Friday, April 11, 2008

Parenting Horses

What seemed like a century ago, I had the best job in the world working as a Parenting Educator for a non-profit organization. Those individuals who were babies and toddlers at the time that I worked with their parents grew up to be valedictorians, sports stars, club leaders, community volunteers, and just all-around successful, nice, happy people. I commend parents who do take the plunge into parenting education, especially as soon as they become parents instead of waiting for things to sour before trying to find out how to fix it.

My favorite subject to teach was the lesson on encouragement. I taught the S.T.E.P program (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), which is based on books by Don Dinkmeyer Sr., Gary D. McKay, and Don Dinkmeyer Jr. The program has expanded since I taught it, but at the time there were four levels that a person can reach when feeling discouraged. I started thinking about how these levels would apply with horses.

  • Level 1 of Discouragement = Attention-Seeking (i.e. Constantly poking you with nose)
  • Level 2 of Discouragement = Anger (i.e. Pinning ears back at you)
  • Level 3 of Discouragement = Revenge (i.e. Bucking and rearing)
  • Level 4 of Discouragement = Withdrawal (i.e. Turning away when you attempt to pet, or worse yet, when you offer food)
Four typical ways that people discourage:

1. Focusing on mistakes (i.e. berating horse for throwing its head around, picking up the wrong lead, anticipating the wrong cue...)

2. Negative expectations (i.e. avoiding crossing a bridge or water because you KNOW your horse can't handle it)

3. Comparing to others (i.e. expressing irritation that your green gelding can't collect as well as your seasoned mare)

4. Perfectionism (i.e. making your horse transition from the jog to the lope repeatedly until his transition is perfect)

On the flip side -- Four ways to encourage:

1. Focusing on successes (i.e. praising your horse for halting immediately and ignoring that he threw his head to the side in the process)

2. Positive expectations (i.e. trying new things because you know your horse will pick up on them fast)

3. Appreciating the individual (i.e. love the way your green gelding can cover ground with his big strides, even if he has trouble rounding up)

4. Acceptance (i.e. work on the cue to transition from the jog to the lope and end the lesson with praise and reward for effort even if that transition could use some smoothing out)

Okay, so maybe those aren't the best examples, but I do think that it doesn't hurt to consider which approaches we use when interacting with both people and animals. We see it every day in our jobs, in the supermarket, at our kids' schools, on the road with other drivers... When someone discourages us, we feel bad. Discouragement hurts, angers, frustrates, makes us apathetic, but worst of all, it is contagious. Your boss kicks you, you go home and kick the dog. Encouragement, on the other hand, is powerful enough to make our day, our week, our month, our year. It can alter life decisions for the better. Encouragement makes us feel happy, confident, calm, cooperative, and receptive, but best of all, it is contagious.


Flying Lily said...

Encouragement is so powerful! Absolutely right. We so often fail to praise our horses at the right time. I am taking away a lesson from you post here and thanks!

onthebit said...

Your KILLING me! I have a huge test in the morning and no joke this material might be on it. I was trying to catch up on blogs as a way to relax before bed and now you have thrown it in my face yet again! I am only joking about being annoyed...honestly though what are the odds that you would post about this the night before my test and that I would see it? It put the material in a fun way though and I will be very greatful if it pops up tomorrow since now I can use your horse examples!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lily - Glad you liked this read.

onthebit - I laughed hard at your comment. That's synchronicity for you. I've had this post in the back of my mind for months now, but couldn't remember the material I used to teach. I researched it on the Internet, but there were still holes in my information. It popped into my head in little bursts throughout the day and I kept jotting down notes from my broken memory until I could put it all together. I'll bet my memory did come back right on time just for you. Good luck on that test.

onthebit said...

Thank you for reminding me to stay positive with Gennyral. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in negative energy I just don't know what I am thinking. And guess what? It was on the test! It was multiple choice question 139! I owe you!

sue said...

you are so right with that blog!!! well done... as a dog trainer this is a message I am always working on with my students!!!! thank you for your encouraging words!!!

Rising Rainbow said...

You can get far more from a horse with a little encouragement, that's for sure. It's amazing sometimes how just a little pat can make such a huge impression.