Saturday, May 08, 2010
Thoughts on being "the Alpha" -- or not
(Note: photo was taken in early March, prior to the recent rash of injuries.)
Working with Bar continues to educate me about horses, about myself, and about life in general. Working with both Bar and Lena has taught me to pay attention to individual horses and treat them, train them, according to their particular personalities and quirks.
Off and on in this blog, I've referred to myself as the "Alpha" and not thought too much about it beyond my own perceptions as someone the horses turn to for direction and leadership. Then I started reading Mark Rashid's book Horses Never Lie and it made me rethink what I meant by "Alpha." My methods are not what I would consider dominating and I'm usually trying to figure out how to give direction that makes sense to whichever horse I'm working with. Bar takes one kind of instruction, Lena another, but both of them are intelligent, playful horses and respond to making things entertaining and interesting.
Bar responds much more to a calm reaction to his antics than to cracking him on the nose. For example, he settles down faster if I say, "Okay, you want to come around me, then keep going around me. I'll just stand here until you're done," than when I smack the halter down on his nose and back him up forcefully.
With Lena, she needs to stop dancing and anticipating what she thinks I might ask her to do and use her brain instead. Some days that means letting her blow off steam until she can focus on something else besides her own energy level.
Trusting my own instincts about my horses and what they need on any given day has been something I've had to learn to do, and with experts all over it hasn't always been easy. I remember a parenting class I took eons ago where they talked about being sure to pay attention to how you're feeling about what you're asking you child to do. If it feels wrong to you--no matter what the "experts" say--it will come off wrong to your child. The times I've felt most unsure in training Bar and Lena have often been the times I'm doing the conventional things--using techniques and hardware others have assured me are the right things to use to show the horses who is boss. It occurred to me that--much like parenting--my horses can tell when I'm unsure and will have absolutely no reason to feel confident in my decisions.
Not to say I will always make the right decisions, but if I am paying attention to my horses and training from my gut--much as I learned to parent from my gut--it might work out better than simply following some proscribed method of horsemanship.
Bar is not like any other horse. Lena is not like any other horse. To train them with push-button rules does them a disservice. Figuring out how to work with them and teach them is as much a gift as it is a challenge.
That is the kind of leader I'd like to be, that is what the term Alpha has meant to me when I have used it in the past. I haven't decided if I'll keep using it or not. Mostly, I'd rather have a partner than a subordinate, so maybe that's a no.