Pet Gazette eEdition
The Pet Gazette
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- Tuesday, 20 March 2012 22:10
- By Rick Larsen
The difference between a bribe and a reward is a question of who is in charge. You may have seen someone trying to entice a pony onto a trailer using a bucket of grain. If you are a bystander, it can be endlessly amusing to see the pony get a mouthful of grain then back off the trailer. As the bucket holder who just wants to load and go, it is maddening. Who’s in charge?
In contrast, think about commission sales. When a salesman works harder and sells more, his company rewards him with money. And so it goes with good horse training. As the horse is encouraged to experiment - to work harder, the successful trainer will make it worth his while. It may be a stroke on the neck, a moment of peace, or a feeling of unity between horse and rider because they both have the same idea at the same time. And who is the real winner? Just as in commission sales, you both are. When you are around your horse, can you tell the difference between a bribe and a reward? Your horse can.
The difference between firmness and meanness is a matter of intention. I have seen more than one of the most gifted and empathetic horse professionals throw a torrent of energy up a lead rope by snapping the line, as a means of getting to a better place. Sometimes pressure and firmness is the most effective way to get a troubled horse’s attention - to show the horse the path to softness and peace, imbued with mutual respect.
In contrast, it is not unheard of to see a horse professional or otherwise talented rider lay into a horse out of frustration, but more often out of fear. I think anger is nothing more than fear with teeth. And a horse will respond to meanness. But if you teach a horse using meanness, that is all he is apt to learn. When you are around your horse, can you tell the difference between firmness and meanness? Your Horse can.
The difference between a dictatorship and leadership is a matter of where your loyalties lie.
In a dictatorship, it’s “my way or the highway.” There is no room for dialogue and you are telling your charge to rely on you for ultimate guidance. It is how many people mistakenly interpret the popular boilerplate advice that you must be the “herd leader in your herd of two.” You are just looking out for #1.
Conversely, leadership is about taking the needs and concerns of both you and your horse into account in all situations where your paths are intertwined. It is a dialogue where you look not for compromise, but how you can nurture and build the abilities and confidence of both you and the horse, as a horse/human team. It means that you take the feelings of you and your horse into account, both for the short term and the long haul.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when you firm up for mutual mental or physical safety. But in the end, if your intention is stalwart and your motives are honorable, your horse will know that you have both yours and her best interests in mind. She will act knowing that you would never let her get into trouble. You cannot buy this kind of horse. You can create this horse though, this relationship, through your motivations, hence your actions. When you are around your horse, can you tell the difference between leadership and a dictatorship? Your horse can.