One of the aspects of riding horses that I find most intriguing is the constant push and pull around who is training whom. Say you put Thunderbolt in the wash stall cross ties after your lesson. Because it’s hot and you are a conscientious rider, you will wash off your sweaty beast before you put him back in his stall.
But you have sweaty tack to deal with too, so you leave Thunder chilling in the wash stall while you take your sweaty saddle pad outside to dry in the sun. No sooner do you drape that sucker over the fence than you hear, scraaaape, scraaape, scraaape. Mighty steed is pawing in the cross ties, because he wants outta there. He wants his water bucket, or a pile of hay, or the pleasure of rolling in the mud, but he does not want to hang out in the cross ties. Nopity-nope. This is not rocket science, ye human.
You hurry back to the wash stall and shake your finger him. “Naughty pony. Don’t paw.” Then, you don’t want to forget to scrub off your bit and bridle, so you nip into the tack room to hang them by the sink.
Scraaape, scraaape, scraaaaape. You are back to the wash stall in a flash. “Bad pony. No pawing. Just be cool and I’ll get you–”
Scraape, scraape, scraape, and for good measure, Thunder tosses his head, because he is dealing with one slow human. You hose him down and dry him off, and finally, after he has patiently explained to you–THREE TIMES–the necessity to look after your horse and stop dawdling, he gets to saunter back to his stall. He has taught you to come to him hotfoot when he paws, while you have…?
Children do this, dogs do it, social media for sure does it. Attention grabbing is an art and a science, and with horses, the way to get off the merry-go-round is to catch him being good. Ignore the pawing, as difficult as that is, and praise the standing quietly. Set him up so that he seldom has to resort to pawing, and still, praise him for standing quietly. Praise him for coming along like gentleman on the lead rope; tell him he’s a good boy just for going forward off your leg.
Pretty soon, your horse (or your clever and patient instructor) has trained you to look for the small successes, to look for the tiny gains, the minuscule signs of better communication, while you becomes less reactive to what’s wrong (though you still notice it). Instead of resentment and frustration on both sides, you and Brave Steed eventually become a team able to whisper to each other even in the midst of a gale.
The habit of looking for the positive is all but stomped out of us, particularly in trying times, when negativity is prized by the greedy as “engagement.” So I’m starting at home, looking for the places where I made a better choice, steered around a pothole, or behaved myself despite all temptation to the contrary. (Like say, responding to last week’s blog comments instead of fooling around on news sites, fr’instance.) Then I am patting myself on the back for that, because reinforcement builds habits–for good or otherwise.
What are you getting right these days? What pothole did you steer around? Where did you make a smarter choice or set yourself up to avoid frustration? To three commenters, I’ll send an e-ARC of My Heart’s True Delight. The book releases in mid-September, the ARC files should be ready to go in the next thirty days.