How learning to train a horse translated to communicating with my son!

Horse communication . . . Human communication

The other day I went with my friend Pat to a training session for her new horse, Buster.  Pat was hoping Marcie could teach us how to teach Buster better ground manners.  Buster, a four year old Tennessee Walking Horse, would get too close to us and would try to chew on us as if we were chew toys.  It took all my attention to keep his mouth off me when I led him around or held him for Pat to work on his feet.  I was not afraid of him because he felt like a baby to me, and there was no maliciousness in him.  He just wanted to put anything he could get ahold of into his mouth; including his lead rope, the rubber curry comb, plastic water bottles, spray bottles, etc.

Marcie, the trainer, taught us a lesson about communication that day.

First, before taking control of Buster, Marcie switched his regular halter, which had metal rings on it, to a training halter made only of rope.  The 10 foot lead rope, which was very soft, fat, and flexible, was tied to the halter.  This were no metal hooks or clips — so the horse could not be hurt by any metal pieces hitting him in the face.  Then she said, “I’m going to take control now.”  
Marcie stepped out onto an open grassy area with Buster, who immediately reached down and nibbled some grass by Marcie’s feet.  She gently flicked his muzzle with the end of her soft lead rope and Buster jerked to attention as if to say, “What just happened here?”  Then Marcie walked toward Buster flicking the rope with her wrists in such a way to send little circles up the lead rope to Buster’s muzzle, on one side then the other, over and over until she had backed him up about 10 feet.  Then Marcie walked back toward us, almost to the end of the lead rope and stood talking to us, explaining that she wants to teach Buster some manners and she wants him to know right now that she does not want him that close to her.  Marcie’s demeanor was always calm and in control.  She explained how she is in better control about 5 or 6 feet away from the horse’s head rather than holding the lead rope right under his chin.  She showed us how to send a loop rolling up the soft lead rope toward Buster’s head.  She explained why there was no metal on the halter or rope.  All the while she was noticing Buster, though she didn’t appear to be paying him any attention.  When Buster would tentatively take a step forward towards her, she would correct him again by walking quickly and aggressively toward him sending her rolling loops up the rope to his head.  Once he had backed up she would walk back toward us and Buster would follow, but would stay at the end of the rope where she wanted him, and not come close to her.  Buster did not act afraid, or angry, he simply was paying attention.  
I was amazed at Marcie’s confidence and ability.  Here she was, I’m guessing about 5’2”, 110 pounds, making Buster practically sitting on his haunches to back away from her as she marched to him, flinging the soft rope exaggeratedly from one side to the other sending the loops to his head.  Of course, Marcie explained to us, each horse must be evaluated and treated according to what they need, based on their personality and their past history.  She would not use this correction on a horse who was fearful or had been abused; but for Buster, it works.

Clear or unclear.

Marcie explained how vitally important clear communication is with a horse.  She asked, “If you were at a job new, and your boss was explaining what was expected of you, would you want your boss to be clear in communicating or unclear?”
We answered, “Clear.”
Marcie asked, “Would you be happy that the communication was clear?”
We said, “Yes.”
Marcie asked, “Would you be happy if the communication was unclear?”
We said, “No.”
Marcie continued, “The horse is happier when the communication is clear too.  The horse gets confused when we are not clear, and when we are not consistent.  Is it fair to the horse when we are not clear and consistent?”
We said, “No.”
Marcie went on, “Is it fair to feed a horse from your hand one minute then get after him for mouthing or biting at your hand another minute?”
We said, “No.”
Marcie emphasized, “For this horse who is so mouthy, it is important to not feed him carrots or anything else from your hand.  He needs consistency to teach him not to bite or chew on you.  This is not only for your good, it’s for the good of the horse too.  If your horse does not learn this, he will have problems in the future.”  
As she was talking to Pat and I, I was having aha moments about my life and how I could improve my communication with the people in my life.
Marcie called these very clear corrections, which may seem exaggerated to us, “Shazam” moments.  She is communicating very clearly with the horse about what is OK and what is not OK.
She went on to work with the horse to complete the hour lesson.  She stopped and talked to us a lot, explaining things, while always training the horse.  Marcie’s talking to us and appearing to ignore the horse was part of the training because she expected the horse to not do anything unless she said he could.  Marcie gave pressure when she wanted movement and released pressure when she got movement, and corrected him with a Shazam, when he tried to approach her without permission.

I get home . . . and it translates . . .

When I got home that day, Ryan was playing video games.
I said, “OK Ryan, I’m home now, it’s time to get your math done.”
He responded rudely.  
I thought — ‘Bad behavior,’ and said, “OK, you’re grounded (Shazam!).”   No arguing, no waiting
He looked at me.  
I walked away.  
He jumped up and got his math out and said, “OK, I’m ready.”  

I ungrounded him.  Just like with the horse, pressure, release, and Shazam for the wrong behavior.
(Horse pictured above is not Buster)

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