I thought I was signing up my children for a foal care course, but it surely must have just been code for “Parenting Class 101.” We attended our second class today, and it just gets better and better. This morning, I decided that I’m going to buy my pregnant sisters a horse-training book rather than any on child-rearing! The parallels were just too obvious, and somehow much more practical and tangible when watching them in real-time with a trainer and an animal. In many ways, I wish I could go back in time to when my kids were toddling around, first learning to test and respect our boundaries. They’re still young, though, and so I know that I can still daily apply many of the principles I learned.
Today Wanda demonstrated how to train a yearling in its foundational lesson: You Are in Charge
They Must Respect You
It is of utmost importance that the horse learn to respect you. But how to do this? It’s a mix of science and art, for sure. But what I saw from watching Wanda is that is all flows from what is within. What is inside Wanda? What does she believe? She never questions that she is at the top of the “pecking order”. She knows that in order to accomplish anything good with the horses, they must respect her and trust her. She is not their friend right now. But she loves them. Everything she does flows out of that genuine love and mutual respect for the horses. And she believes she can train them. She is patient, not rushed to see this accomplished. She knows it’s a process requiring much time, commitment and consistency.
Today, she led a yearling, Keno into the round pen and started directing him where she wanted him to go. Her goal was to prompt him as little as possible to achieve the desired result. Ideally, mimicking the alpha mare, she would just have to give a look, but since Keno was a baby, she taught him in baby steps. If he responded to her look, she’d reward him. But if not, then she’d point. If he still didn’t move, she’d crack the whip on the ground behind him. And then, ultimately, if necessary the whip would have contact with his rear. He moved. 🙂
But here was the neat thing I learned: Reward Any Evidence of Obedience and Progress. Immediately, once he responded correctly, she’d ease up and relax, and reward him by releasing the “pressure” or rubbing him, etc. Just one move in the right direction won himself positive reinforcement. Then she was at it again, building the length of obedience. It was amazing. She knew the signs of submission and respect that she was looking for from the horse – the ears, the chewing of their lips, and she’d reward each one. But she also knew that he was a baby and had a short attention span. She wasn’t unreasonable in her expectations.
Again, I found many parallels to parenting as she explained what she was trying to accomplish. She said, “Start with Gentle, end with Gentle.” If you teach them to react only when you crack a whip, that’s what they’ll need. You should be able to just stand and point, and they do what you ask – if not, you train them to make you work harder than you need to. How many times as parents have we trained our children to ignore our gentle requests because they know we’ll probably repeat ourselves and even sometimes let them slack in obedience until we get frustrated or yell. They are making us work too hard. But we did it to ourselves.
I know there are different views on spanking, but I think if everyone was like Wanda, there wouldn’t be any debate. She knows that her whip is a tool. It should be seen as unthreatening. The horse should not “fear” it, because then their motive for obedience becomes confusing. So, with the horse, Wanda will rub it down all over with the whip first, so that it just sees it as an extension of Wanda’s body and love. It represents Wanda’s authority, not punishment. When she needs to use it for training, the horse trusts that she is using it for their good. Similarly, as parents, we want our children to obey us out of respect, not out of fear.
There are a handful of other principles I learned from watching and listening; it was such a gift to be there. Thanks again Wanda and Vaquera Ranch.