While it’s a good philosophy of life in general, setting things up for success seems especially important when working with horses. Dr. Robert Miller, the renowned veterinarian and imprint training innovator, says, “The first incident of any kind experienced by a horse is important. The first veterinary treatment, the first shoeing, the first trailer ride, the first saddling – all leave an indelible impression upon the horse’s mind and nothing short of a lobotomy will ever erase it.” (1) So the better we can do as horsemen and women to set up those first experiences to be positive, the better will the lives of our horses be, and ours as well.
This topic came to mind one day recently when I was setting up my work for two different ponies in succession. The first pony I worked was my young stallion Robin. I intended to walk him down the driveway from his paddock to the round pen. Spring is in the air here, and Robin’s energy is high. My job in handling him is to channel that energy and manage it as best I can. Since our walk to the round pen included passing the entire length of my senior stallion’s pen, I saw an opportunity for setting things up for success. I tied Apollo to the fence away from the road so that he wouldn’t charge and run the fence while Robin and I walked by. Robin’s and my walk to the round pen was a positive experience for both of us. I had a little laugh, though, as I didn’t tie the mares in the other paddock, and Rose charged the fence, giving me an opportunity to practice regaining Robin’s attention.
The second pony I worked that day was Mya the Wonder Pony. We were hauling water to fill the stock tank she shares with two other ponies. A pick-up had been parked in the driveway, leaving an eight foot gap between it and the haystack. That’s enough room for Mya and her cart to pass, but it’s a squeeze. The wind was up a little that day, billowing the tarp on the haystack into the road. So while we probably could have navigated the tight space, I moved the pick-up instead of taking the chance of a bad experience.
I once heard a comical line that a plan is God’s idea of a joke. I frequently think of that line when trying to set things up for success. While I tried to set things up in advance for my work with Robin, for instance, on the way back from the round pen we had to navigate the tight space between the truck and the haystack since the truck had arrived on scene while we were in the round pen. Setting things up for success means not only anticipating as many problems as possible and avoiding them but also developing the skills we need to deal with the things that life inevitably throws at us. That way, we can keep our sense of humor when our plans are inadequate and the joke is on us.
(1) Miller, Robert M., DVM. Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse’s Mind. Robert M. Miller Communications, Truckee, California, 1999, p. 34.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012