Sunday, March 13, 2011

If Horses Could Talk

Good Sunday morning, everyone!  I am often surprised at the things people say to me at the farm.  If you've read more than one or two of these blog entries, you know what I mean.  This one came from a staff person.

A while back, I had a sweet girl among my herd of little Christians.  I call her Mindy for the purpose of the blog.  Mindy was good at detail work.  Mindy would help you out if she could.  Mindy is a sweet girl.  Mindy is a few ants shy of a picnic, though.  Bless her heart.

Mindy is one of those people who has had a horse her entire life, yet seems to know nothing about them.  Her grandmother also has horses.  I don't know if grandma also knows nothing about horses or if Mindy just didn't understand when grandma was teaching her.  This is something I'll never know.

I'm always astounded at situations like this.  How could you have a horse all these years and remain so fundamentally ignorant about them?  Two of my favorite men regularly try to help me get over my astonishment.

RW always says, "Just 'cause you own a horse doesn't mean you know sh*t about them."  Oh man.  Does poor sweet Mindy illustrate that fine point.  She loves her horses.  They looked well fed in pictures.  But from her actions around my farm, poor Mindy doesn't know sh*t about horses.

Bart also listens to me rail on about the lack of knowledge horse owners have about their animals.  Bart is a mechanical engineer.  He does not believe he knows anything about horses.  Mechanical engineers love mechanical things and most of them love engines.  Bart is no exception to this generalization.  The man knows cars.

When he was a bachelor, I mean before he was married, not now...although technically I guess he is a bachelor again since we're not married...ok...enough of that thought...when Bart was a young bachelor, he bought sports cars.  Now, it's not like you think of a man and a sports car. 

Yes, he had a Porsche--though that was later.  As a young man, he had an Austin-Healey, 2 pre-Sting Ray Corvettes, and 2 old school Mustangs from the '60s.   As many engineers will do, he bought these cars in terrible condition and worked on them for fun.

He loves engines so much, he'd work on them in his spare time.  He'd revive these cars and get them drivable.  He'd enjoy his engine work for a while, and then sell them.  He never got them fully restored.  He wasn't interested in bodywork, he loves engine work.

So, my sweet heart and lover of engines says to me, when I'm all worked up about how some horse owners know nothing about their horses, "Well, how many people drive cars and know nothing about them."  Point taken!  He's absolutely right about that one.

I have a very rudimentary knowledge of cars and that's a whole lot more than the average driver knows.  The same holds true for horse owners.  Many of them only have a rudimentary knowledge of horses and that puts them head and shoulders above the rest. There are many knowledgeable horse owners, I'm not saying that.  I'm saying I'm surprised that there aren't more of them.

This brings me back to Mindy and today's topic.  Mindy said to me one day, very casually, "If horses could talk, I wonder what they'd say?"

Well, I responded, "Horses can talk, they just talk in a different way.  They communicate through their behavior."

Mindy responded to me as she did often with a spaced out, "Oh..."  That was the end of that conversation.

It is very true.  Horses do talk, they just don't speak English.  Horses talk, but they speak an entirely different language than humans.  Horses are prey animals.  Humans are predators.  It's nature.  Prey animals will never think like predators, ever.  So, if you want to understand horses, you have to stop thinking like a predator and start thinking like a horse.

Then, you will begin to see what they are saying to each other and to you.  Often times, during a lesson, if one of my horses seems off, I'll stand beside him and say, "What are you trying to tell me?"  I don't always know.

I'll sit back and watch.  I'll think about what led to that point.  Sometimes I figure it out, sometimes I don't.  I'll call my vets if it's serious or RW if it doesn't seem medical.  Although I certainly ask RW medical questions, too. Or, I'll simply think about it and watch it for a while til I figure out what my horse is telling me with his behavior.  This is something I've learned from RW after many years of watching him.

He talks a lot less than people anticipate.  After all of my RW stories, they think they'll meet this chatty horse professor.  Nope, remember those stories are from 15 years of friendship, not one lecture after another.  He's quiet many times.  He's observing.  He's thinking.  Or, he thinks you aren't worth talking to, so he doesn't bother.  I'm working on that skill!  It would save me a lot of frustration.

RW has taught me well and he's still teaching me.  My horses are teaching me, too--every day.  One day when I was feeling particularly inadequate, back during the whole boarding barn fiasco, I said something to RW about my feelings.  He said to me, "I learn something new every day I'm with horses." At his level of experience, that made me feel a whole lot better!

So, if you get a horse or you have a horse, listen to them.  But, listen in their language, not yours.  They are speaking to you and to each other.  It just doesn't look like us.

Read books and watch videos, yes.  But, watch your horses more.  Just sit quietly and watch them.  You'll learn, I promise.

And, the best books and videos, in my opinion, are by natural horsemanship trainers.  Natural horsemanship is a case of everything old is new again.  It's that old "horseswhisperer" stuff of the Native Americans or people like RW.  People who never took a riding lesson in their lives, yet they are magical with horses.  Remember, "magic" is for lack of a better term.

Natural horsemanship teaches what I'm telling you about prey animals and predators.  It teaches partnering with your horse.  It teaches using love, language--horse language that is, and leadership.  It's a balance of the three.  Notice I said "leadership," not "being the boss."  Those two thoughts have very different meanings.

Showing the horse who's boss is an arrogance of bending this creature to your human will.  It will eventually backfire.  Just like with Tar, you want to show him you're his boss, "Well," he says, "we'll just see about that."

Tar is smarter than most humans.  He's smarter than a lot of horses, too.  He's bigger than other horses. He's certainly bigger than people.  You're going to show him who's boss?  Go right ahead.  I'm going to get my popcorn and pull up a chair to watch the show!

This does not mean that Tar should be able to do as he pleases.  It means if you want to get anywhere with him, you gotta use love, language, and leadership.  You especially better be a leader, because he'll be glad to do that for you.  You cannot be his boss and force him through sheer domination.  It's not physically possible.  You've got to use leadership.  See, very different ways of communicating to a horse--leadership vs. domination.

Natural horsemanship is not about domination, traditional horsemanship is.  Save yourself and your horse a lot of trouble, misunderstandings, and risk of serious accident and skip traditional horsemanship.  There are people who disagree with me.  That's fine.  Just stay away from my horses, because we're doing just fine speaking to each other in the horse's language.

So, friends, now you know, horses do talk.  You just have to know how to listen.  Have a great Sunday and thanks for reading!

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