by Laura Crum
After my recent post “Freak Accidents” I read several posts on other horse blogs that touched on the same topic. One was clearly inspired by my post (she referenced it—thanks jenj at Wyvern Oaks, listed on the sidebar) and a couple were both on a sort of alternate subject—as in the idea that you create a disaster by expecting one. Since my post was basically advocating that we stay alert and vigilant, such that we can mitigate or prevent a disaster before it occurs, I gave some thought to the idea proposed—that by expecting a good outcome we can help create one. And by expecting/preparing for a bad result, we help create that, too.
I don’t entirely disagree with this. No smart person who works with horses and/or dogs will have failed to notice that by holding a calm, confident, relaxed attitude and expecting things to go well, you can nudge things in the direction of going well. It works on kids and chickens, too. But…I do have a few points to add.
First off, it’s my contention that the two points of view aren’t really in conflict. I know, because I do both. For example, riding Sunny down the trail by myself, I see an odd looking stump up ahead and recognize by Sunny’s body language (pricked ears, body tension, reluctance to approach said stump) that he is worried about it. Now, I did not create this by worrying about the stump myself or imagining that Sunny might be afraid of the stump. I don’t expect Sunny to be afraid of anything—and this is realistic, since he rarely spooks. I ride along the trail expecting him to be relaxed and confident, as he usually IS relaxed and confident. Thus I, too, am relaxed and confident on the trail.
I wish to contrast this to the point of view raised by another blogger, in which she describes being worried because her horse always “looks” at a certain stump, and then feeling that her own worry has created a situation where the horse spooks. Well, yeah, it could, sure. If you tense up, even minutely, and you are thinking about your horse possibly spooking at the stump long before she even sees the stump, you can definitely bring on the spook through expecting it. But this is a different equation from being relaxed yourself and at the same time being aware that your horse is thinking of spooking.
So, let us say, that I am quite relaxed and confident, but I can tell Sunny is thinking of spooking at the stump. Shall I just decide that I’m going to envision him not spooking and go merrily along? Uhmm, no. I don’t think that will be be very helpful. I honestly don’t believe any “good vibes” coming from me will stop my horse from spooking if he’s decided to spook. What works for me is awareness and being prepared. I don’t get tense, and I’m not particularly worried—I can ride a spook. But I do make sure that I am holding the saddle horn, I relax my body further, and I am very careful to keep the reins loose and my legs loose. I bump Sunny lightly with my heels to encourage him forward and I am apt to say something in a relaxed, conversational tone. “Its just a stump you silly horse.” And I prepare to ride the spook.
Sure enough, Sunny spooks, one of those sudden, now-you-are-facing-the-opposite-way spooks. I ride it. I check Sunny, turn him back around, and still relaxed, let him know we are going by the stump. Sunny is wary, but he’s not dumb. He’s already figured out the horse eating monster is a stump, and he can tell I’m not worried—either about the stump or his spook. He snorts, and bows his neck up, but he walks on by.
So…if I am happily pretending that Sunny will not spook, and envisioning him walking along the trail steadily, even though he is clearly communicating to me that he is going to spook, I think the only likely result is 1) I am more likely to come off, and 2) the spook is more likely to escalate into a blot if he catches me off balance and unprepared. By preparing to ride the spook, and being ready to check him, I have turned the spook into a very minor incident.
It’s my contention that we need to ride in a relaxed, confident frame (as much as we can), and I think this is simply obvious. But I have saved myself so much grief by seeing trouble coming and being prepared, that I will add that pretending/envisioning that something is not going to happen when it is very clearly brewing, is just dumb.
So now lets take dogs. Here are my two (very funny looking) dogs. Jojo is half Aussie shepherd, half Jack Russell, and Star is a little rescue mutt—we think Chihuahua, terrier and dachshund.
Both my two dogs will come back to me when called. The old dog (Jojo is 15 years old) is getting deaf, so that is a problem. Still, if she hears me, she will come. But both of them are not reliable if they become interested in another dog. So when they are off leash at the beach or on the trails, I remain alert. And when I see another dog, I call my dogs back immediately. If I call them before their interest has been engaged, and when the dog is still a ways away, they WILL come back to me. And then I leash them and we walk by the dog. No big deal.
If, for instance, I decide not to call my dogs and leash them, and instead hold the thought (despite all prior behavior) that they will come to me and stay with me as we pass the dog…well, its my firm belief that I would end up with a mess. If the dog was friendly it might be run and play, but if it was not, it might be a fight. It’s not worth the risk and bother.
Here’s the deal. My dogs mind me well enough. I’m not sure what to say about folks who can’t walk their dog by another dog while ON the leash. I’ve never had that problem. But I also don’t get bent out of shape thinking that my dogs must heel perfectly off leash. I don’t worry about it, I don’t stress over meeting other dogs. Just like when I’m on my horse, I cruise along relaxed and confident (or fat, dumb and happy, if you prefer) and I remain alert. Thus I spot the potential problem (or dog) before it is a problem, and I call my dogs back and leash them and on we go. It’s no big deal.
So here’s my response to the idea that you can create a positive outcome by envisioning it. Yes and no. By remaining relaxed and confident you increase the chances that your horse/dog/kid will also be relaxed and confident. By being alert for potential trouble at the same time that you remain relaxed and confident you vastly increase your chances of being spared that potentially disastrous wreck. Blind confidence is no help at all. It only makes a true disaster more likely. And believe me, I have seen that outcome…though (partly) thanks to my vigilance I have so far been spared such a thing (knocking on wood).
So what do you think? I think its an interesting subject and worth discussing.