Monday, December 27, 2010

Pass me a mocha, I'm just getting started.

Most of the serious work-time we spend on our horses' backs is, or should be, devoted to warming up. Regardless of the goal-of-the-moment, we have to physically and mentally prepare for the day's new lesson. 

Yeah, it's tedious. 

And no, it can't be skipped. 

Not only does the horse need to be prepared before he's asked to exert himself just a little more, but the rider has to prepare, too. Nobody hits the saddle ready to rock and roll. Even when you ride one horse after another there is a certain amount of adjustment, both mental and physical, that needs to be done with each horse.

What happens when we skip the warm up and plunge into the daily lesson? The warm-up insists on being done anyway. It's like a persistent little terrier. It won't go away. And if you don't pay attention and do what needs to be done, it will get underfoot and trip you up. Count on it. You cannot bully this little dog into submission. It will bite your butt.

The plus side is that the better you prepare, the more conscientious you are about your warm-up, the better the performance of the lesson-of-the-day. The warm-up is where you catch the problems and put into effect the solutions. It's where the questions are cleared up and the groundwork laid for more advanced work.

Are you not accomplishing what you thought you should, despite working hard? Take a look at your warm-up. I'll bet you a double-tall mocha you're leaving something out.

Maybe, just maybe, the success we want to experience in other facets of our lives need the same attention paid to preparation. I'll wager another mocha on that one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just Shoot Me Now.

My initial reaction when someone points out that I should have known something specific and didn't is to hoist a huge burden of guilt onto my own shoulders. I'll wonder why I didn't notice that glaring deficit of knowledge before committing the crime of ignorance. To aid in avoiding this situation, I keep a calendar, write myself notes (which are constantly revised), and never go to the grocery store without a list -- even if there's only three things on it. Furthermore, "I forgot," ranks right up there with "I didn't know" for reasons for self-reproach. I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one with that knee-jerk reaction.

Occasionally, I run into a horse who really fears making a mistake. They're nervous, uncertain creatures with little confidence in themselves. Working with them is extremely difficult. It's necessary not to over-face them, and essential not to punish them. If they're to become safe and reliable they have to have confidence in their surroundings and the people who work with them before they have confidence in themselves and their job. It's a long road requiring enormous amounts of patience and skill. A brief unkindness can undo months of work. Lack of consistency will make undermine trust.

Horses aren't as good at hiding their inner feelings as humans. They'll show us the effect we're having on them right away. And, to our credit, a great many of us take lessons, read, listen and watch in order to be better at working with the animals we love. I can't help but think those same efforts would be well applied to our human interactions as well. Who needs all that guilt, anyway?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How's that workin' out for you?

Progress rarely proceeds in a straight line.

I've heard that before, and always get a mental image of mildly hysterical, to and fro dashing around. Probably because that's what it feels like to me. I generate plenty internal anxiety when I'm learning something new -- often not understanding what the end result is supposed to be, or even why it's important. However, after (ahem) many years I know enough about my own process to be confident success will arrive with an "ah-ha" moment. For me, good guidance involves pointing out errors I didn't recognize myself as well as pointing out correct choices I also may not have noticed. Perceiving disapproval from a teacher can really lock up my ability to make positive progress.

So, when I train a horse I keep a close eye on mistakes of both the erroneous variety and the correct variety. I know the horse is learning when he doesn't make the exact same mistake twice in a row. New mistakes are cause for celebration. The same mistake generally indicates some kind of resistance that is blocking learning. That's where I have to step in and offer assistance. Often the resistance is due to incomplete understanding or misunderstanding of what is being asked. Sometimes it's fear-based. Sometimes there is a physical issue involved. Sometimes it's a combination.

Same thing happens when I teach humans. We make progress when we feel safe enough to try -- when the fear of making mistakes won't cause so much anxiety that we stop looking at what is happening as a result of our actions and start, instead, to protect ourselves, getting locked in a non-productive cycle. Teaching is as much about creating the right environment as it is about imparting information at the right time, asking questions that nudge the student toward the goal, then allowing the student to work through the process.

Maybe "So, how's that workin' out for you?" isn't always a snarky one-liner. I'm thinking it's a good teaching aid, too. Sometimes we need to be reminded to take a look at the results of our mistakes. We could make progress!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Playing Nurse

Eddie got his cast off on Friday…and then got it back on again. That was planned, actually. Even though it's been six weeks since he fractured his coffin bone our vet Ron felt it best we try and keep the joint as immobile as possible for as long as possible since the fracture line extends into the joint. Good thing the cast came off when it did. There were rub spots on the bulbs of his heel that were bleeding. Despite the fact that they are superficial, they needed bandaging and tending. Unfortunately, that also meant the cast couldn't go back on the same way, keeping the joint as still as possible.

Eddie was really good about the whole process -- except he itched. A lot. He doesn't scratch his legs like most horses -- with his teeth -- he crosses one leg over the other and rubs. We each took turns scratching his pastern (the part of his leg just above the hoof) until he seemed satisfied. I know how "cast itch" feels, having had to wear one on my arm several years ago. I used to stick a knitting needle between my arm and cast to deal with it. My doctor wasn't amused, as I recall.

Nevertheless, the reapplication process of the cast went well. Ron wasn't particularly worried that Eddie is still doing some limping. He gave me an assignment; change the bandage over the rub wound every three or four days. Then he gave me detailed instructions.

No problem.


The first bandage change was yesterday. I cut the old bandage away, and that's when the challenging part began. Yeah, the rub spots looked icky, but they weren't stinky or painful. What they were was itchy.

The next half hour progressed with me scrambling to clean and redress the wound, hollering "Whoa" and "Whoa, dammit," and flinging supplies around the barn aisle-way to keep them out of the way. Eddie ended up with half a tube of Neosporin smeared down the front of his opposite leg and a foot bandaged. I'm not even sure it was the correct foot.

What a freaking disaster.

Fortunately my friend Stacey, who owns the barn, dropped me an email later and told me that not only had I managed to bandage the correct foot, but it was still in place. I don't know how that happened.

And to think I have to do this again in three more days.