Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pat Parelli writes on Learned Helplessness

Walking the Woods with Black Elk at Liberty
Yesterday, I read a recent blog post by Pat Parelli refering to his younger days and how he has grown as a horseman. He said he suffered from Young Man's Disease- as many young men do. When it shows up with horses it's not pretty, but it's very common. It has to do with forcing a horse, making the horse do something - about overpowering the horse, showing him who is boss!

I have thought deeply about  with HOW to Work/Play/Be with a horse, how I want to be with horses. There is LOTS of conflicting advice. I rode in my youth with two Polish Calvery Officers. They were as you might imagine - very Yang in their approach to horses and riding. Their jobs as Officers in the Calvery was to get young men able and trained enough to ride horses into battle. 

While I was happy to have some mentors, it was not a really comfortable fit for me. I wanted the connection with horses, but 40 years ago.. no one was talking about connection/ partnership/respect for the horse. 
I wanted a friend, a companion, a pal who I could go on adventures with, and I actually acheived it!

I had a beautiful,  off the track TB who's father won the Belmont. His name was Especially You, I called him 'Shally".  He was fast, but generally lazy. When he didn't want to do something he'd just back up. Little did I  know how of all the choices he could of made, that one was the easiest for me to deal with!

As time went by, and we spent hours hanging out, and wandering the countryside, he rarely wanted to back up anymore.. we were not only moving forward; we were becoming partners. A few years after I got Shally,  I moved to Martha's Vineyard and although the young party crowd interested me for a while, I soon was back to hanging out with my horse out in nature. He lived in my back yard, and we talked out my bedroom window. We spent days trotting through the pine forests and swimming in ponds, exploring the wonders of Martha's Vineyard.  In the winter we went to the beaches and played at the water's edge, and raced through the woods. 

From the Vineyard we moved to the south of Boston. Again, I found a great spot for him, and daily we would canter the trails, often with a child behind the saddle with me. Then we were off to Vermont, where we lived on a farm along Chunk Brook Road. It was an old ski lodge, and there Shally and I traveled down every dirt road and logging trail we could find. He simply did as I bid. He was my best friend, my buddy, my traveling companion. I realize now how this happened - it was time spent together. Simply, a lot of hours. 

When we traveled, I had an old, awful, single axel, wooden horse trailer. At night we'd stop in a field and I'd tie him to a tire so he could graze. In the morning, I'd ask him to load up and he'd jump right in that awful dangerous box. No matter where I took him, he was relaxed and seemed at home. I didn't even know what I'd acheived!

So, you might say I suffered from "Young Women's Disease". Now, I think I had no illness that needed to be cured. I was on the right path, like many young women and their horse friends.

One of the things I have thought alot about in relation to working with horses is  "Learned Helplessness". When I was able to label certain training methods with this term, it all became much clearer to me. It took it out of  a feeling state  (it makes me feel bad, it doesn't feel right) to something I can get a handle on. The power of words cannot be underestimated! You can see my blogpost about Learned Helplessness in January.  Pat Parelli wrote about the same term in his latest blog. It's nice to know we are thinking many of the same thoughts! Yeah, Pat!