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Monday, August 8, 2011

I learned my people skills from my horse

...and puppy.

As this is my first day back from vacation, I wanted to keep it on the lighter side. However, Before getting into the post, I wanted to share 2 things.

1. If you get into your truck, and there are cobwebs in it, it's been too long since you drove it. I had to get hay today - I'll admit to being a wee bit lazy and using the BF's truck the last 2 times, rather than unbury mine from behind the fence and 3 other vehicles.....and there were cobwebs in it. Good thing it has vinyl flooring - it's a work truck and the cobwebs just blend in with the decor....I'm trying out a couple of different ways to feed free choice hay by the bale and when I find the best method, I'll share it with you. I think I've got it....but we'll wait a few days to see - Farley was none to happy when I presented her with the bale this morning. (colored me unconcerned about her indignant mare head toss - she's no vanishing waif at this point!)

2. Credit card fraud can happen to you. It happened to me. I went to use my main credit card at the gas pump this morning and it wouldn't authorize. So I used a different one to pump gas and called the customer service number. (BTW - this is why I carry more than one card. I do NOT use a debit card because even though the cards carry the symbol of Visa or Mastercard, they are not always covered by the same fraud guarantee that traditional credit cards are. Exposes me to too much risk IMO). It turns out that there are several fraudulent charges on that account and they had locked the account until I could verify whether I had made the charges. All charges were made since the current statement, and the only reason I hadn't caught them before fraud did was because I was out of town and did not check my transactions as regularly as when I am home. I am thankful that my card company has a watchful fraud service, and took action. I will not be responsible for ANY of the fraudulent charges, the account will be close immediately. I'm not sure where the breach of security came from - I'm very careful to not let it out of my sight, and try to be vigilent about what the card readers look like at gas stations, and not do credit card transactions over an unsecured wireless connection. My best guess is that it was picked up at a card scanner at a gas station, but I'll probably never know for sure. Please be vigilent everyone! I'll be pulling my credit reports and looking at them carefully for some time, and I hope that the credit card was the one and only security breach!

Back to the fun stuff - Horses! and Puppies! Oh My!

I did not grow up as a particularly avid people person. I tended to be anti-social, do individual sports, and was not considered in anyway a "team player". Although to call me a "team player" today would be stretching it, I have realized that as much as I need my "alone time", I also desperately need my social and people time. I'm not as much of a loner as I thought, and I genuinely care about people, getting along, and helping others. I managed several departments over the last 5 years, and to my surprise I was actually decent at it and managed to win the approval of my managers, co-workers, and employees. Somehow, between the anti-social teen years and the present, I found the tools and attitudes I needed to be able to work with other people as an equal, a subordinate, and a manager.

So where did I learn this?

Horse ownership. And much later, puppy ownership.

Animals were my best teachers, probably because in most cases, they are realtively uncomplicated and the lessons they teach are straightforward. Here are some of the the lessons I have learned. I follow the principle with an example or story if I have one, within the ()'s.

From the Horse:

The "when to apply" and "when to release" the pressure is the most important lesson of all. (I have to give credit to the Parelli method for this one. Early on in my "horsey life" a friend took me to see one of his shows, and I walked away really "getting" the concept of pressure and it's purpose in horse training. There are many different types of pressure - body language, tone, as well as the traditional aids).

If you are going to get mad, get really mad. Then let go of it immediately once it has served it's purpose. When being "mad", be perfectly in control. If you can't be in control, you have no business showing you are mad - you aren't accomplishing anything. (anytime I'm "mad" at my horse - because she has tried to bite me, for example - the reaction is always precalculated down to EXACTLY what my reaction will be, and how long it will last. IMO anger is a useful tool

Be lavish with your praise.

Have a plan. A plan comes with a goal, an execution method, and a plan B. (Along with your plan, you should have a very good concept of what kind of pressure you are going to apply, how soft it will be in the beginning, how quickly you will progress to the hardest pressure, and what you will do next if you have reached the "hardest" level of pressure and you still don't have remotely what you wanted. My advice? Salvage what you can, go back and do the previous lesson with the horse, or try the lesson in a different way. The times I got into the biggest trouble was when I only knew one way to do something. That sponsors fear and frusteration, instead of the joy of a puzzle and a challenge).

Be consistent. Communicate very clearly - your body language and tone matter more than the words.

Don't micro manage unless you would like to continue to micromanage that task until the kingdom comes. Show it, and then leave room for failure.

Give the horse (and person) a chance to do the right thing. They may give you more than you asked for and that will make both of you happy.

Give credit. Error on the side of taking less credit for yourself.

Don't use the "Because I'm the boss" card too often. It's more effective that way.

Ask for favors and say please and thank you. The horse/employee knows they are obligated to do it, but it promotes good will and esteem/confidence.

It takes a lot more time to "undo" a wrong, than to take extra time in the beginning to never commit the wrong in the first place.

Occasionally presenting a problem and seeing the approach is fine, but regularly asking something that is beyond their capability to give is not fair.

From the Puppy:

Consistency, consistency, consistency - yes, I know this is for the horse too, but I notice it even more so with Tess. I'm with Farley ~1 hour day. I'm with Tess for 24 hours. I LIVE with Tess. I spend recreation time with Farley. If I'm in a mood or I'm too tired to give Farley what she needs in terms of consistency and communication, then I'll skip our visit for the day. Tess is ALWAYS there, and trust me - is ALWAYS doing SOMETHING.

Treats sometimes is more effective than treats all the time or treats none of the time. Of course it goes without saying that you shouldn't promise a treat and then fail to give one.... that's just mean....

Allow the puppy/person to develop within their capabilities/breed. Tess is a pointer and a hunting dog. She has certain tendencies that have been bred into her, that make her prone to do certain things. Some are desirable, some are not. It's more about molding her within what she already is to be my companion or to do her job, not completely changing her. The former is good management. The latter is unrealistic and a recipe for failure.

Play time is important. Lessons can be incorporated into play time, but playtime "just for play" is as important.

A good relationship needs time. Lots of different kinds of time - training, playing, hanging out, traveling, working.

You don't have to be perfect - everything usually turns out OK.


  1. This is good advice for parenting, as well, just in case you need to know that. I thought that I was woefully unprepared to suddenly become the parent of a teenager...and then suddenly, TWO teenagers. Turns out that raising a teen is just a variation on Puppy Boot Camp: make expectations clear and achievable. Praise often. Allow room for mistakes. When in doubt, the choice that will make everyone the most tired/dirty is always the good choice. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Who knew?

  2. This is a great post, thank you so much. It really sums up a lot of what I think I've gained from being a rider. And it's not just our horses that we learn from - I've learnt a ton from dealing with crazy horse people, too! Boundaries, backing myself, how to read people, when to listen and when to run, maintaining healthy relationships ... Horses are really expensive but I sure feel like I get my money's worth ;-)

  3. I used to tell my trainer that dressage was me and Farley's couple's therapy and she was the therapist.

    I think that normal people probably stay home and do nothing - because every exciting thing I've ever done or talk to someone about are full of eccentric people....I must be the only normal person that does things! (totally tongue in cheek.....).

    But people have probably taught me as much as the horses when it comes to relationships and my own sanity. Kelly, you are totally right.

  4. Great post. I've been thinking about that lately, how learning how to properly deal with a horse has made me a much more confident person when dealing with people. Of course you wrote it better! If only horses taught self-control in writing... ;)

    Scary stuff re: the credit card. I also use a real credit card for everything (except Costco, sadly). Skimmer technology just keeps improving and it's impossible to detect the best ones - but you gotta look.


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