Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bustin' Broncos

I’ve been spending my summer with the horses. Out here in the boonies, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for social interaction, and I’ve been so exhausted from work and so preoccupied with the current events in my life that a drive into town just seems like too much effort at the end of a long day. So most of my time has been spent in the company of equines as opposed to humans, especially at my two jobs as a veterinary assistant and horse trainer.

There’s something cathartic about working with the colts. I tend to think of training as an art form. The rider is the sculptor or painter, and the horse is like a hunk of marble or a blank canvas. Chipping away haphazardly or slopping paint isn’t the way to go about it, and will only result in a poor final product. Instead, great care, dedication, and skill must combine in a labor of love to create something aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, and functional.

And each horse must be treated in a completely different way. They’re like people in that each one has its own personality, set of quirks, and personal preferences. Some get along famously with me: they trust me completely, look to me for companionship, and would do anything I asked of them…but would not respond nearly so well for another person, even going so far as to react violently out of fear or stubbornness. In others, the situation is reversed, and I consider it a success each day if neither of us kills the other. It’s funny that way.

I suppose that, officially, I’m a Professional Horse Trainer. This is a title that I neither want nor feel I deserve. I don’t think of this as a career, only a summer job, a pastime, something I enjoy doing and a learning experience besides. And indeed, I have so much to learn. As with most everything else, it takes a lifetime to even reach past the tip of the iceberg. This ain’t something you can pick up in books—it’s all hands-on, learn-as-you-go-and-hope-that-nothing-terrible-happens-in-the-process. And that’s the joy of it.

Kindness and consistency are imperative, or as the natural horsemanship mantra goes, “be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary.” Having “horse sense” is a must, too. Horse sense may be something innate, but much more of it comes from observation and, more important than anything else, common sense. It’s a mindset; it’s thinking like a prey animal; it’s reacting coolly but quickly in times of crisis; it’s deflating potential blow-ups before they occur. If you do things right and your horse has a good mind, you should never have to worry about a Wild West Rodeo bucking fit. Once mutual trust has been established, patience and baby steps yield the best results—in the safest manner.

I could fill up 100 blog posts o r 100 encyclopedia volumes with just the little bit I have experienced and know on the subject, and that still wouldn’t be enough. Yep, there’s a lot to be learned here, and most of it isn’t about horses. It’s about life.


secret agent woman said...

I'm always lad to hear about people treating horses gently - I've heard some scary stories about people who are rough with them. And that's a really cool shot of the horse's eye.

Mozart said...

I always give them the benefit of the doubt. Kindness and patience are more effective than harsh methods, anyway--but there's definitely a time and place to be forceful. Of course, you've got to time it right...because in a battle of strength or will, the horse will always win!

There's no excuse for a 'horse whuppin,' though. Despicable.