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Thursday, 16 January 2014

"Should" ... The New 4-Letter Word.

I've spent a great deal of my life procrastinating.  In fact, in University, I prided myself on my ability to get things done under pressure.  Unfortunately this meant I constantly had tasks looming around that needed to be done (that I was putting off until I absolutely HAD to get them done).  I cannot tell you how many times I've uttered the phrase, "I should be doing/going/finishing ...".  This has carried over to my riding as well.  "I should be working my horse more/ taking more lessons/ going to more clinics, etc".

Now, don't misunderstand me here.  There is nothing wrong with having a plan regarding things you intend to do.  There is nothing wrong with having an ideal that you're trying to live up to.  What I've come to learn though, is that the word SHOULD must be used with extreme caution. (Please note, I originally wrote this sentence as "the word SHOULD should be used with extreme caution" and then chuckled to myself at the irony of my own hypocrisy).

There is absolutely no time that I can think of that we have to use this awful word.  Why such feelings of bitterness you ask?  Well, the word "should" is like worry.  Its useless.  It doesn't actually motivate you.  It doesn't actually get anything done.  In fact in my experience, thinking about how you "should" be, what you "should" be doing, or things you "should" have done only serves to create unnecessary stress, anxiety and guilt and often stalls us from ever beginning to do those things we feel so compelled to fret about.  Furthermore, up to this point I've only referred to using this word as applied to ourselves.  What about our kids? Our spouses?  Our coworkers? Our horses?

As a riding instructor and trainer it is very easy (and sometimes tempting) to dodge a problem or issue by saying, "well they should know how to do this" or "they should have practiced more/bought a better horse/ listened to me the first time".

Frankly folks, all of these statements are just cop outs.  When faced with a responsibility, problem or task, there are only two useful options ... Deal with it, or don't.  If you choose to jump in and deal with it, get it done, or get busy working at it, great! Do it with a positive and forward thinking attitude.  If you find upon doing so that you are not equipped to do it on your own, ask for help.  Or, if you choose that you simply are not going to do it, deal with it, or finish it, THEN don't.  Certainly though, don't sit around and worry about it. All this does is causes unnecessary stress which is likely to lead to a less productive mentality and more time wasted than if you'd either done it in the first place, or just let it go.

Now, lets tie this into our horse training tools.  Imagine I go out to ride one of my horses.  Lets say I've been working on lateral work such as leg yielding.  I've given a good week or two to the exercise and my horse has been doing quite well.  Maybe 5 months (or 5 years) ago he knew this and I'm just brushing up, or teaching him for the first time.  We've been having some success.  Today though, he is hard, tough and less-than-responsive.  He doesn't move cleanly off my leg and seat cues.  He resists or even pushes back into me.  Maybe he loses his forward momentum, or moves far to quickly and rashly away from my cues.  I begin to grit my teeth and "get into" him a bit.  As he resists I get more frustrated.  The following thoughts start circling in my mind (and if there is a nearby party privy to my plight, I may verbalize these laments):

  • "Why aren't you listening? You should know better than to ignore me."
  • "You did this fine yesterday.  You should be much more responsive."
  • "We've worked on this a million times. You should know how to do this.  "
  • "I should really just get some help but I don't have the time/energy/money/courage.  And anyways, you should just figure it out."
Now all of these thoughts are normal and probably not that uncommon, so why am I beating this point home so hard??  Well, all of these comments DO NOTHING.  Absolutely nothing is accomplished, figured out or achieved, other than to further bolster frustration in both horse and human.

We have to learn to deal with what is right in front of us, in that moment, in whatever state it is in.  For me, this means when I have a rider who is struggling with an issue, I cannot overanalyze where I think they should be or how I think they should be dealing with it.  I have to help them grow and progress to the best of my ability, based on whatever they show me that day.  Laying a guilt trip down about what they should be doing is totally unproductive. 

And riders, you owe your trainers and instructors the same thing.  When you ride your horse, stop worrying about where you think your horse should be or what you think they should be doing, and deal with them where they're at.  If you have an issue with your horse's progress, that is between you and the trainer/ instructor, its not the horse's fault.  (Oh, and if you're the trainer of your own horse, maybe you need to sit yourself down and discuss just how you are going to solve the problem before you take it out on ole' Rusty). 

I always tell my riders:  If a horse knows what to do (he has consistently and repetitively, MANY TIMES OVER, demonstrated the appropriate response to a certain cue/stimulus) and he is physically able (in shape, sound, etc.) to do something ... HE WILL DO IT.  Horses are creatures who enjoy the path of least resistance (you can read last month's post regarding about pressure and letting go).  They do not want a fight and if they are able and know how to do something (and get you to leave them alone), they will.  So if they don't do something it is usually because they either don't know it as well as you thought, or they are physically unable.  I like to eliminate the latter element first.  Make sure your horse is fit, sound and comfortable enough to be doing whatever task you are asking, and make sure you (or your equipment) is not impeding him.  Then, you may just need more practice/teaching time.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.  If the horse (or rider!) has become flustered with that particular exercise you may need to go back to something that is simpler and more achievable. With a little success at an easier task, both parties will be in a much better frame of mind to tackle the more challenging exercise.

The point of the whole matter here is MEET THEM WHERE THEY'RE AT.  This goes for people and horses.  Life gets a lot simpler when you stop beating yourself and others up for where they should be and just deal with them where they are on that day, in that moment.  In the same way that we tend to procrastinate more when we should be doing something different,  you may find that those around you (both 2 and 4-legged) are more likely to advance if you stop having unrealistic or irrelevant expectations and start dealing with growth from where they currently are.  Sometimes that means changing plans, being flexible or being a bit forgiving.  Sometimes it means relenting on one issue/exercise so you can build confidence and come back at it from a new perspective.

Either way, I challenge you as part of your resolutions this year to try and get rid of this rather toxic and unproductive word and replace it with something more tangible, productive and understanding.

I think you should, err you will, find a lot more success this way both in your horsey and human dealings. 

Happy New Year everyone!!