Law 8 – … then to be understood.
All leaders have a plan. A leader’s purpose is to have a vision of where the group will end up. Again from Stephen Covey’s book, “Begin with the end in mind.” If the leader is steering the vehicle with no destination, then s/he is effectively heading everyone to nowhere.
Why are you with this horse at this moment? Is there a short-term task such as injecting a vaccine, or is the goal more long-term such as building a team approach to an equestrian competition? In reality, it doesn’t matter because effective leaders can do equally well with the same effort. Why? Because leadership is earned moment by moment, and if you apply your skills the same in every moment you work with your horse, then the results will be the same.
But there are some rules. Remember, a life without rules is anarchy, and no relationship or society can exist without rules. Along with rules are consequences for staying within the rules and for breaking the rules. And the consequences need to be understood for breaking the rules. However, people get confused between discipline and abuse. In today’s society, some people believe in equality without winners or losers. Some even think we can live with rules without their enforcement (police). We must forget about these social issues of the day and look only at our relationship with our horses.
A horse can hurt you and even kill you. Remember this law? The only non-physical way to prevent this is to gain mutual respect with your horses. The approach I like is “firm but fair.” The rules are absolute, but I am willing to take my time teaching the horse that there are consequences for bad choices.
People who attempt to follow this approach often get caught up in details. They worry about the “how” of creating the structure of building respect because they get stuck on “how” to change the horse. But, again, changing the horse (or anyone) is an impossible task. It would be best if you focused on yourself.
Picture yourself walking to a point down the road. You set in your mind where you want to go, the speed you want to get there, and off you go. Running or often stopping to look at flowers is irrelevant as long as you get there. The trouble starts when you want to get there quickly, but you have a partner who wants to look at flowers.
One choice is to place your friend in front of you and then beat him with a stick until he runs ahead of you to your goal. This approach may work for some, but where is the willing partner? And what happens when your friend, who is bigger than you, takes the stick and beats you?
Another option is not to rush but help your friend pick flowers as you go. But, unfortunately, there is a poor chance of you ever achieving your goal of arriving on time. Of course, you could leave an hour earlier, but if you are walking a short distance (like leading a horse to the paddock), then adding an hour to the task will wreck your day’s schedule.
The only way to lead people or horses is to do two things – 1) understand the personality of who you lead and 2) adapt yourself to connect with that personality. Only then will you both work together to achieve your goal. Remember that there is only one leader and when two struggle for the position of leadership, then one of you will lose. How to do this without thought involves the next law but let’s stay here for a moment. Back in Law 6 were the descriptions of the four basic personalities Hippocrates believed are blended in all people. I think horses exhibit the same four basic personalities through decades of working with horses. Most people struggle with determining their personality’s identity, but this goes about it in a time-consuming, analytical way. First, you need to remember the funny names, then how to describe them, look for any of these types in the horse you are working with, then…. Yikes! Too much.
Instead, remember how YOU would work with a horse with a specific personality. Then try each approach with that horse and see what happens. The horse will tell you, and believe me; horses will. Going back to our walk with a friend, as you start walking, you first connect with the person by listening and observing. You walk fast in the direction you want to go, and the person will either 1) follow you without question (phlegmatic), 2) ask where you are going (melancholy), 3) look for flowers (sanguine) or 4) either refuse to go or want to go in another direction (choleric). Start walking, and you will quickly discover which personality you are working with. Then adapt YOURSELF to that personality and keep walking. Here is what will happen.
The phlegmatic will keep walking until he reaches a point where he won’t. This quitting is common and is what I call a breaking point. After that, they can explode, but the best thing to do here is to listen and feel what is going through their minds. Remember, they want to feel secure, and usually, when they stop feeling that you are keeping them safe, they explode. The suddenness of their turn in benevolence is not sudden. You were not paying attention. If you are paying attention, it is easy to intervene and reset phlegmatics by just stopping, letting them know you are listening and assuring them that they are safe.
The melancholy horse will keep going as long as you keep them informed. Give short reference points along the way, such as a break with rewarding words. “Great job!” Cheerleading works well with EVERY personality but especially with melancholy horses, as they do well with rewarding good behavior and correcting bad behavior. After all, they follow lists and often need short steps along the way to remain confident they are achieving their goal. They are not as confident as they look, so keep cheerleading these horses. As you do, you will realize these melancholy horses will follow you to the ends of the Earth.
The sanguine horses will need your constant reminder of the plan and the encouragement from you to keep the focus on the goal. This added effort can become exhausting, but you must remain patient and constantly administer corrections. “Squirrel!” And their attention goes elsewhere. You need to anticipate these distractions and keep their attention on where you are going. Keep walking (or whatever you are doing) with a focus that they cannot misunderstand. Engage them to focus on you. As you draw their attention to your goal, remember that you may need to do this repeatedly until the task is complete. And sometimes, you must stop and look at the flowers once in a while and then firmly bring their focus back to you. If you have gained their respect, it will be easier, but the give and take is part of establishing mutual respect.
The choleric horse will do one of the following depending on their confidence in themselves and their connection and respect for you. These horses can prove the most difficult for people who are not confident or afraid. A story here will help.
A horse was brought from the paddock for Melissa or me to work on his teeth (floating). Two people were leading this horse, one on each side, each with a chain lead shank. One was over the nose, and the other was through his mouth. There was a third person behind him with a whip. Melissa approached the horse, now held in the stall, and the manager questioned why I was sending in the weaker gender to work with this mean horse. Melissa released the chain from the halter and attached her snap-on lead to the bottom ring of the halter. What she and I saw was common in choleric horses – big beautiful, crystal clear eyes set wide apart in his face. He was one of the most confident horses you could ever find. But so is Melissa, and she is also fearless. She gave no reason for this horse to challenge her.
This point is for ALL personalities. You cannot change them. All you can do is change yourself, and the horse will want to be with you. This energy reflection may be why horses came to help humans for thousands of years. If you are willing to change yourself, listen to them, adapt to the horse’s personality, treat them with firmness but fairness and define the rules and boundaries, then you will be an effective leader and horseman.
Review – Become the leader, know the personalities of the horses you lead, seek first to understand and then to be understood. And all of it boils down to training YOU and not the horse. That is the secret. So how do you train yourself? Learn to control your energy.