For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to come up with a new tagline for my business. The Cooperative Horse is descriptive, but limited. Cooperating sounds great, but how do you do it, and to what end? A year ago, when I printed up business cards, I added a subtitle: Kindness-based, Science-backed Training. I thought that would explain that I use an empathic approach that is steeped in the science of behavior and what is commonly called modern learning theory. That made sense to me, but didn’t resonate with my clients. It needed to be rewritten. But what could I replace it with?
My students have varied backgrounds. Their horses range from minis, to massive Percheron crosses, to fancy warmbloods that can do tempi changes. Their riding abilities run the gamut from beginners who only walk on the trails, to those who have galloped over cross-country courses. I teach tricks to the mini, convince a Quarter Horse to get over her fear of the trailer, work on a rider’s position as she does transitions from walk to canter, and help another rider soften her aids so that her horse stretches into the bit and dances forward. A tag-line needs to be brief. How do I condense all of that into a few words?
Despite what seems like a disparate group of students, they all want the same thing. They want to be in sync with their horses, and have willing partners, not animals that they have to force to perform. When I went through the exercise of compiling a list of descriptive words, I wrote: amenable, attentive, harmonious, reciprocity, rewarding. But, I’m also achievement oriented. Underneath all of these kumbaya touchy-feely good vibes there’s a goal. We want to have our horses do what we want, whether it’s leading them from the stall to the paddock, or into the trailer. We want to go places, whether it’s down a trail or to a show. So, I wrote down these words, too: accomplish, progress, succeed.
Finally, I decided on: Trust, Connect, Achieve.
People see how delightfully well-behaved Tonka is, and think that he was born this totally amenable horse. It is true that I purchased him because he had a sane and kind eye.
But, even a horse that comes with an innately sensible temperament doesn’t necessarily do your bidding willingly. That requires consistent, conscientious, systematic, and on-going training. I consider every interaction that I have with Tonka to be an opportunity to either strengthen or squander our relationship.
I’m fortunate that Tonka hasn’t been through a lot of drama or hardship, but many of my clients have horses that have a lot of past history to overcome. Before their horses can become safe to handle, or be a joy to ride, they first have to establish trust. (Meaning that the horse needs to believe that you are a safe place, and equally important, you need to feel safe with your horse. ) Then they have to create channels of communication so that they can connect. (Connection entails handling and riding skills.) Only then can they go on to achieve their goals.
Here is an example of what I do:
D is a PMU horse. When he was brought home, he was an injured youngster with no training. D has had the same wonderful, caring owner for a decade. In that time, he’s learned to be a trail horse, but he’s had bouts of dangerous (to him and his human) explosions during which he just wants to flee. Working with him, I noticed that his eye never softened, and as much as he looked friendly enough to his owner, he ignored her when worried.
When working with a horse, I try to find the place where they are the most comfortable. I’d rather expand the horse’s sense of safety and calm, rather than try to work backwards through his fear and tension. For D, that good place was in the middle of the barn aisle, with a tub of hay in front of him. D loves scratches and grooming, and so we gave him that too. Slowly we moved him further up the aisle. His owner spent undemanding time with him. D came to trust that this place, and this person were safe. His eye softened.
At our last session something startled him outside of the barn and instead of going into a panic mode, he checked in with his person.
Because D had learned to trust, he now willingly connected. This is why I do what I do.
What three words describe what you do?