses are respected but rarely liked and trusted. Most humans dealing with horses fall into the alpha horse category. We command respect, but not trust, and we only rarely become beloved, sought after "passive leaders."

According to Ms. Resnick, if I want to move into passive leader status, I must spend time just hanging out with Kanani. Time where I don't ask him to do anything, send him anywhere, or require anything of him. In fact, I must ignore him and let HIM come to ME and DECIDE that I am the sort of horse he wants to hang out with and willingly follow.

I am advised to take a book and a chair into a big pasture or arena and just sit there and ignore my big, nosy friend. Horses usually need quite a bit of time before they become curious enough to approach a human, sniff 'em and check 'em out all over. Not Kanani. He already has an over-abundance of curiosity and has followed me around since day one. However, when I take him into the big arena, he still spooks at puffs of wind, noises from the field next door, axis deer jumping around on the other side of the fence, the ironwood trees rustling....whatever. Although he will quickly return to me, he still feels the need to whirl and run when something scares him. It makes no difference if I speak soothingly to him or not.

Ms. Resnick claims that such spookiness means that Kanani has not yet accepted me as a passive leader who can protect him by my very presence. He still needs to discover that he can be out there with me and TRUST my signals--my calmness in the face of scary happenings. He has to learn that he need no longer worry about his surroundings because I'm in charge of "worrying" and moving us to a new place if we're in danger.

So guess what? I am adopting yet another strategy that surely looks ridiculous to other humans. (If there are any around.) I am sitting alone reading a book in the big arena with Kanani while he convinces himself that I am a leader to trust.

It's called "doing less to get more."

Once he accepts that he can be out there with me--withOUT spooking--he will be ready for the next step, taking my direction while we're out there, letting me ride him, etc. in a nice, calm, quiet manner. FFAs will be a thing of the past.

I LIKE the idea of allowing a horse to train himself. Once he learns to look to me for reassurance in the spooky arena, he will do the same everywhere else. If I don't spook, he won't spook. That's the theory, anyway.

Interesting, eh?

(And maybe life-saving since I have been known to get thrown off spooky, bolting horses in the past!)

Kanani checks out my chair and book just prior to tipping it over.

As I sit in my chair trying to read, Kanani looms over me--and keeps watch on our surroundings just in case something bad is out there! He intends to see it first.

Have you ever had a horse read over your shoulder?

Kanani did relax long enough to munch a bit of hay along the fence line--at which point I tried to sneak away and put my camera in my car. Alas, he wasn't relaxed enough to stay there and eat but thundered after me and stood by the gate awaiting my return, leaving the rest of his hay untouched. (Sigh...This may take longer than I think!)



  2. that makes perfect sense to me! a light bulb just went off over my head:)