If you’re not doing anything the evening of March 9th, there’s an interesting film scheduled on the Hallmark Movie Channel. I haven’t seen it, but have been back and forth with the publicist for this movie for the better part of a month. It seems like a movie worth the watch. This is a family Western.
Ricky Schroder (you may remember him from Lonesome Dove, Silver Spoons or NYPD: Blue and the film, The Champ, a role where he earned a Golden Globe award at the age of three) and his wife, Andrea wrote the script for this one. He (Ricky) decided to give his daughter, Cambrie, an introduction to her dream of acting without the perils and loss of innocence so often associated with the Hollywood scene. Cambrie stars in this film with her father as co-star and producer. In fact, the movie includes the whole family, with sons Luke and Holden serving as antagonists. Daughter Faith, wife Andrea and even Ziggy, the family dog are included in the onscreen talent mix.
Tommy might be the biggest star, portraying Bravo, the horse featured in the film. Since Cambrie is a seasoned rider, she found working with this additional co-star fun and easy.
The movie resulted from an idea the Schroder’s oldest daughter, Cambrie, suggested after begging her parents for years to be allowed to find her first acting job. “Andrea and I realized that once she’d have her driver’s license, she would do this acting thing with or without us” said the experienced actor and father of four. “So Andrea and I decided to create this film and produce it. This way, she (Cambrie) could be surrounded by protective and loving people who encourage her during her first acting experience rather than being surrounded by strangers.”
Curious about the selection process, I asked how and why Hallmark picked up this film. The short story is, Ricky happened to be in another film recently on the Hallmark Movie Channel opposite Luke Perry, namely Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts, which garnered the highest ratings for the channel so far. Ricky (of Ricky Schroder Productions – producers of this movie) knew this would be a good fit. Apparently a lot of professional horsemen were involved in the production (including Pro Rodeo members, NHSRA and CHSRA) with stunts and fill in roles, which has garnered good support from the horse community.
The PR lingo states “Wild Hearts tells the charming story of a teenage Malibu girl on a quest to meet the father she never knew while falling in love with a wild Mustang in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”
There’s not much that shocks me anymore. Career activities in the white, blue and no-collar world have given me a broad perspective on ‘the dumb things people do.’ I’m not sure whether it’s the new age of instant gratification (and reduced manners), a contracting equine industry, advertising decisions (word-of-mouth is our usual approach) or the luck of the draw, but that ‘horses for sale’ pronouncement seems to have served as a magnet to the farm for the rude, the brazen and the kooks.
Fortunately, many of the Halcyon Acres horses are now sold to good homes, but the behavior of some people has left me shaking my head.
It’s not true that the buyer is always right. When the welfare of the horse is a priority, there’s an application process that occurs in the mind of the seller. While you may think you can do or say anything in your quest to secure the mount of your choice, that’s unlikely.
The following draws from recent experience. What’s going to happen to the poor horses that land in these people’s hands?
Eleven ways to reduce your chances of being taken seriously as a horse buyer:
Before you ask anything about the horse or explain a little bit about what you’re looking for, scribe an e-mail simply stating ‘is price negotiable.’
Ask if the 10 YO 16.2hh TB off for four years would be suitable for your 5 YO daughter to ride (note well – put a price on your horse, otherwise it’s an assumed giveaway; free horse fanatics flock in droves to such listings, failing to recognize it costs money to care for a horse).
Claim you’re a trainer in initial contact even if you’ve never ridden or cared for a horse.
Don’t include a subject line, context snippet, nor horse name in your e-mail message (and if you do, make sure it’s the wrong one) then come back with an indignant reply when asked what the e-mail was in reference to.
Shoot off an incoherent phrase posing a question that could apply to a car, a dog or a piece of furniture, but no normal horse.
Ask if your dressage, fox hunting, eventer goes English or Western.
Question what kind of saddle and bridle will be included with your horse purchase.
Visit the facility for multiple rides, claim the horse is perfect, then cry poor. When that doesn’t work, complain about the age of the horse. This may seem like a good buyer negotiating tactic. To the seller, it’s bad faith. If you’re looking for recreational riding time for your kid, pay for lessons.
Schedule a vet check then don’t show nor extend the courtesy to cancel.
Ask if a weanling has been started under saddle.
Brag about all the horses you’ve rescued with the pronouncement you’re willing to ‘save’ a horse for sale if it’s given to you for free (can you say hoarder).
Frankly, this is the short list. I guess I’m spoiled with the quality of buyers drawn through word-of-mouth.
It’s been an interesting learning experience.
Most of the horses are getting grabbed from out-of-state as we’ve priced horses to accommodate the costs and inconvenience of long-distance travel. Of course, we do all we can to ensure a great fit first.
If you’re looking for a special horse, some of my favorites are still available.
Shaquille is a super Irish Draught Sport Horse steal.
Dixie’s a sweet heart that takes care of any level rider on the trails or in the arena. She’s pretty, well-bred and a joy to work around.
Midge is the eager, fun-loving and enthusiastic horse I dreamed of as a kid. She’s game for any new challenge, can corner or stop on a dime, has incredibly comfortable gaits and can go all day.
Fielding cold-call queries for the first time after almost 40 years of owning horses has made me realize we need to be doing more to help future equestrians. Without a better effort to reach out, I fear the world may become a more miserable place for our equine companions. Do you have ideas on how we ensure our horses of tomorrow have caretakers prepared for the task? stories to tell? Happy stories of good placements? Please share in the comments below.
About a year ago, Horse Sense and Cents® began offering audio products. This has involved a lot of lessons learned the hard way, trial and error and occasional frustration, but it’s exciting to see success. Sometimes the simplest solutions prove to be the best.
Most recently, we started making the books and e-booklets available through Amazon, iTunes and a number of other online sites as audio downloads. For these we found a royalty-share resource (more on this later). Their ability to get these titles listed where we could not as a small publisher made all the difference.
What’s been amazing is how quickly sales have started to come in for these products with virtually no promotion on our part. What’s even more surprising is how many seem to prefer listening to reading, as the e-booklets are less than half the price but the audio products seem to be more popular.
Getting started with audio
Our first foray into the retail audio arena was in December 2011 with the Inventing Your Horse Career CD series. We spent a ton of time and money researching and buying quality recording equipment, designing the packaging, manufacturing the product and arranging for warehousing and fulfillment. Of course, that was all after the considerable effort designing the perfect mix of contributors and devoting hundreds of hours to gathering information, interviews, editing and infrastructure to make a big splash.
We should have the full length Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners completed within the next week and live on various sites as an audio product in February.
Sometimes you miss
The thinking with the Inventing Your Horse Career CD Series was horse owners spend a ton of time in their cars (more often trucks), most have probably at least fantasized about a career with horses in the mix and many would appreciate having an attractively boxed package to own or give as a gift. Since it was so hard to find great material on alternative equine careers, we thought there would be a high demand for a resource that put it all together in one place.
All involved felt the research, time and money required to put this together would help younger equestrians or more mature adults (with many starting horse-related small businesses as a second career) get a head start – or leg up, so to speak – in careers where others had learned many lessons the hard way. In fact, some of the contributors to this series literally invented the industry niches where they now prosper. All have great stories to tell and a generous philosophy of giving back to help future equestrian entrepreneurs. Each was amazed with the quality of the final product – and lineup of co-contributors. So, we figured the product would be a big hit.
We were wrong. Whether it was poor promotion, the CD format, the length of the series (it’s 9 CDs of content at about one hour each), timing or something else, we weren’t scrambling to keep up with demand as imagined. Nor did we have buyers clamoring for updates with new featured equine visionaries annually (initially our plan was to start production of a second series about six months after the first was released – that’s postponed – perhaps indefinitely).
So, for those of you who prefer CDs to MP3s, we’re selling out our remaining stock of the boxed CD set at half off as we transition to a digital download only model. It’s a great gift to be treasured by you or someone special with an amazing mix of knowledge, insight, stories and tips.
There’s no way right now (at least not that we’ve found) to run this through ACX, so we still working on strategies to get it listed with the big boys.
Finding the right partners for your equine business products
ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) came up several times in the six months of research I did trying to figure out how to get our Inventing Your Horse Career MP3 offerings listed on iTunes and other sites where people tend to go to find material that satisfies their listening pleasures. This is a relatively young company. They’re doing a lot of things right.
Basically, it’s resource that connects voiceover talent with publishers and authors. What’s even more awesome about the offerings, though, is they’ve established relationships with the online retail giants, so once your product goes through their quality control process, you’re in.
I’ve been thrilled with this company thus far. I would strongly recommend using the voiceover talent option (you don’t have to) if your title lends itself well to being narrated by another (if you do a royalty share arrangement, their motivation is equal to yours in seeing the product sell).
Given our challenges with the Inventing Your Horse Career Series, particularly as it relates to getting the MP3s listed, I’d love to hear your ideas or experiences with sites that offer audio products for sale. What’s your favorite place to visit? Where do you find the best horse stuff? Do you sell audio products through a resource you relish and are willing the share your find? Please consider participating in the comment section below, or if you’d prefer to respond privately, you’re welcome to contact me at Nlevin@HorseSenseAndCents.com. Thanks!
Some of my best assistant trainers haven’t been people. When you’re trying to reach confused, concerned or belligerent horses, often animals can be better teachers when it comes to addressing young horse training issues.
Who says dogs and horses don’t mix?
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows Gatsby served as one of the best equine assistant trainers I’ve ever encountered. I was lucky to have his help for fifteen years. He was a mutt I picked up from the Rochester City Pound who had an uncanny ability to read, comfort and guide horses in a way that made them feel brighter, bolder and safer in all that was requested.
Even new client horses coming to Halcyon Acres® seemed to recognize with him around, they’d stay safe. I felt a lot safer too (on and off horses – he had a lethal jaw and, as amiable as he was, I always knew he’d use it to protect me). He calmed horses through painful doctoring, helped with young horse training on the trails, assuring and then desensitizing, comforted horses that were concerned and even welcomed each new foal. I’ve never seen anything like it – even maiden mares would allow Gatsby to get close to their newborns.
There was an energy about him that every horse picked up on and appreciated. In fact, when he died and was buried on the property this summer, the farm horses went nuts. They couldn’t see him but somehow they knew. I miss him so much, but will remember all he taught me about horse sense for the rest of my life.
The little filly that could
Leah has always been an interesting character. As a yearling, she challenged the bully in the pasture (not the leader) who commanded a large run in shed for herself. Leah didn’t get violent, she simply wouldn’t be intimidated by this mare’s posturing. When the rest of the herd witnessed her bravado, they began to follow her lead on many other things.
If I’m not hasty with fresh water in winter, the entire herd waits for Leah to land a crushing hoof through the ice surface. She never claims first dibs.
She’s always been one of these fillies that lets you know she’s choosing to cooperate. For each request there’s a moment where she pauses to make sure you know she knows she doesn’t have to. It’s quite comical, actually.
I laughed out loud watching my novice employee start Leah under saddle. After six months of riding lessons and helping start young client horses, this gal wanted a project she could learn from alone. Ordinarily, this would have been an impossible request. I recognized, though, I had a very special filly born at the farm. Her smarts, kindness and confidence proved green hands with a green horse could work.
As I watched the scenes unfold from my office window above, Leah proved to be the old soul with a sense of humor I knew. It was hysterical to witness Leah enforcing lessons when words were forgotten. Lowing an iron before climbing aboard was one of them. Leah walk off just fast enough so this gal would be hopping on one foot with her other in the stirrup. This usually went on for a half hour before the light bulb moment. As soon as the rider dropped her iron, Leah stood. Through every step, Leah gently pushed back until the student got it right. Irony can be fun when you see it coming.
Leah’s also my go-to gal for providing client horse companionship for singles (which always includes some schooling). Usually, customers who send only one horse have gotten stuck trying to go it alone. So, there are issues to be undone before tackling new activities.
At the tender age of three, Leah’s totally cool being removed from the herd (some of her tight peers aren’t so comfortable). This usually involves her spending half the time in a stall and the rest turned out with a newbie and his behavioral issues. She helps me by eliminating most of the attitude problems non-violently, while I treat her to extra goodies and attention. Still, it’s incredible to witness the adaptability and smarts of this young gal. Most horses of any age would stress out and act out with such a dramatic change. She joyfully rolls with the punches, delighted to find new ways to keep that busy mind engaged.
It’s wonderful to have such willing helpers. There are other horses that get culled for particular issues, but Leah usually gets first call for the most challenging tasks. Wise beyond her years is an understatement. Of course, she’s been teaching me along the way too. Each horse gives you new learning opportunities. This one has taught me more than most about how to be clever and kind with equine communications – whether directed at humans or horses. She’s a hoot.
Do you have animal companions around the farm you use to help you with horse challenges? I’d love to hear about them in the comments, and imagine blog readers here would too. Also, if you enjoyed this blog post, please share using the easily clickable options to the left of the content column. Thanks :-; .
I’ve been asked a lot lately about creating a schedule for young horse training. People want to know the exact age certain task should be started, and when they should be finished. It’s hard to try to explain to some people this is question that can’t be answered without involving the horse in the conversation.
Yes, of course, there are age and related growth issues. Staring too early or moving too quickly can create damage that can’t be undone. But so can discounting the equine mind in your training regimen.
Some horses are smart. Others need a different engagement approach to understand. There are those that will test you at every step – and you better be sure what you’re asking is reasonable before you decide to make an issue of it.
Some young horse training starts with a horse’s request
Certain young horses beg to be brought into the training process earlier than we plan. Judie (our 2007 Registered Irish Draught Sport Horse mare)was one of them. We knew she was going to be big and didn’t want to begin under saddle training until late in her three-year-old year at the earliest. She had other ideas. So we honored her request and did some very light training with her early.
Ground work didn’t satisfy her as she had been watching other horses being ridden. It’s funny how some horses seem to see the world. Judie’s been a fantastic learner and eager pleaser with every under saddle request we’ve made of her since. Just being included when she asked seemed to solidify her conviction that training was fun. Her response has been to try even harder to do everything right.
Certain horses will easily accommodate your schedule
Leah was another one we started early. This wasn’t due to her expressing a strong desire to begin training, but more because we needed her for a job. This is a remarkable little filly that we grab for a variety of farm needs. Most horses – no matter what age – wouldn’t be able to do what she does around here without angst or injury. In this case, we had a green employee who was providing help with client horses coming in to be started under saddle, but wanted the learning experience of a project she could do on her own. There aren’t many young horses I’d entrust with the schooling project (the horse did a lot more teaching than the human), but Leah’s special.
Boys often need more time to mature
There have been a number of times I’ve sent client horses back after some preliminary training because they were just too young to process or physically handle the demands of riding time. Fortunately, my clients care about their horses and trust my judgment, so are willing to give their equines another year or two to grow up before beginning career training. This seems to be a guy thing as these equines are almost always geldings or colts.
Starting a horse too soon is a mistake. If he’s too insecure, underdeveloped physically or confused about simple requests (this is often human error, but some horses do need to grow up to be mentally ready to respond as requested), he’ll come to see training with resentment, fear or avoidance tactics. That’s no way to start a horse that will be asked to partner with humans for a lifetime.
Young horse training decisions should include your horse
So, when people ask me “at what age should I be introducing my horse to tack,” my answer is always “it depends.” I get some industries put tremendous strain on young horse bodies at a very early age. Some breeds take years longer to mature than others, requiring more time to physically mature for long and healthy career. Usually, though, no matter what the breed or career he is intended for (that’s a subject for an entirely different blog post), the horse will tell you when he’s ready.
Of course, there’s lots of things you can do from the ground while you’re waiting.
If you find your young horse doesn’t relish the training time you spend together, consider stepping back to try to figure out why. Maybe he’s been rushed to a point where he’s confused and concerned. Return to ground work in an effort to establish a better foundation. Perhaps you don’t have the confidence or understanding to instill courage in him. This might be a good time to seek out help. Alphas can be particularly challenging because they’re usually clever, willful and watching your every move to determine if you’re worthy. Too many people try to dictate to these horses, or recoil in fear; neither approach works very well.
Or maybe, he’s just not ready. Everything you do today will shape how your horse experiences riding time for the next twenty years and beyond. If you’re going to take on a young horse training project, you owe it to the horse to listen to what he’s trying to tell you. This is the time you set the stage for a horse to spend a lifetime enjoying his human interactions – or dreading them.
If you find yourself challenged with training issues you’re encountering with your horse, we’ve created some e-booklets to help. These are available on this website and as Kindle Editions for only $2.99 (there’s about 20 pages each). We’ve also created these as audio books available on Amazon or iTunes and a number of other popular venues. Reaching Alpha Horses and Bringing home and off-the-track Thoroughbred are fun reads with stories, tips and ideas you can implement immediately. If you do pick up a copy of any of these titles, please consider leaving an Amazon review. Thanks!
Animals are more intuitive than most people give them credit for. Remi’s certainly not the brightest canine to walk the planet, but she seems to always know when I’m headed downstairs to leave the office instead of taking a trip to the kitchen or bathroom. It’s not that she hears me putting on a coat or readying boots, she’s up and halfway down the stairs before I reach the bottom.
I find the horses at Halcyon Acres® sense a lot of things you might not expect too. What’s amazing is, once you’re able to connect with one or more in a way they understand, you can easily use herd members to help with daily management activities. While training is one way, I tend to prefer asking.
Clover is a lovable brat. She’s an instigator and can be challenging to work with. It’s important to channel her energy and engagement if you want to keep the peace – and your sanity. This six-year-old Registered Irish Draught Sport Horse is clever, athletic and has a sense of humor (really). I know I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help but chuckle watching as she gets the herd racing around on slippery ground, maneuvers an instant 90-degree turn at 35 mph and then watches as others try to follow and start skidding and flopping to the ground as hoofs come out from under them. I swear you can almost hear her giggling.
Recently, deep snow, biting winds and too many layers of clothes have slowed me down at feeding times. There are a few rules that are non-negotiable at the farm. Kicking up heels near the meal ticket is one of them. So is being rude by grabbing at food before it’s laid out. Sometimes, though, when winds are whipping and excitement is flowing, they can’t help themselves.
Clover started this (of course). She began sniping at the bales before they were opened and distributed and others followed her lead. I let her know I had enough – and targeted her with the message. She got it and also seemed to sense I could use some help. Who knows what goes on in her mind sometimes. Whether it’s a genuine effort to help and protect me (she’s done this enough before it’s not a stretch) or a conviction that if she couldn’t grab, no one else was going to either, but the end result was incredible.
Instead of viewing the gate as the entryway to a shark tank, I feel more like Moses as a wide path is cleared in front of and around me as hay is doled out. The first day or two there was some chasing and circling as Clover let every herd member know if they came within ten feet of me they’d incur her wrath. Now, except for the occasional glare, she doesn’t have to do anything. Thanks, Clover!
Horses seem to love to have a job – even if it’s a simple one. Think about selecting a horse to help you with a task and you might be surprised at how they jump in with solutions. Do you have a fun horse story to tell? Please share in the comments below.
It’s been a whirlwind few months with so much going on. Time’s streaked past in a way that has me wondering why we’re not still in August. Almost reminds me of the first time I sent a horse down the lane for a track breeze – kind of a joyous blur seeing but not fully able to focus on the milestones passed along the way to the finish line.
We’ve been doing a lot of work on the Horse Sense and Cents® website and products over the past few months. There’s still much more to go, but hopefully the changes will make it easier for you to find what you are looking for on the site. Do feel free to reach out (full contact information is available at the bottom of almost every web page) if you have questions, want to see us offer something new or are having trouble locating the information you seek.
Do take the time to look around a bit while here as there’s tons of free information designed to help you reach your training, career or equine relationship goals. Much has been added to the Inventing Your Horse Career pages (although we’re still working on a better organizational strategy).
For those still seeking last-minute gifts or stocking-stuffers for the horse lovers in their life, we have some great gifts that can be downloaded for $2.99, $6.95 and $15.99.
Inexpensive equine audio and printed e-booklets
We’ve just started making titles available as audio products. You can now buy the Reaching Alpha Horses e-booklet for to enjoy as a listening experience via Audible.com for $6.95 or on Amazon for only $6.08 – or at no cost with a free 30-day Audible.com trial membership.
We expect the title to be available on iTunes and other major online audio retail outlets within the next week.
Who hasn’t scratched their heads over the challenges an Alpha can present? This resource will help you customize approaches to get that special, opinionated equine excited about building a partnership.
Valuable, affordable equine career insight for time-starved horse lovers
More than a dozen equine professionals had a lot of fun coming together last year to create the Inventing Your Horse Career Series. We’re running a half-price special on the 9 CD boxed series right now (just enter the discount code HSACLA2012 to save $119). We’ve also created individual MP3 download options for those who want the material in smaller and more affordable doses. You can get the Inventing Your Horse Career MP3s (about an hour a piece) for $15.99 each or $29.99 for three.
More free training tips and fun tools you can use
Beginning in 2013, we’re going to try to publish articles in the blog on a regular schedule, but back it off to twice a month. Of course, if we have something exciting or timely to share, we’ll jump in off-schedule, but it seems better for all to know when new posts are coming. Is there a particular day that’s favored by you readers? If so, please note this in the comments below or send me a private message. The day of the week makes no difference here, but frequency does. Also, if there’s a topic you’d like to see covered, say so and we’ll try to respond accordingly.
We’re going to start producing the free newsletter monthly (if you’re not signed up, just enter your name and e-mail address on the right column of this page). This wound up taking a lot more time to create than anticipated so to keep it interesting, fun and relevant, quality over quantity seemed like a good move. For those who subscribe, we’ll send out some other fun surprises periodically, but limit the formal treatise to twelve times a year.
We’re in the final production stages of the long-awaited title by Rob Fera (the working title is Bringing Up Baby, but we need to change this as John Lyons already claimed that one) focused on foal care and handling pre-natural through 18 months with great information on nutrition, health issues, ailments, training and all sorts of super tips on being smarter about raising a young horse in a way that helps him be his best. This has been a much-anticipated book that we’re excited be close to finishing. Watch for free sneak peak chapters here as we get closer to a publishing date.
Hope you all have a very happy holiday season and prosperous new year. Thanks for being such a loyal, active and supportive following. I look forward to joining with you next year to ‘Enjoy the Ride.’
Some exciting news for us – and hopefully for the readers of this blog. Recently we were named one of the top horse blogs with 25 others in the nation by Bel Rea. You can see the top 25 list here (we’re in some pretty good company).
Just figured I’d share the news. I’ll probably revisit this later, but, frankly, needed to get the badge up to grab the imagine for a project we’re working on.
Thanks for all you’ve done to support this blog and other activities associated with Horse Sense and Cents. You all are so special and clearly a big reason for being noticed as one of the top horse blogs.
Perhaps I’ve been living in the country too long to understand some of what goes on in the real world. That’s OK with me. People gossip, yes (everyone knows everyone), but they also extend themselves to neighbors in need with genuine caring, concern and grace. Community members jump up to chip in because they can. It’s done without belittling the receiver. Reciprocity isn’t a concern. All recognize they may be in need some day, but mostly, do it because it feels good to be kind.
People puzzle me. Those boasting a moral compass with animal interactions can be so cruel with humans. These are usually the same folks who claim to have the only right answer as it pertains to the horse. Actually I imagine their genius extends far beyond the equine realm. Pity the people who have to live with them.
The older I get, it seems, the less I know. Usually, I enjoy the idea of exploring new learning experiences with others, but lately I’ve grown wary of most touting horse advocacy rank. It boggles the mind that some believe bullying forth to enlighten those they purport to support is a good way to sway opinion.
Most good leaders are humble
When I reflect on my best teaches over the decades with equines, they’ve been humble. Most have been quiet, thoughtful leaders changing the world one horse or one human at a time. Have I trained with Olympians and other celebrities? Yes. Are these the people who have made the most significant contributions to my understanding, skill and quality of life? Definitely not.
Memorable influencers are wise and mature – having a deep inner compass that produces followers and fans not because they say they’re great, but because they show they care.
Some of my most treasured mentors achieved incredible credentials and acclaim – something you usually discovered long after connecting with them because they didn’t broadcast qualifications, but rather looked at every day anew based on results. Others drew from hands-on experience and the people who helped them along the way. Both types of professionals (a term I no longer take for granted, nor use lightly) have made a huge difference in my perspectives and accomplishments over the years.
Is there an answer the industry can agree on?
I don’t know what the answer is anymore with horses. When I was young I did. I knew it all. Now I just have more questions. I do wonder about the ironic nature of people’s behavior. It’s scary to watch what’s going on in the horse industry, but hard to be heard over the battle cries of the camp crusaders. It seems most would rather fight than do good as the number of people willing or able to personally support horses continues to wane. We’re already seeing the fallout from this with horses being discarded in growing numbers.
Novice riders have a huge need that’s not being met
Twenty-three years ago I founded Fulcrum Communications at a time when the small business moniker was uttered with disdain by the rest of the industry. Business owner clients are eager learners, smart adapters and willing and happy to pay a fair price for services – provided the investment offers results.
I see a similar phenomenon with novice riders today. Sure, there are products available, but few seasoned horse people willing to reach out to help them get pointed in the right direction where they live. These riders will shape the future experiences of the horses across the world and influence industry movement tomorrow – for good or bad.
Influencing the horse market requires understanding people too
I shake my head when I see people responding to forums, groups, blogs and other online venues where only words are exchanged with absolute conviction on how to handle a horse they haven’t seen in a situation they haven’t witnessed. This approach doesn’t increase credibility, it undermines it. Perhaps some of the time spent attacking others (it’s sad this happens so often when novices ask for help) could be spent helping those in need close to home? I witnessed how the world changes one person at a time as we collaborated to change perceptions and rule making for small businesses in the 80s and 90s. Believe me, it’s a lot more rewarding and effective when you choose to contribute to the world with positive energy.
Reaching out to one local novice not only changes her life, but the experiences of every horse she touches. Plus, the joy you get from the appreciation expressed – not only in words and timely payment, but also through eager application of new approaches – is priceless.
Help your equine business and the industry
Most of the novices I meet are amazing. They love their horses and are willing to invest what they can once they realize they’ve hit a wall. These are rarely wealthy people, but are smart and humble enough to know when they need help. They relish knowledge provided in a way they can process and apply.
If you’re looking for a market that wants your help, consider how you can customize what you offer to reach these riders. You’ll not only help your local community, but also provide a service that helps the horse industry evolve with sound perspective you can share and teach.
This ready market tends to be active social media participants, even if they’re just lurkers. Be careful about joining a frenzy that’s caustic. You’re likely to not only loose prospects ready to consider client status, but also industry leaders no longer willing to be referral agents for you. Nobody likes a bully. There’s a big difference between passion and arrogance. Lean toward the former and you’ll likely grow your business. Take the latter position and you’ll deserve the business failure you achieve.
If you really care about horses, consider reaching out to novices in ways they can understand, afford and appreciate. The gratefulness they show provides a super example for more seasoned equestrians to emulate. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from these special people.
Let’s set aside the technical definition of positive reinforcement in deference to yet another case of common use morphing of the language. Uncle – this post will use the term to designate reward practices as such. We’ll assume those advocating for positive reinforcement are against any actions that involve a correction that discourages a horse (or human) from bad or dangerous behavior. It still doesn’t work as well as people might think.
Society seems to be focused these days on a ‘don’t say no’ mentality, for fear the mere act of providing guidance to direct behavior through disapproval may undermine the self-esteem of our youth or label someone who sets limits as cruel to their animals. What this approach is producing is a bunch of confused, aimless and narcissistic humans along with a new generation of horses who long for a human that has guts enough to challenge bad behavior and provide them with the comfort of a guide they can trust to keep them out of harm’s way.
Don’t misunderstand – I’m not an advocate of ‘keeping their feet busy,’ ‘teaching a horse respect’ or reckless punishment, but there comes a time when it’s appropriate to say no – and mean it. That’s never a good first approach with a young or confused horse, but if you’re skillful at reading what’s being projected, there will come a time when misunderstanding turns to manipulation or bullying.
Foals appreciate clear direction
We have a fifteen-month-old colt here that’s recently been feeling pretty proud of his appendages. He’s not very bold or confident, so we’ve taken extra time with each request keeping it kind, patient and encouraging. His behavior during the last blacksmith visit merited a different reaction. He figured he’d give biting and kicking a shot. One quick and timely correction (a thump to his belly) ended the antics. He was testing, seemed to appreciate having some boundaries set and handled the rest of the session with ease and grace. A scared or confused horse would have reacted very differently. It was time to say no with this coming cocky colt.
Youngsters live happier with limits
If you think you’re doing your horse a favor (or your kid for that matter) allowing them to find themselves without negative reinforcement to help them understand appropriate social behavior or avoid danger, you’re not. People, like horses, are better adjusted and more joyful when guided on how to be a productive contributor in life. Even in wild herds you see this. Regardless, horses have been domesticated for millenniums. Most I’ve encountered seem to be hard-wired to seek out humans for work fulfillment.
Done right, horses appreciate the attention and engagement riding time brings. For most, finding a confident and responsive leader makes activities a lot more fun.
Keeping the horse in the conversation is critical.
That doesn’t mean you always have to agree or cave, just listen. Acknowledging the horse’s perspective and then saying no is a happy place for most equines, provided you let them express their views and, when appropriate, contribute to decisions on training activities. Some days this can mean a shorter session or none, others a longer one. Often a horse will suggest a different approach than you had planned, making the learning experience better for both of you. Why not let your horse help decide what you do in a session if it keeps you both happy and moving forward? He’ll be quicker to accommodate you when requests are less negotiable.
Negative reinforcement isn’t a bad thing
Honestly I don’t get this mindset that discouraging bad behavior is wrong. Most creatures appreciate direction that helps them better cope with the world we live in. In fact, a majority out guidance and approval from those they respect (something you can’t teach, but instead, need to earn) to help keep them safe, happy and fulfilled. Setting limits isn’t evil. In fact, done right, it’s a kind way to show you care. If you never intercede to guide one away from danger, why should they trust you (or themselves) to make right decisions when faced with new challenges?
Negative reinforcement doesn’t mean violence. It’s simply a matter of making it less comfortable to act out in ways being discouraged and more pleasant to proceed in the requested direction.
Horses are being discarded these days in growing numbers. It’s sad. Many novices take on a project they’re ill-equipped to handle. Most are good-hearted and well-intentioned, but lack the ability to understand how their actions are shaping horse behavior. You can literally kill a horse with kindness when only positive reinforcement (applied to both good and bad behavior) creates an equine that’s dangerous to themselves and others. These horses are being turned loose, dumped in auctions and left to starve. The horse is blamed and labeled a problem by merely doing what he’s been taught.
Horses and humans can live happier lives with clear boundaries. Sometimes a little bit of conflict is a good thing. It’s how we learn.