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Horse Sense

By Chick Moorman

He was six years old and beautiful. He had brown hair and dark eyes. His health was good and he was right on schedule developmentally. Our attraction was immediate and seemed to be reciprocal: love at first sight. So we bought him.

Superman (Supreme Americana) was my first experience with a horse. My wife had owned horses earlier, before she had children. She was the expert. I was the rookie.

It didn't take long before I learned that we had purchased what is called a "green" horse. Buying a "green horse" is somewhat like buying unfinished furniture. Some work is needed. Superman hadn't acquired all the performance skills he needed to be a useful, pleasurable horse. So we sent him to horse school.

We enrolled Superman with a trainer at the barn where we boarded him. He enjoyed that school for six months, until we realized there was no change in his behavior. We switched schools.

New trainer. New barn. More money. Another six months. The results were the same. No new behavior.

Superman's third teacher informed us he would need only two months to create the behavioral changes necessary to make him a pleasure to ride. "At the end of that time," he said, "you'll see some changes or I'll terminate the relationship and advise you on future options for your horse." Sounded good to me.

"Stay away from here for a month," he advised. "When you come back, I want you to see the difference. That won't be possible if you come every day." I understood, and we agreed.

After one month we checked in on the horse, expecting to see positive changes. We did not. Actually, Superman had regressed. He was worse than when we left him in the care of his third trainer. Now he was throwing his head and even bucked a couple of times when the trainer rode him for us. "This isn't unusual," the confident teacher told us. "Some horses have to go backward before they can go forward." Made sense to me, but I was beginning to wonder if this wasn't more money going down the drain.

"Your horse is different," we were told. "The techniques I normally use haven't worked." Our skepticism continued to grow as our bank account diminished. Still we were determined to finish out the final month to see if this trainer could do anything positive with our "special needs" animal.

Three weeks later, we received a request to come to school for a progress report. I figured I was being set up for another few months of cash flow—flowing from me to the trainer. I was wrong. The trainer saddled up and rode the horse for us again. The changes in his behavior were visible and dramatic. Even a rookie like me could see the difference. Superman was now responding immediately to commands to walk, trot, and canter. He had stopped throwing his head. He was taking the correct lead while going in each direction. He was bending and collecting his body in appropriate ways when he turned. He halted on command.

As my wife celebrated the progress by embracing Superman, I pulled the trainer aside. "I, too, am a trainer," I explained. "I train teachers in how to create self-responsible, self-motivated, cooperative students. I'd like to pick your brain for a minute. I want to know how you made this horse do these things."

The trainer leaned back against the fence and began to talk horses. I leaned back as well, but what I heard was students.

"You know," he chuckled, "there is no way you can make a 1200-pound animal do anything."

I heard, "There is no way you can make students do anything."

"I learned a long time ago that when I work with horses the part of that relationship I have the best chance of changing is me."

"When I work with students the part of the relationship I have the best chance of changing is me."

"The reason your horse got better is because I got smarter. I just kept altering my approach until I found what worked."

"With students, we need to keep altering our approach until we find what works."

Superman's trainer rattled off a list of alternatives he had used, including several different bits, draw reins, lunging him in long lines, and side reins Then he said it again, "The only one I can change for sure is me. So if a horse is not responding the way I want him to, I change what I am doing."

"If students are not responding the way I want them to, I must change what I do."

"Your horse was a special challenge," the trainer continued. "I ran out of the things I normally do. He was a real test to see if I could keep coming up with alternatives. I enjoyed the challenge."

"When we run out of the things we normally do with our students, it's a challenge to see if we can keep coming up with alternatives."

The trainer's voice faded into the background as my own thoughts took center stage. I recalled the frustrations I had with students in the past and the feeling of powerlessness at not being able to get them to behave the way I wanted. I realized as I listened to the horse trainer that I had created my own frustrations and stress because I was attempting to manage the portion of the situation over which I had the least control: the students. I guess I wasn't using good horse sense.

Happy trails.



Chick Moorman is the author of "Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child's Spirit." He also publishes a FREE email newsletter for parents and another for educators. Subscribe to them when you visit www.chickmoorman.com. Chick Moorman is one of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. For more information about how he can help you or your group meet your teaching needs, visit his website today.