Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Peanut Gallery

  • "You're gonna ride THAT?!?"
  • "When are you going to stop spoiling her with all this groundwork and make her 'earn her keep'?" 
  • "Don't let her run around like that-- make her stand still"
  • "She'd lift her hoof better if you used treats"
  • "You should be cantering, jumping, sidepassing, rein-backing, ${fill in the blank-ing} her by now"
  • "Don't let her put her head down when you're leading her"
  • "Whack her on the nose if she gets ahead of you"
  • "Whack her with the whip if she acts up under saddle"
  • "Whack her on her chest if she won't back up"

...and the list goes on...

I try to be impervious and optimistic and zen-- in other words a natural "herd leader"-- when things go wrong.  I figure that if I'm jumping around, waving my whip and yelling, there's no way Starbuck's going to calm down enough to pay attention to what I want.  Don't get me wrong-- while I have no problem at all cranking up the pressure with a well-placed swat if I see those hindquarters swing my way or if my more subtle cues are being completely ignored, I strive to be judicious and calm and never let anything get me riled in front of Starbuck.  But when she's acting up (as I may point out, even professionally-trained 3 year olds tend to do from time to time) and just about anyone other than my instructor criticizes her behaviour or gives well-meant but unwanted advice, I have to admit I get my back up.

Often this ends with me pretending I haven't heard or understood whatever was said (one of the perks of being a foreigner) and if I'm already in a bad mood or feeling frustrated I have a bad habit of biting the speaker's head off.  I really need to work on changing both of these reactions though, since I'm lucky enough to be at a barn where my mostly-successful attempts to train a crazy-green horse have been not only allowed and indulged but encouraged at every step by wonderful and caring friends and every one of these comments have been made with the best of intentions.  I also need to remember that I've learned so much from trying different things out and seeing what doesn't work for Starbuck and I.  But the real reason I need to stop telling myself to "just ignore them" is that on the few occasions when I've kept myself under control, my civil and reasonable reply has made for some really valuable discussions about different styles of horsemanship.

So what started out as a "bitch-post" has morphed into the following idea: If we could all get off our high horses and use these moments to have some truly soul-searchingly honest conversations about the training or riding methods that have worked for us as well as why we reject or suggest certain techniques, keeping an open mind and not trashing other people's perspectives in the process, I think the equestrian world would be a much better place.  And this starts with listening to everyone, no matter how much experience or technique or money they have and no matter how "harsh" their criticism or "useless" their advice seems to be.  If you decide to go with your initial instinct, no harm is done.  But when we listen to others and consequently start an exchange, you open the door to a whole new world of possibilities.

And if you get really lucky, you might just find that you've been decieving yourself and really do have a problem which you can now fix before it becomes even worse, or your response to a piece of "advice" or "critique" just might make someone else reconsider a long-held but ultimately mistaken belief.

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