Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Very Large Toddlers

Well, it isn't snowing! But it's raining and cold and pretty miserable. "Raw" would be a good word to describe the climate right now. There's still patches of snow out there, too. Enough snow to keep me from actually getting the horse out to work, but not enough to keep me from wanting to get him out. But at least it isn't snowing.

In light of the fact that I'm getting next to nothing done training wise, I hope you will indulge me my ramblings. I have nothing interesting to write about my actual progress, so I'll just fill my empty days with philosophy.

One of my pet peeves has always been people who treat their horses like children. You know who I'm talking about: the boarder whose horse is pawing and thrashing on the crossties while his owner crams treats in his mouth because "Hims just wuvs hims tweats, doesn't hims?" Or the owner who panics and puts the horse away at the slightest misbehavior or resistance from the horse because "he's just too hot, cold, stiff, off, playful, mad, excuse of choice today". These owners never realize the great disservice they are doing their horse, nor do they realize the disservice they are doing the barn staff by allowing the horse to behave this way. Those types of owners always drove me nuts, mostly because I was a member of the barn staff who had to deal with the spoiled rotten mess when the owner wasn't around. I often tried to rationalize with these owners, to explain to them that their horse is too big to be treated like a baby, but generally they just accused me of being mean and heartless. So I would walk away, shaking my head and thinking to myself "Wake up! It's a horse, not a child!"

Now that I have a child of my own, I'm struck by exactly how much horses are like children. So perhaps I should modify my pet peeve. My pet peeve is people who treat their horses like spoiled children. A spoiled horse is just as cute as a spoiled child.......which is to say not at all.

My daughter is nearly two, an age that is both fun and frustrating. She is beginning to be self-aware and develop her own personality, but can't always communicate well enough to tell anyone what she wants. I often fail to interpret her babble and gestures correctly, resulting in a full on temper tantrum (sometimes for both of us). Horses are in the same boat. They know what they need or want, but don't know how to speak our language. How many of us have been faced with a horse having a temper tantrum because we failed to read their body language correctly or failed to communicate with them effectively? I know it's happened to me a time or two (or twenty). And what do you do in that situation? Should you give in, cram a few treats in the horses mouth to distract him and put him away? Of course not! You ignore the tantrum, set the animal back on the right path and move on from there. I've found that strategy works well for toddlers, also.

My daughter, like my horse, is often apprehensive in new situations. She doesn't like strangers or new places much. I could hover over her or keep her away from new people, but that would only reinforce her idea that strange people and places are bad. After all, if I'm nervous, shouldn't she be nervous, too? Instead, I apply the lessons I learned from showing horses. Show grounds are scary places for a horse, full of new people, sights and sounds. If I let myself become nervous worrying about how my horse is going to react that fear will translate to the horse and we'll be a big mess. Likewise, if I stay calm the horse is more likely to stay calm. And if he doesn't, I'll be better prepared to react.

And sometimes my daughter is just feeling sulky and cranky or just wants to test her boundaries. Horses do the same thing. Fortunately, I've consistently established the fact that I'm not going to put up with any nonsense from children or animals and they all know it. Misbehavior will not be rewarded, no matter how much whining, pouting or thrashing occurs. Because I'm consistent and firm with my reactions, attempted mutinies are quickly thwarted. And once the offender stops throwing a tantrum, all is forgiven and we move on.

I remember very well the reactions I got from many acquaintances when they found out I was pregnant with my first. I was told many times "You know it's not a horse right?", "You can't treat babies the way you treat your horses" and, my personal favorite, "So, you're giving up riding now, right?" I did not give up riding and I do treat my daughter like I treat my horses. I treat her with respect, with love and with consistent discipline. And I never give her treats to shut her up when she misbehaves.

I don't know why so many people think that horses and children are incompatible. My horses have taught me a lot about being a parent. They have taught me to be gentle and kind. They have taught me to be understanding and consistent. They have taught me to react quickly and forgive immediately. I would not have learned those lessons without them.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think a herd is good enough.


  1. I LOVE THIS POST!!!!!! I couldn't agree with you more. I don't have children but totally agree that the same rules apply. I watch people who are tough and straight down the line with their horses but let their children get away with blue murder - or visa versa. I have always thought if I had children the same rules would apply to them as it does with my animals!

  2. What an insightful post. I do not have children of my own, but I surely have dealt with hundreds of them in the classroom. And yes, so much of what I learned from dealing with my horses applied.

    As well, working with 1200 pound horses also gave me the faith that I could handle a classroom full of teenage boys, many of whom were bigger than I was. So, I'd wager the added confidence you gain from working with horses rubs off in the parenting department too.

    The rewards of horse ownership are without number. *S*

  3. Good stuff - I don't much care for baby talk to horses - they deserve better than that and they aren't lap dogs. Fair and straight applies to both horses and children, IMO.

  4. Superb post. I am a mother AND a horse owner I agree with you 100% spoiled horses like spoiled children are a big NO-NO.

    Funny enough, I know of a friend who let her horse drag her for him to snatch some grass, "poor little horse he likes it so much", but she does not like misbehaving children DOH?? O_o I do not see any difference!!!
    When I told her that her horse needed manners, a good smack was a good thing, she said I was cruel to horses! That she prefered to use clicker training... so much kinder ... Because her horse was abused ...

    NOTE I BELIEVE IN CLICKER TRAINING, but in this case it was an excuse to stuff her horse with carrots!

    How many times have you heard about the abused horse, when really it is a case of lack of respect and desensibilization of the horse !!!

    Oh NO! Shannon, you started me rambling on my favourite pet-peeve !LOL!

  5. I like this post. In my lesson the other day, we were talking about how some things aren't a big deal unless I make a big deal of them, and then we'll have problems. I guess I never realized that applied to kids, too.


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