Friday, February 19, 2010

Setting Kind Boundaries

Hi Everyone--I owe readers and my other writers here an apology for not participating lately. Lots has been going on and I have had to let some things fall to the wayside. My blogs have kind of taken that back seat and I apologize.

Anyway, I've read over the latest posts and am appalled (not necessarily shocked) by some of the training practices out there. I understand teaching a horse boundaries and respect. I get that, but I am one of those crazy horse lovers that treats my horses more like my own children. I'm fortunate that I grew up with parents who also adored animals and especially our horses. We may have been ignorant, but the joy we've received from our animals has been immense. My mom wasn't much of a rider but she loved to just go out and groom the horses. My dad and I spent our free time out on the trails together. We didn't have the money for a "real" trainer and for me to show, so I grew up very backyardy (I know--not a word, but you get it). We had good, kind horses who like all horses did silly things at times--like spook or bolt or buck (that would have been my pony Charlie). But they were never abused. Dad taught me how to use a pulley rein at an early age and basically said, "Keep your heels down and your butt in the saddle, and you should be good." I came off plenty, and there was only one time I ever saw Dad get sort of rough with my pony--and now as I look back it really wasn't rough at all. We were out on the trail. I was about seven or eight. Charlie bucked me off. Because this was something he'd been known to do, Dad had the foresight (long before helemts became mandatory) to make me wear a hard hat. I felt so dumb, but that helmet saved me as I came off the pony and banged my head pretty hard. Dad was mad at the pony, and he got on Charlie and took the ends of the reins, smacked his butt a few times and put him in a lope up and down the dirt road for a several minutes. He worked the pee out of him and I believe he was cursing at him quite a bit. Charlie pretty much stopped his antics with me after that. He made the decision that the little kid on his back was a lot better than the Dad on his back. Like I said, Dad wasn't mean. He didn't beat him, he didn't break him, he just let him know that throwing me off time and again was not a good plan.

I get why my dad got so angry at Charlie now that my daughter is out on Monty day in and day out. It's scary when your kid is out on an animal MUCH larger than them, MUCH stronger than them, and with a mind of their own--and when they pull shenanigans you pretty much want to step in and ring their neck. But here's what I learned about setting boundaries in strong but kind ways--I became a better rider, my kid is a better rider than I ever was and that's because she is learning good boundaries, but she isn't mean. Terri has taught her so much about being the leader with Monty, and you can visually see this partnership happening. I don't think that cruel tactics, mean training sessions--the kind that makes a horse fearful--is ever useful. It's kind of like the dog who gets beat down, or the kid who gets beat down--eventually that dog bites back or that kid retaliates. Horses are emotional beings and although they need to understand who the leader is, I believe there has to be a better way than some of the tactics I've read about over the last week her on EI.

I kind of got off on a different tangent here than I planned. I was going to write about what's been going on with my mare Krissy (part of my dissapearing act), but I'll save it for next week.

I'd be interested in knowing how you establish boudaries with your horse(s). Have they changed throughout the years? I know that there are two schools of horse people--and I respect both kinds. There are those who view horses as commodities and it's about a business. Then there are those who view them as family. I'm wondering where our readers lie in that mix--if you're one or the other or a combination of the two. Please share your thoughts and stories.

Have a great weekend.



HorseOfCourse said...

I believe there is a difference whether you work with horses professionally, or if you only have it as a hobby.

I only have it as a hobby, and thus I can choose my horses.
I don't have to work with the nutcases.
My task in setting boundaries, and getting well-functioning horses, is very much easier than if I was working as a trainer and had to try and get other people's problem horses to function well.

I try to be kind and consistent.
I truly enjoy the company of our horses, and I believe they know that.
They have to behave, but I also try to listen and understand. In spite of that, my horses probably mentally shake their heads over my thickheadedness quite often.
I envy those that work with horses professionally, because they spend more time with horses in their life than I am able to.
I know more now than I did 20 years ago.
If I can keep my horses and my health, I will probably know even more in another 20 years. Still my life is too short to learn as much as I want to.

Laura Crum said...

Actually I don't have much tolerance for people who view horses as commodities. Many, many horses suffer greatly, far worse than what Playboy suffered in my previous post, because some horse owner, who viewed said horse as a commodity, shipped him off to the sale when he was no longer useful. When that good old pony got hauled to slaughter in Mexico a far greater wrong was done than by the old cowboy who used very harsh methods to retrain a terribly dangerous horse (if that old cowboy did do wrong--which was the point of my post.)I treat my horses like family, too, but they're not toddlers. I ask for and get a great deal more respect than I expect from a toddler. And its necessary, because horses are truly dangerous. If you'd broken your neck when that pony bucked you off, you wouldn't be writing this post. I say yay for your dad for being willing to show the pony that was so not acceptable, and I would be extremely intolerant of any broke horse of mine behaving in that way. They'd get a lesson they would not forget. So, yeah, I guess I'm a little firmer when it comes to setting boundries.

And I agree with Horse Of Course--When I worked for professional trainers we had to deal with a wide range of problems. Some were very difficult. Now that I select horses to please myself, it is relatively easy for me to choose horses that will not do dangerous things, horses I can enjoy and be kind to. Nonetheless, I am pretty clear with even my gentle horses that they must act right and respect me at all times. Its a safety issue.

Gayle Carline said...

Although I don't deal with problem horses, I board my horses at my trainer's ranch, and I've watched her work with quite a few. She's managed to turn them around, although it sometimes takes a lot of her time, because she doesn't resort to the abusive methods I've seen described here. Her basic philosophy is to make it easier for the horse to be good than bad. Once the horse understands what she wants, then if he misbehaves, she gets after him, much like your dad did with your pony. She always taught me that "you ask your horse first, before you demand."

I've heard the "lay down and restrain" method of dealing with horses actually kills their spirit, like those final moments in a predator's mouth, where the prey submits to its fate. I'm not certain that any horse deserves that.