Most working days I hear someone talk about a horse who is ‘rude’, ‘bad tempered’, ‘ignorant’, or similar. It gets my back up every time.
I deeply respect the work of shame researcher Brene Brown. If you haven’t watched it already, I highly recommend her TED talks ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ (which has been viewed by nearly 30 million people), and ‘Listening to Shame’ (which has been viewed by over 7 million people). I have ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ and ‘The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting’ as audiobooks (I spend a lot of time listening to books on Audible as I drive between yards!), and I go back to them again and again. If you prefer the written page, then I recommend her books ‘The Gift of Imperfection’ and ‘Daring Greatly’
One of the things she says that sticks most in my mind from Brene Brown’s work is the difference between ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’. The difference between ‘you did a naughty thing’ and ‘you are naughty’ is what it boils down to, as far as I understand it. Guilt is a good, helpful emotion, because you can change what you did. Shame is a bad, unhelpful emotion, because you cannot change who you are. Read more here, including how differently people behaved in a study where they were told either that ‘people are cheating’ or ‘people are cheaters’!
So is your horse ‘rude’, or did he do a rude thing? Is it a behaviour that can be changed, or a personality trait that is part of who he is? Judging by how regularly horses adjust their behaviour according to who is riding or handling them at the time, I’m personally on the side of the behaviour being changeable in the majority of cases.
Something else I’ve learned on my own personal life journey is that if you want to cause a change in someone’s behaviour, you first need to make a change in your own behaviour. Like you I suspect, I’m on a lifelong journey of learning, continually refining my communication with both humans and horses. I often get it wrong, but how else would I learn?! One thing I try hard to do though is to recognise that if a horse I’m working with is behaving in a difficult way, he’s not deliberately demonstrating difficult behaviour – this is not always easy if he is barging me around the stable at the time! He has learned to behave this way through the cues he has been given by those around him, horse and human. It’s up to me to adjust my technique to cause a change in his behaviour, and since my aim is always to encourage relaxation during physiotherapy treatment, I have a range of different options available to me.
Horse owners generally want to do the best for their horse in my experience, and the first four books in our ’10 of the Best’ series are proving really popular. Many of us are lacking confidence in our own ability, or in our own convictions, and I fully empathise with those who get sidetracked into using techniques they later regret. Frustration comes from not having the answer, and so it seems to me that the key to developing confidence is education. More knowledge and more experience leads to greater confidence, and at The Horse Physio we share information from trusted and respected individuals and organisations on a daily basis, people who I like to learn from and who I hope will help you to.
So enjoy your day, enjoy your horse, and today I’ll leave you with a quote from Brene Brown, which I think is from The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting:
“First and foremost, we need to be the adults we want our children to be. We should watch our own gossiping and anger. We should model the kindness we want to see.”