Friday, November 28, 2014

"Celebrate The Positive – Ignore The Negative"

Howdy Folks,

When I talk about Kessy having been such a biter when we first met and I'm asked how I fixed it I always answer, "Celebrate the positive and ignore the negative." Kessy had serious trust and friendship issues when we first met and if I stepped into her bubble I was sure to get snaked, you know the pinned ears, stretched out threatening neck and flashing pearly whites. If that didn't work she'd turn those pearly whites into bites. And by golly she was fast! Yup, she bit me a number of times, only badly twice, but pretty many little bites those first six or ten months.
Kessy and me enjoying a hug ...
So how do you ignore all that? Sometimes it is not easy, but unless it is truly dangerous – and two times she did get disciplined with eyeball to eyeball raised voiced, glaring, sneering, yes the end of the world is coming, mean nasty explaining, followed immediately by a hug and reassurance – you must ignore it. Just as with children, and some adults, misbehavior, I believe, is a call for attention. In horses it can be more than that, it could be a sign of misunderstanding, disobedience, dominance, illness, poorly fitting tack, poor cues or a host of other possible triggers. And to discipline might not only might be exactly the wrong approach, it will chip away at any confidence and trust they might have, or be trying to build.

Ignoring it will get you much farther. If you can adopt the standard of ignoring the negative and celebrating the positive most all the negatives simply go away. Discipline then becomes a rare need indeed. If our desire is to build a true partnership, we don't want a worried compliant horse, we want a robust, full spirited and trusting horse for a teammate who understands they can make a mistake, just as we do, and not be disciplined. They'll also know they get love, praise and celebrated for the positive they do.

It follows then, and it really does, that they will stop doing the negative things because there is simply no reward, or gain, and do many more positive things for the rewards of praise, love and connection.

As I have written before it was six months before I could hug Kessy. When we first met she did not even want to be brushed. I've worked with other horses over the years with these and other issues and always, "Celebrating the positive and ignoring the negative" has healed them and strengthened them in marvelous ways – while disciplining could never have done anymore than created a compliant horse.

There is a whole other world of this most wonderful technique, if she is never disciplined for making a mistake, she will be more willing to try new things, and get them correct sooner. She'll have the eagerness and confidence to really try without worry of being corrected for every misstep.

I believe it's a pretty darn good philosophy in life too, "Celebrate the positive and ignore the negative." There is plenty of negative out there, but we don't need to give it credence. If our first instinct becomes to ignore the negative, the positives can find us more easily and isn't that a whole bunch better? I promise if you adopt this standard you'll see your horse in a new and shining light, and a whole lot of other things, too.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Building A Horse's Confidence – and Fictional Characters"

Howdy Friends,
Let's see if I can tie two emails that are worlds apart (are they really), together. One a horse question and one about writing. A facebook friend emailed and asked how I build confidence in a horse. Another facebook friend asked how I build a character in a story. Both emails used the word, build, and they came within 5 minutes of each other!
Kessy and me writing - she has the confidence to guide me!
The writing question came first so … When I'm thinking of creating a character, at first of course I'll need to establish gender. Maybe. But I don't really care about any other physical characteristics, unless something jumps out and yells at me, "Hey I'm tall and very athletic." I might store that for future references. But mostly I'll address the physical characteristics as the story unfolds. I may set the stage with a brief hint such as, "With a delicate, quivering hand, she flipped open her phone, gazed at the tiny screen and carefully considered her next move."

I've never been real big on a horse's conformation, either. I see a horse from within. I believe every horse can perform at the highest level its body will allow. It's our responsibility to make that possible. So I guess, as with my fictional characters, I don't really care about physical characteristics of horses either. We can address them as need be, as we go along.

The first thing I might do with a horse who lacks confidence is ask for her to take a single step forward or back. I'll store how she took that step in mind for future reference.

After I establish in my mind my fictional character is tall, athletic and worried, I can paint a bigger picture. I look at the whole scene, like a painting on the wall. But I notice the little things in the picture. The big things will always take care of themselves, if you address the little things, such as how she enters a room boldly with long strides, but fidgets with her hands and dislikes eye contact during tense conversations. I can use these later when I need to add tension, or slow the reader down.

I notice the little things about a horse's confidence. How does she stand, walk, hold her head. How does she respond to requests? Does she focus on me, or look far away? Just as in creating a character, I'll keep them in mind as we move ahead into her story. I can use these foundations to build her confidence.

Now that I've laid the groundwork for my character, I can move ahead in the story and continue to add layer upon layer as I write the scenes in which she interacts with other characters or tackles situations, or thoughts, on her own. As I build the character I can always go back to the basics the reader already knows. She's tall, can be bold, but can be nervous, is athletic and thinks deeply. It's important, as I continue building the character, to keep the basics in mind to fall back on in times of impact or excitement. It's important to the reader to have characters they can rely on. Fundamentals matter.

When building a horse's confidence, after I've noticed her basic characteristics, thought process, what she's worried about, things she can tolerate and most importantly, things she really enjoys and looks forward to, I can begin building her confidence, one layer at a time. I do this by spending a lot of time asking her to do the things she already has a liking for, and the confidence to be able to handle. As we work together, adding layer upon layer of confidence by adding new challenges, I'll keep going back to those basics she understands and enjoys. Those basics are the foundation on which all else is built. They are the things the horse can rely on.

So there you have it, I guess … Whether I'm building a fictional character for a novel or building confidence in a horse, it's a matter of seeing the solid foundation and carefully adding layers until I have the picture I see in my mind established for the reader, or the horse. One little step at a time.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry