Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Draft Animal Power › Horses › Trouble with New Team
- November 22, 2015 at 11:56 am #86458
I just have a couple of thoughts, one I think that George already mentioned, but we had a similar experience with our team. We set up a round pen to try to work with the one that was clearly very timid and afraid…he was the difficult one to work with, he was difficult to harness and it took us a long time to be able to handle his feet. We thought the round pen would be a challenge with him, but surprisingly he took right to it. In retrospect I think it was because he was afraid and so senisitive to any pressure, he just worked very hard to figure out how to make it go away. OUr super steady rock of a horse, the cool and confident one who was great in harness gave us quite a challenge in the pen, really came right at us and we felt quite vulnerable in there with our little lunge whip! There was a steep learning curve for us and we made some mistakes (and ended up doing a few dives under the fence to get away!) but were able to work through it in the end and the horse is now an amazingly responsive and fun guy to work with, he will tune right into us and work quite well at liberty in his pasture, but has still maintained his confidence and dignity, enough to occasionally do a little FU gallop around before charging back to engage with us…so anyway, I wasn’t surprised to hear your round pen report.
And on the polywire, it just requires you to have more finesse and care for your pressure which I think is a really good thing. It was interesting to watch the Clinton anderson stuff, but I found it more beneficial, with the drafts and the polywire, to just tone it waay down. I think CA is overboard on the pressure myself. We hardly ever pushed into a canter, we tried to keep things forward but relaxed. It takes a little more skill not to push through a portable fence but I think that is a good thing.
I’m so glad to hear you had a positive weekend and are moving forward with her, I think it will keep getting better!
KristanNovember 22, 2015 at 1:06 pm #86461
“Don’t keep demonstrating this fact to yourself” I’m having a bit of trouble understanding this statement in response to joining up. Are you saying to be selective in the moments I let her join up?
“When she was trotting around the pen you commented on how little pressure it took to make her move. Could you have used less pressure and had her walking? How would this have changed the dynamic?” Yes totally! I’ve been lunging her at a walk on the home farm and she has picked it right up. Still working on getting her right side smooth. I’m a little nervous about asking her to go at a faster pace as I don’t feel I have enough control just yet. Yesterday, Lenny was really pushing us to keep the pace up and really run her.
I thought the plier recommendation was questionable as well. Lenny has this interesting mixture of natural horsemanship techniques with this old backwoods flair. I’m taking it all with a grain of salt. A lot is jiving with what I have learned from other people and videos. It all feels a bit loose over there but I’m sure that is just based on what I’m comparing my experience to.
As for getting pinned… I totally want to get her the “f” off me, I guess I’m still feeling a bit outgunned. I got into a fight with her front end which escalated pretty quickly. Its that balance… I’m feeling ready to start working around her back end more proactively.
If I remember correctly here was plenty of space in between the two mares. I was actually pushed over into the mother. Which now that I think about it is pretty interesting. It was like I was holding onto the hand of a clock and swung right into the side of the trailer. Without a tool in hand I don’t feel ready to engage her back end.
What about intentionally trying to elicit the kicking response and then responding with 110% energy (with flag in hand) then loving her right up? I’ve been thinking more and more about actively trying to create the “pinning” situation.
Emma is one tough cookie and has yet to act out except for this moment in the round pen and when I asked her to trot while lunging. I understand how this illuminates what may be a substantial hole in our relationship. Yeah it would be super interesting to continue working her in the round pen. My day to day interactions with her are great and while working she was with me 95% of the time. Doesn’t stand great… perhaps that is something to work on. I’ve heard that older horses usually take a longer time to come around… From what the prior owner has told me of Emma she was a hell of a mare to brake.
Also, I wanted to mention this in prior posts… Whats the F-ing deal with Bay horses! Perhaps its just coincidence but Mitch I remember you telling me about that crazy team of bay horses you had.
I am going back and forth…November 22, 2015 at 1:44 pm #86462
Carl, I have a few comments about your day.
Trust….. you talk about trusting that horse. I say never trust a horse. Not because they are inherently bad, but because I think I need to focus more on me being trustworthy than on how trustworthy the horse is. I see this pertinent to your situation in a couple of ways. First, you are telegraphing to the horse that you uneasy around her, presumably because you expect better behavior out of her.
I don’t know which comes first (chicken vs. egg) but if I never trust a horse then I am rarely caught off guard because I realize that anything can happen, and if I am it is nothing personal. More importantly though, from your description it seems to me that you are more focused on her breaking your expectations than on trying to be trustworthy. I don’t think any animal would be comfortable under those circumstances.
The situation at the trailer sound like you were just working around her to see how she would react. It sounds nefarious to me. You really have no objective, you’re expecting her to react poorly, and basically waiting for her to do that. I think she doesn’t want to tolerate you if you have no objective.
I mention this because I saw something similar when I watched you at Phister’s last winter. You had a mare harnesses and drove her out to show me how she wouldn’t stand at the pole. She walked out calmly. You both were very relaxed. You drove her in by the pole, easily guiding her into place, she was very responsive, and she stopped and stood solidly…. for at least a few seconds. I thought to myself, she did great…. but you were tense and waiting as she began to get antsy, and then there was no turning back. I tried to explain then that I saw a reward-able moment, but that you were so focused on waiting for the bad response that you expected, that you missed it.
I think the same things is going on here to an extent.
Your description of the round pen seems to back up how I am seeing this. You talk about trotting her, and how little pressure it takes, and how you worked her until she showed “submissive” tendencies. I have never worked in a round pen, but these are very similar comments to those I hear often with folks working in round pens.
I do all of my pressure work in other settings, including open pasture. Rather than pick on you I will try to explain some of my perspective, and hopefully tactfully draw correlation to your experience.
I do not see horses running from a place of fear. I see horses running from a place of power. When a horse runs away from me, they are showing me how much more powerful they are. When a horse is running from me I do not want to reward that, but I believe that running (or trotting/walking) a horse until they get tired and want to give up is in essence only showing that they cannot get away from me. The round pen lends itself to that. There are a lot of other horse equipment that can also be used to subdue a horse as well. It is a common thread in horse training.
Conversely, I am trying to start communication right away. I want that horse to realize that it is MY desire to have her move away from me. So as soon as she responds to my pressure to move I take the pressure away. I don’t need to wait for her to show submission.
I came to a pasture one day and found that my horses had heard me coming, bunched by the gate, and forced each other through into fresh rowan. They were full of beans, and as soon as I approached one, the other took off, and they began to play with me. I quickly saw that every time I tried to approach they would run, so I stood for a minute, then walked with intention directly at them. It took a few tries before they realized that I was actually making them move, but it became clear in the way they watched me. They were taking me more seriously. From that point every time I made them move, I would turn away as soon as they took off. Successive approaches I got closer and closer, but always made them move before they wanted to move on their own.
I opened the gate and pushed one horse through, so that the trouble maker was alone on my side. She is a horse that had been allowed to be disrespectful, and defiant, and was never given any consistent guidance. As long as she would run away from me, the gelding would run too. Putting him on the other side allowed me to focus directly on her. Now as I approached her I would focus my gaze directly on her heart, the spot on her rib cage directly behind her shoulder. When I approached from in front I would focus hard on that spot and push her to turn around. As soon as she turned I would look away. Same from behind, but I would make her run forward, then look away. After about 5 of these pressure and release intervals, I approached and she lifted her head up, I brought my eyes to meet hers, she lowered her head a bit, but not to eat, and stood as I approached to put on the halter.
I am not trying to suggest any exercises, just trying to illustrate how I used the pressure and release to show her that I had something for her to do, and that whenever she did it I would reward her. that she could trust me. I am trustworthy. That my intentions are clear, and that she can respond in a way that I will reward. When I shifted my focus to her head, “Next task, let me approach your head”. She was clear about my intention, and convinced of my ability to do just that. Also she was willing to let me do it because she trusted that I would not misuse her with frivolous pressure. When she showed me that she was open to my approach, my approach had no pressure.
I think that the challenge with dominance theory is that it is just that, theory. In my mind dominance is an entirely human concept. In nature the leaders do not lead by domination. It would require too much effort to constantly keep everyone in order. They lead by being most capable of finding and securing resources and territory, and protecting the unit. They lead by success, and they establish order only when their formula for success is challenged. They are not dominant, they are indomitable.
I mention this because I think that efforts to subdue animals by domination, tiring, or restraining them, may work, but they are not tools to establish leadership. Leadership comes from displaying behavior that is attractive, is consistent, and allows the subordinate to feel comfortable with the situation. Just hanging out with a horse, trying to be equals, creating an atmosphere of cooperation, cajoling her, are all too passive for leaders. Exercises that are basically teasing, or testing horses to find out how trustworthy they are, or to find their behavioral breaking point are adolescent in nature, and most horses will believe they are on par or superior to that.
It is great to be close to the horse, to pat and brush, and pick up feet, but if there is no clear intention, no direct ask, then just seeing if the horse will allow you into her space is nothing more than irritating to her. Have a clear ask. Find small tasks that you can have laser clear focus on what the desired response will be. Don’t try to ask the horse to stand quietly, or to accept your leadership, those are cerebral concepts. Ask the horse to step over, or step back. Reward for the slightest try.
I am concerned that there is a lot of intensity being brought to this issue. I am concerned that it will create more problems than it will solve. I have learned that whenever I have a problem with a horse, I need to try to figure out what I can do differently. I am a firm believer that it has more to do with how you bring yourself to the situation, than how you create the circumstances of the situation. If there are new people, new settings, strange modifications to the normal schedule, then stress can be created that is detrimental.
I remember some old timer telling me that when my mare didn’t pull that I should cover her eyes and pour water in her ear. It would make her feel like she was drowning and she would move. Of course I tried it……. The example may be poor, and I think you should be appreciative of all the insight and personal help you are getting from people, but remember that you don’t have to get swept up in a host of possible solutions. None of us have anything invested in this situation, and it is easy for us to suggest things that have worked for us.
I have had much more luck working slowly horses, with low intensity, using everyday situations for comfort, and put the intensity on my personal work, my presentation, my leadership……. my purpose.
Good luck, Carl
November 23, 2015 at 7:41 am #86464
- This reply was modified 3 years, 6 months ago by Carl Russell.
Hi Carl, I want to say your idea of a grain of salt is right on, but that goes for all of us. Too easy to write ideas and suggestions here when we are not the one’s working with the animals.
I truly believe a round pen in your situation is a catch 22. This is what Carl R is talking about. The tool (round pen) gives us power and leverage over this animal. Use it too much and the horse smells a rat. Bringing a buggy whip or flag stick in is a good example of this. One of the first principles of pressure and release is to use as little pressure as possible to get the desired result. In the right hands a buggy whip or flag stick can be a great tool, but for many of us we don’t know how to take the pressure of these things off, or make this animal comfortable with them. It makes it harder to find a way out of the pen because the smart horse knows you have given up the tools.
What are the objectives of the round pen? To link up with the horse? I think you have done that. What exactly does linking up do for us? It teaches a horse to turn toward us when loose, allows the horse to be comfortable approaching us when we permit it. Follow us without a rope. Is that what linking up is? These are fine things, but they don’t add much to our ability to work or drive the animal. To my mind they really help with catching it, haltering it and leading it.
To harness it standing in the middle of the pen. This would be good. To pick up all it feet? This would be good. Even brushing it or cleaning it, can help it stand for a moment in the middle of the pen. Driving – Perhaps for a minute but this is a very small area to drive a horse in.
I think a lot about the calm, relaxed, and alert horse. I believe this is their natural state. I believe this is what we should be focused on when working or training. I mean to priority above everything else all the time. In asking a a horse to try a new thing there will be times where it is less than perfectly calm and relaxed. I shift my efforts to returning it to that state.
I don’t believe I am the worlds greatest trainer – far from it, I think I make mistakes often and try to learn from them. But I am intensely focused on the calm, relaxed, and alert horse. Even in my worst moment when a mule has sprung from me and gone to the barn (like yesterday – ugh) I am calm, and he is calm. He is only somewhat relaxed, and this is why I need to go slowly. I am going to see him relax before I ask him to do much more.
Again, easy to say too much here. I hope you are finding it fun, or at least interesting. Keep up the good work. DonnNovember 23, 2015 at 10:35 am #86465
A funny anecdote. When my wife and I were first dating, I was helping her take care of a friend’s horses on the farm we know own. Well, Melissa tells me a story about a thoroughbred hunter jumper that she was working with. He was a biter. Despite being aware, he got her one day. Without thinking or planning (Donn’s right, timing is everything) she turn around and bites him on the neck. Mind you, Melissa was only about 14 at the time. She ended up competing and winning with that horse (Chico) for a long time and never had another biting incident! Carl, you sound encourage and I am glad for you.
WillNovember 23, 2015 at 10:56 pm #86476
Hey Donn, I wasn’t trying to suggest he take the suggestions with a grain of salt, I think the suggestions are all good and appropriate, especially since he asked for them. The point I was trying to make was that I have been in the same boat, and it can be overwhelming when you are asking for help. I remember trying so many things, like the water in the ear, but eventually came to the understanding I had to step back and just work with the horses.
So to take the discussion a bit back toward the general training concepts, I want to respond to what you wrote about linking up. “It teaches a horse to turn toward us when loose, allows the horse to be comfortable approaching us when we permit it. Follow us without a rope.”
I am interested in this perspective. I have heard these things talked about a lot. It is at the root of some of what I was trying to talk to Doc Hammel about. I don’t think we need to “teach” the horse to do any of these things. They WANT to do all of that on their own. Apply pressure the horse moves away instinctively. It is their power. Take the pressure off they turn back instinctively, it is their confidence in their power. They only move as far away as they need to, then they are open to returning.
I think that linking up really is us teaching the horse that we understand their nature, and that we are willing to let them do what they want to do, but when we want them to do it. If they don’t trust us they won’t turn, link up, or follow, but they really do want to do all of those things, we just have to show them that they can trust us to allow them to do it.
When I am working with a horse to allow haltering or bridling I will reach toward them with the halter. If they yield, then I retreat, allowing them to move their head back to where they want it. I do that a few more times, and they realize that I want them to move their head toward me when I reach up with the halter. I didn’t teach them to move their head toward me, I allowed them to do it, and showed them that I could be trusted with that action.
Possibly it is just semantics, but I think it is imperative that we know what to expect from horses, and use their tendencies to our mutual benefit. So in that vein, I also agree that linking up is basically catching and haltering, but thinking of it from the standpoint of mutual understanding of actions and reactions, it can be the foundation for driving and working with horses. It just generally is not described or practiced from that perspective.
CarlNovember 23, 2015 at 11:48 pm #86477
I found myself thinking boy if I just had that pair of horses over here I’d….. , and wondered why I was thinking that way, and decided that its about me and feeling comfort in my surroundings. In fact, each time I visualized working with your horses, the exercise was in my stalls or on my barn floor or out in the fields around here. I also thought that each time I give advice to you about your team, its not really fair to you, and not likely to work out for you. My methods, if you want to call them that, were designed on the spot, to try and solve whatever problems I might be facing at the moment. it has taken a long time to develop and I am working on it still.
Like carl Russell and others here, I was kind of on my own at the time, so I had to draw on the memories of old timers living in nursing homes or the back rooms of farmhouses. They too, loved passing on the stories and tips but in the end, I had to solve my own problems. We are all rooting for you.
Start hooking and working your horses every day. Get help harnessing them if you need to. Wear the runners of a scoot a couple times. If it ever snows again, use the deep snow to work them in. when they are good and tired, then start with a program of some kind dealing with their manners. That’s my advice for what its worth.
We are all on your side, mitchNovember 24, 2015 at 8:10 am #86478
Carl. That was great. I think that without realizing it that is what I meant by “don’t keep demonstrating that fact”. I don’t think we are teaching the horse those things as much as we are demonstrating them to our self. It can be useful for a beginning teamster to learn were their power comes from. For the horse in the round pen is like someone you have know for sometime, and today they come in and act like we never met. Strange. Not bad necessarily, but in any compressed space and time, it can even increase the chance for miscommunication. When I suggest figure out how to get out of the pen I intend to continue with specific training objectives. I will try to use simple work tasks, like pulling a log; as my pen. The great thing about a simple task is it becomes the “third leg” of a triangle. You, the horse, and the task. This takes some focus off the horse, and give you a chance to demonstrate your competence and purpose to them.November 24, 2015 at 1:42 pm #86483
“I don’t think we are teaching the horse those things as much as we are demonstrating them to our self.”
Exactly my point. Round pen work, many training exercises in general actually, is often pitched as a way to work out horses issues, when I have always seen it more about giving us a place to work on our presentation.
The horse will do what you want only when you present yourself appropriately. The complication is that most people are focusing on getting the horse to do something and often are oblivious to the refinement of their own actions.
I think round pen exercises should be about human behavior modification, not horse. Then we are actually talking about developing leadership skills that are easily taken with us out of the pen.
When we think of it as conditioning a response for the horse, then we may need to keep going back to the pen because it doesn’t stick….. And it doesn’t, but not because of the horse, but because the human didn’t develop clarity about how their actions carry beyond the desired response…..
CarlNovember 25, 2015 at 1:02 am #86489
Bare with me for a long winded thought here… I have just read through the dialogue on this thread and have been enjoying all the thoughtful and insightful comments from folks. As usual when I spend some time reading around this forum, I’m always finding little bits of gold that I can either directly apply to improve my working routines or tuck into the back of my mind to call back on when I’m interacting with my animals.
When I fist started working horses 8 years ago it was a quick and rough introduction. I had no idea about human/horse communication besides what felt right to me. Didn’t grow up with horses, never heard of a round pen or lunging, we just harnessed the team and went straight to the work that needed to be done. First learned how to drive between the barn and the hay field. Its a miracle no one was ever hurt and we never had any serious runaways but I remember the feeling when heading out to hitch to a piece of farm equipment with two people handy. One to stand at the reins and one to do the hitching because we knew that we couldn’t do it alone, the horses would never be that patient. The last trace chain hitched, reins in hand, step up onto implement, heart racing, tell helper to step aside, try to hold horses still before asking them to go. Horses are nervous and tense, I’m incredibly tense, adrenaline throbbing as they almost run away and I’m just trying to get them out of the equipment yard.
They were thankfully never aggressive towards me, I owe them all my gratitude for the patience and tolerance they had of me, but they certainly didn’t trust me. We were lucky in that those horses were an older team and they had experience. As soon as I got out of the yard and into the hay field they were able to relax a little bit with the familiar round and round activity of raking or tedding and I was finally able to relax a little too and start to feel the subtleties of gentle reining and clear communication.
That was my first year living on and working a farm. My wife and I started our market gardening buisness that year and we wanted to work horses in our gardens. A whole set of equipment and tasks that I was unfamiliar with. Every piece of equipment we hitched to, I was just learning to use while also still very unaware of how my energy was feeding into the horses that felt like they would run away the second I dropped the lines or had to try to hitch something by myself. Heart racing, adrenaline always pumping, but there was always a task to be done. Not the way that I would ever introduce someone to working with horses or farming now!
8 years later, same horses, same teamster, no professional intervention. I can now harness those animals by myself, unrestrained, go out to the field and accomplish everything I need to in a quiet and timely way. Horses stand quiet, hitching/unhitching different equipment different tasks. Those older animals have now helped me train our young 5 year old team to do the same work. The difference I see is that now when I head to the field, I know exactly what I want to achieve, from what direction to approach the task, how the horses, the equipment and I link together to make it possible. The horses are comfortable and confident knowing exactly where to put their feet and with exactly how much power because I think about those things long before we ever leave the barn. I’ve spent these years focusing my intentions on being able to go out with the team alone and accomplish whatever task was at hand by myself. Not that I feel as though I need to prove something, but simply because that was the only path I could see that would bring me to a real ability to make horses work for us. With so many tasks to be done and never enough people around to always have a helper. It was clear to me early on that there must be a better way. That this craft is one that runs deep and I have much to learn. The way I’m getting there is by doing lots of reading, always observing, and slowly gaining the animals trust in me as I’m growing my skills and knowledge of what, when, where, why and how I am applying their power. I will always be learning, but now I have a clear understanding of my farming systems and plans. How and when to implement them and with which tools. These horses know this, I can feel their trust when we step into a furrow or straddle a row.
Now… where this whole novel is heading..
My farming season has ended and I had our young team back into the woods for the first time this season. A time and place that I have great reverence for, but truth be told, I have spent relatively little time working my horses in the woods, we have done this all before, but have never yet really found our zone. I know how to hitch a log and drive my horse, but I still don’t really know what my systems are for accomplishing this work with horses in the woods. So here we were with the first log hitches of this year and I felt a familiar feeling and saw a familiar reaction. The horses that have been so steady and focused for me in the fields this summer are now anxious, tense, nervous and don’t want to stand still. As I back to the hitch my heart is racing and as they step into the pull my adrenaline is pumping as the horses lunge forward ready to run off to timbuktoo. Even though we are both tense, they are still able to hear and understand me when I say whoa. I spent the afternoon frustrated with the horses. Trying to calm and steady them. Same reaction, log after log, until I decided to end the evening by just driving loops around the woods until all of our hearts calmed down and we were calm and on the same page again. It was not until I had read through this thread this evening that I remembered and needed to share all of this story because it is so quickly clear to me that I’m the one that needs to be calmed and steadied.
Perhaps it is just the unfamiliar that has made me nervous, perhaps it has been becoming a father that has made me more cautious in life. I have a healthy respect for the dangers of logging and farming in general, but I guess my current trial is separating my caution from nervousness so that I can do this work confidently and regain my horses trust. At the end of all this, there is still work that needs to be done and I do need to find my confidence to be able to do it safely and effectively.
The whole relevance of this long winded post in regards to this thread is that I wanted to make the point that here we have again…same experienced horses, same somewhat experienced teamster, different environment (or stimulus) completely different experience.November 25, 2015 at 1:29 am #86490
As you all have borne witness to now… When I have a thought that I need to explore, or a problem I need to figure out, I find that I get my best start towards understanding or finding peace when I sit down and write about it. Just keep writing until thoughts stop coming, then read it all back to myself and write more.
Carl, I wish you peace, confidence and happiness in your work. Whether it may someday be with these particular horses or not. Thanks for the inspiration.
-JoelNovember 25, 2015 at 8:07 am #86491
I am new here but by way of introduction I have been a draft horseman for more then fifty years. Having said that I still learn from all the other breeds and breeders. One of the things I have seen lately is Clinton Anderson’s horse training. While it is not new but an integration of many types of horse training it is very good. I am impressed with his emphasis on ground breaking horses and training the horse and rider/driver to work/think together solving problems together as opposed to what I would call the push button method of training which is quite prevalent. He believes and I think he is correct that good ground breaking makes most hitching problems much easier to solve. Hope this is of some service.November 25, 2015 at 9:59 am #86492
Both Carl and Joel have opened my eyes to the subject of new teamsters. Generally when I see a young “idealistic” teamster struggling to learn how to farm and be a horseman I suggest that they get rid of one of the variables, and usually it is the horses. The recent Lynn Miller editorial is a similar story where I am the “old” teamster telling him he is going to ruin these horses and he needs to sell them and buy a tractor, but Lynn pushed through and look at him now.
All of these stories make me feel a little guilty about some of my past advice and I am excited to hear stories like Joel’s that teamed up with the strong advice of the experienced teamsters like Carl Russell, Donn, and Mitch will support Carl’s growth to become a great teamster.November 25, 2015 at 10:11 am #86493
Great to see some new and different voices. Thanks Ron for the synopsis of Clinton Anderson’s work.
It is because of threads like this that I am so pleased to be a part of this forum.
Thank you Joel for your great post. I think some discussion about anxiety is really important here, as I think it speaks directly to Carl’s original post.
I also think it is great because it really points out the fact that we are all always learning from our situations, and that we have changeable living creatures we are working with. I have tons of experience in the woods, not only with the equipment, and the purpose, but with systems, and the use of draft animals therein, but I still find myself facing horses that sometimes come to work with a different attitude than I expect.
Part of our anxiety stems from that phenomenon of receiving an unexpected reaction from our horses. I think we all can fall into a certain complacency regarding our expectations. I have found that moving forward has everything to do with how we react to that realization. If we feel undermined, we will have a bigger challenge, frustration and anxiety go hand in hand sometimes, and it is very difficult to communicate with horses in that state.
One example of how horses can pick up on anxiety is illustrated in an experience I had a few years ago. I was brushing for the umpteen thousandth time my gelding. It was in the midst of the State legislative session, and I had been deeply involved with some challenging agricultural advocacy. As I was brushing the horse, an activity that I specifically see as the first step for setting the stage of comfort in working, I was also having an argument in my head with an opposing advocate. At a certain point I looked up at my horse and saw that he was stiff, head up, ears back, and watching my every move….. far from relaxed. My first thought was, what’s eating him… like it was his issue, then I clearly saw that it was what was eating ME. What happened next is part of a larger discussion that I will expand on next.
If confidence is the opposite of anxiety, and confidence is fundamental to leadership, how are we supposed to be good leaders if we are uncertain about what we are doing? If confidence come from experience, how do we get enough experience to be confident enough to be comfortable and not anxious? These are circular thoughts that will drag us down, but it is fundamental to our effort.
I have learned a few things about anxiety that have helped me with this. It is extremely difficult to envision sometimes because we feel anxiety as an involuntary reaction…. and to some degree it is, but the reality is that we are actually making it happen. One of the ways that this fact is shielded from our view is that a big source of anxiety response is related to our minds being on something else, or somewhere else, other than where we are, or what we are doing.
I don’t want to over-complicate this, but even the feeling of complacency that a certain series of behavior is expected, is in fact an artificial construct that our minds are occupied with. When we are faced with reality that is different than what we expect, our minds cannot resist the reaction, and our bodies follow. I don’t want to oversimplify this, but clearing my mind and just focusing on what is right in front of me is the first step.
It is not a simple practice, and to some degree feels disingenuous at first. I am really frustrated, I am really let down, or I am really scared, so I shouldn’t fake otherwise. But I am also very uncomfortable with the feeling of anxiety, and as a functioning partner/leader I need to make myself comfortable first and foremost, and I know that allowing my heart to race, or to be hurried, or frustrated, or flushed, are all unnecessary contributions.
This is a huge part of what I have learned from horses. They are always present, not preoccupied with externalities, and to work, communicate effectively with them, I must be present also. I have learned that anxiety is not what separates us from being present, it is the reaction to not being present.
When I find my horses, or any horse, responding differently than I expect, I am quickly aware of the fact that I am somehow doing something that distracts me from the present. It is easy to see the horse’s action as being out of the ordinary, but I have learned to see my reaction to THAT as an indication that I was bringing a preconceived view of the interaction with me. One of the reasons I break down my leadership into small definable steps is so that I can change my focus from my mind to the easily definable present and very near future right in front of me.
As I was brushing the horse, I realized that I was not being effective merely because I was consumed with something in my mind. I lowered my breathing by feeling my breath, regained my vision from the confines of the committee room and my opponent’s face by focusing on the horse’s eyes, and felt my hands as I touched the horse and portrayed to him that I was indeed present. His hair laid flat, his ears relaxed, head lowered, and we moved forward into a productive day. I saved my conversation for the next time I was at the State House.
This is not a simple exercise, nor is it possibly the solution to everyone’s situation, but I think that it is important for Carl and Joel, or any of us to realize that they are not alone. It is not merely a defect in their horses. We all have issues with our horses that stem from very similar circumstances, and it is a constant undertaking to refine our actions and reactions.
I also believe that being able to control our reactions, to maintain presence, to remain compassionate and sensitive, open, are all important aspects to being effective leaders……
CarlNovember 25, 2015 at 10:58 am #86494
I am overwhelmed by all that everyone has to offer on this topic and an hesitant to add more to the jumble of information. Of course stubbornness often overcomes instinct; whether that’s good or bad I don’t know. I do know that my stubbornness has helped me more often than not with our horses.
A couple of thoughts:
I just got back from teaching at the Low Impact Forestry Workshop at MOFGA. We had a great, safe workshop with a good student to teacher ratio of 2:1 for the first couple of days. Similar to Joel’s story with the horses in the woods, the single I brought has worked in the woods single before, but wasn’t demonstrating that he had. It made for many teaching opportunities for myself and my students.
I believe (but probably will never definitively know) that the horse was anxious for multiple reasons. New environment being the first. New horses. Not having worked for more than a day a week for the last month (extra energy, out of practice). New hands on the lines. I know chainsaws, chains, logs had nothing to do with his anxiousness because he has been around those things plenty of times before. It’s interesting to note that one way his anxiousness manifested itself is that he ate significantly less hay the first day he was at the workshop.
Note that all of those factors were “new.” I think it pays to know that for a horse, whether gaining trust, being trustworthy, giving trust or any other way you can say it, being in a new situation will always put them on a higher alertness. They are primarily flight animals and are always figuring out if they need to run (or even fight) from something that is new. It’s important to keep this in mind and I think someone made this point in saying that it behooves you to have some direction or goal, because a horse can sense if you don’t. You can’t ever really trust a horse or you can become complacent, but you can develop a trustworthy relationship. An undirected teamster means an undirected horse.
This became supremely apparent to me when on the last day of the workshop, I took on two new teamsters in addition to the two students I originally had. This is a horse that has always been a pleasure to drive, requiring little line pressure and voice. Thus he is used to this communication style. Of course my students didn’t have the same voice, line pressure, or body awareness I did with Tony, nor did they have the rapport I have with him.
Their communication at first was often unclear, less direct, and not on time, but most got the hang of it. To the horse, this does not speak of leadership and it’s not a situation the horse wants to be in. A good leader knows what they are doing and how they are going to get there, but is also flexible depending on the situation. I think there was a lot going on for both students and horses.
Over the course of the last day, Tony became more and more agitated. Near the end of his work day I noted this as we kept switching teamsters. I decided I should end on a good note and drive him the last couple of twitches. Almost instantly he relaxed and his demeanor and maneuverability in the woods was loose and easy again. I want to mention this anecdote because it is a behavior the horse hadn’t demonstrated before and having him out of his comfort zone and watching him under stress helped me learn a lot.
I realized that over the last five years as a teamster I have accumulated many subtleties in communication with my horses. I’ve also accumulated a library of knowledge on each individual, a mental catalog of horse behavior, and a mental toolbox of tools I have at my disposal for reacting to these behaviors in order to accomplish the work I need to do in partnership with horses. This was very hard to communicate to students over the course of 3 days and I still find it hard to communicate.
I guess what it comes down to, to me, is that there isn’t any silver bullet for working with horses. They all have issues and histories, mine definitely included. There may be a few people who have a natural knack for working with these animals, but I think most people here who have been doing it for a while have developed their abilities through hard-earned work over time, through observation, and repetition. I think apprenticing is a good and safe way to accumulate this knowledge (which I’ve done), but that only gets you so far too.
Like Joel said above, you kinda just have to do it. The more the horses work, have predictable routines, and have a safe, familiar environment, the more settled they (and therefore we) are. Sooner or later the work and people that were once challenging and scary, become a part of the mental library you and your horse have and become automatic like riding a bike, writing, or pouring a glass of water. Every so often though, you always get reminded that it isn’t so easy to ride a bike, pour water, or work with horses, but that’s probably why we all are hooked. It took me and my team a couple of years to get to the point of comfort, and we still have a ways to go. Keep at it Carl.
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