I got into a discussion the other day with a couple of my Ol man’s buddies. You know how it is with buddies - they are always up for a chat.
Jim Bob -yes there is a buddy called Jim Bob - says he sometimes feels like he should hop on and go for a ride when he’s out there working, or waiting to start working, or supervising the working. He sees me out there with them and it looks so great. Then he talks himself out of it.
Then the other buddy - we’ll call him “Keef”, he looks like a Keef- tells us a story about his first horseback deer hunting trip. His friend gave him a big thoroughbred $50 ex-racehorse to ride. “Um, nice friend,” I commented, attempting sarcasm. You know, like who needs enemies, that kind of thing. (Honestly, why do people put first time riders on half-trained horses????)
Well, Keef described this wild ride. The friend headed on out his horse expecting Keef to follow on his unruly wild beast. “I had the reins in one hand, and the rifle in one hand, and my third hand around the saddle horn...” He was desperately trying to hold this horse down to the ground, but all he got was that “bouncy speed.” I knew what he meant and I could picture it: big long legged horse with his head cranked back to his chest at a big frustrated trot. I haven’t had any experience with racehorses but based on what I’ve heard, they know one thing other than how to behave in a barn, and that one thing is RUN.
From what I have experienced, if any horse is determined to run, I don’t care how strong the bit in his mouth is, or how strong the rider, he’s gonna run.
“Finally, I had the rifle in my right hand,” he says, and I’m thinking the worst, “and I started with it right here,” hand beside his knee, “and I swung it right over like this and-” he made a quick stop motion in front, “Bam, right between the ears.”
What do you say to that, eh?
Keef raised an eyebrow. “That sure as hell smartened him up.”
“Well of course it did,” I says. “He’s not gonna misbehave once he’s had his brain rattled like that. You’re out hunting deer and he’s seeing little tweeting birds circling his head!”
It got a laugh, but I have to put in a defense for the horse. “It’s a respect thing. He figured out that you weren’t playing around. That’s just the extreme case...”
I tell them about this annoying, seemingly harmless habit my gelding has. He likes to stand with one hoof rested. It looks like nothing, but it’s a pain. Try getting a saddle on straight when his back is tilted to the side. More importantly... it’s disrespectful. He’s being lazy and ignoring me when I ask him to stand up straight on both hooves. It’s not too much for me to ask. And when I request that, I expect him to comply.
Seems like nothing, but I think it’s little passive-aggressive tricks like that which eventually lead to me landing on my friggin head. Which I do not want.
I want his respect, willingly and unquestioningly.
After saying this in much less words, Jim Bob looks at me with concern. “Horses seem kinda mean...”
“No, not mean, just... they have to know who’s in charge, and they’ll be fine with it once you tell them where it’s at, they just have to know.”
“That’s right,” says Keef. “They have to know who’s boss.”
How many times have I heard that in my life? It’s true, no denying. BUT. It’s so often mistaken as brute force, as a hostile relationship, and I don’t have the physical strength or emotional hardness to do things that way.
Then I remember that I’m an instructor now. There are standards I have to uphold. I have to sound knowledgeable. And, you know, I really like horses and I want to stick up for them.
“It’s not about strength though, it’s all attitude. You go anywhere with horses and 90% of the people are women my size. Like, I don’t have the brute strength so I have to outthink him, and when he respects me he trusts me.”
The men nod like they’re getting this.
I continue. “Like, if you look at a herd of horses in a field, all one horse has to do is put her ears back and nip, and all the other horses get out of her way. It isn’t about size either, because sometimes the smallest horse is the boss.”
“Yeah. It’s not who’s biggest. It’s whose meanest.”
Ah yes, my speech has been completely misunderstood. Again. Wherever you find horses, you’ll find humans who just don’t friggin get it.
A horse is a big animal, obviously, and anybody who can bend it to his or her will is admired by other humans. Sadly, too many humans do not understand how it’s achieved. How does she do that, when she’s only 110 lbs? How can she manhandle that big horse? She doesn’t. She gives him the message the very first time she comes into contact with him.
Hey horse. Nice to meet you. Get your shoulder away from me and don’t step on my feet. There, now we can be friends. Except for that. If you push me or drag me I’m gonna get after you like your mama did and then you won’t do that again. Ok? Yup. You are my friend.
And she can convey that without saying a single word.
How do I tell this to a bunch of dudes in their 50s and 60s, guys who have worked outdoors, built things, raised kids, punched the clock, and know stuff and about stuff?
“Well...I only have to be mean once.”
These guys know, because they work across the yard, and they see me out there regularly with my horses, that it’s pretty lovey dovey out there in the corral. They know I don’t spend every ride wasting my breath yelling and cussing at my horses. They see my horses doing pretty much what I ask them to do, even if I have to ask harder one more time.
When Keef whacked his horse with the butt end of his rifle, it was the last time he asked. He did not have to ask anymore because that horse probably was scared to blink the wrong way. Effective, okay, but I sure as hell do not intend to carry heavy objects around to whack my horse with! I know for a fact that you cannot love or sweet talk your horse into being nice to you, but I also know they work better for me if they trust me to be in charge without beating the hell out of them.
My horses are so far from perfect. I’m even farther from perfect - I know I have a lot more to learn about riding, horse training,and teaching, and horses in general. But I’m not big, and I’m not mean. Looks like I’ll just have to go on demanding their respect and earning their trust!