Monday, July 14, 2008

Ghandi, Malcom X and trials of Leadership

Well, I finally did it. While I can get Canyon to stop with one rein, I never had his shoulder stopped and while his hindquarters moved. Until Sunday.

Rudy, a fellow horse geek, was there and we were all getting ready for a trail ride. I was round penning, then got in the saddle to try what I had thought I had been doing but realized last week I wasn't - disengaging the hind quarters. It still wasn't happening. I was pulling back on the right rein, pulling out with the left and we were still going in circles. Rudy rode over and demonstrated for me and I saw the difference immediately.

I was way too soft. This would end up as a theme for the day. But more on that in a moment.

So I pulled back hard, and I felt him stop, then float over behind me. I repeated it, in case it was a fluke. He floated back again. It was such a different feeling, this stronger pull on the reins, far harder than I ever tried before. I never pulled on his mouth that hard. But there was no question that it worked.

Then Rudy said "You sure are easy on that horse."

He's right. I have a lot of "leadership" issues with this horse. I actually think the term leadership has been somewhat misleading for me. I write a great deal in my professional life about leadership. I write on political issues and write to and with leaders all the time. I've seen leaders use widely different approaches to get the respect and devotion of their followers.

Everyone uses the term leadership in natural horsemanship. "Be your horse's leader." "He needs to respect your leadership." "You have to gain his respect so he'll see you as his leader." But my idea of leadership is not jiving with natural horsemanship's idea.

I wonder if it's that women lead differently than men, or if I have a different approach in life in general. I discipline my children through relentless conversation. I lead groups through humor and genuine interest. But I realized something as I watch Rudy work with Canyon. He had him responding intensely, jumping at every command, where with me Canyon dragged his hooves like a teenager being forced to go to a waltzing class.

I needed to be more of a dictator in that round pen and less of a nurturer. I needed more Malcom X and less Ghandi.

For some reason the idea is hard for me to embrace. I got caught up in all this language from trainers:
Natural Horsemanship (NH), sometimes referred to as "Horse Whispering," really has nothing to do with literal whispering, though it's probably still a good representation of what NH is all about, because "whispering" connotes a "softness" approach, and that indeed is what NH is all about.

The Parelli method allows horse lovers at all levels and disciplines to achieve: success without force, partnership without dominance, teamwork without fear, willingness without intimidation, and harmony without coercion.

With language like that it's not surprising I've been on the soft side. But I can see being soft and not dominate is not working where it counts. Maybe these trainers would have all called for more firmness all along and I've missed it. I have no idea.

The irony is that most people consider me to be a pretty tough person. I don't suffer fools, I stand up for what I believe in and have taken on some serious battles.

Still the question is, can I be dominate enough in the round pen to convince my horse that it's time to get his act together?

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