A friend recently asked me about leadership while mounted and if I'd consider writing something about it. Of course, I readily agreed and was very thankful for the blog content idea. And, the answer to my three questions above: I've got it, I need it, and I want it! (How about you?) I don't want a push-button horse--may as well have a nice sports car--I want a challege!
So, let's talk a bit about leadership between horse and human in general terms. Horses are not egocentric, they don't feel bad or feel insulted if you are the dominate party in the relationship. They expect someone to be number one and the other number two. It is up to you to establish the pecking order--and know that they will test the order--all of the time--it is natural! However, this "pecking order" must be established in such a way that you are not rude or insulting, not harsh or cruel (anyone can beat an animal or human for that matter into submission but it takes a true leader to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship). It takes a common language so that you two communicate the issues and have understanding, it takes a person who loves their horse to take the time to do this, and of course, leadership (the third component in the Parelli formula of "Love, Language, and Leadership" takes savvy and a true understanding of what leadership is.
Remember this? It is IMPORTANT!
Horse's Hierarchy of Needs (IN THIS ORDER)
• Safety = Confidence + Leadership
• Comfort = Release
• Play = Fun + Creativity
• Food = Incentive
Also, I was trying to figure out the components of: Love, Language, and Leadership and this is what I came up with (I have yet to find anything official and I swear I had notes on this somewhere--I'll update if I find something better!)
Love=Have your heart in your hands (be kind to your horse).
Language=The seven games in many combinations (unlimited) is your common language.
Leadership= The act of motivating your horse to do something that works you both towards a common goal. (Make it your horse's idea, not just yours.)
In my "normal" life, my career is all about leadership as I am an Academic Library Director. I have to lead all of the time, working with different people, scenarios, and other issues that take quality leadership (and I am doing well actually--I have data to prove it--LOL). The reason I bring this up is that leading in one's so-called regular life or leading in your relationship with your horse have principles that apply much the same.
Philosophically, let's talk a little about what leadership is and what it is not? Pat Parelli has said many times that, "Your horse is a reflection of you as a leader--what kind of leader you are is truly reflected in how your horse is." To me, leadership is and is not...
Leadership is NOT:
- Power. The idea of power is offensive, rude, and simply out of line. Keep power trips out of the picture and you will create a safe environment for your relationship to grow.
- Waiting for something to happen and hoping the other party will make the first move to allow you to lead. Leaders get the ball rolling, allowing the relationship to build and happen.
- Being closed minded and thinking that you are always right. Leaders also make mistakes and you must own up to them for the relationship to work.
- Knowing that change starts with you! If there is a problem, it stems with you, not your horse---kind of like your computer. Computers are not intelligent, they can only think in terms of one and zero. It is humans (the operators/manipulators) that actually make them work to create the wonderful things we do with them. If they are not working right, it is usually our fault. Do you remember seeing Pat Parelli on more than one occasion take a "bad" horse and make him a "good" horse? The horse did not change, his leadership changed making him react differently to the situation. (This is not magic, this is leadership.)
- Being able to always find the positive in any situation. Dwelling on the negative does nothing but sabotage you and your horse.
- Not having power-trips. POWER is a dirty word!
- Understanding that you are a role model, you are infectious--do your horsey friends want what you've got--you'd better hope so because if they do, chances are you are doing something wonderful with and for your horse.
- Knowing that your horse is evaluating you on a daily basis (perhaps every minute, every second). Does he believe in you and your leadership? Are you trustworthy? Does he want to be with you? Remember you are a predator asking a prey animal to follow your lead---to some horses this could mean something akin to trusting a lion to take them home to meet the pride for dinner. (Do they think they that they are a guest or the main course--hmmm?) Does your horse see you as a scary dominating predator or a partner?
- Acknowledging a job well done at the very moment it happens. Remember this quote, "Pressure motivates but it is the release the teaches"--Pat Parelli? The release is the acknowledgement or reward (a cookie never hurts either).
- Someone who leads by example, listens, compassionate, self-aware, tough and courageous, optimistic, intelligent, fun, motivational, creative, accurate, concise, dedicated, punctual, sensitive, enthusiastic, accountable, troubleshoots, understands verbal and non-verbal cues, is able to trust, is trustworthy, plans, and prepares.
As you can see, leaders have a great responsibility. Sure, you can get a horse to do what you want through fear and intimidation but what fun it that? I personally prefer a horse who wants to be with me and who is having fun.
For the sake of this post, I am not going to get into leadership on the ground. Personally I believe that if you don't have it there, you have no business riding your horse. Not only for your own safety but for the safety and comfort of your horse! (It is not all about you!) LOL
Here is what I believe a clear example of a time when my leadership shined through while mounted and why I believe it did.
While trying to teach my Arabian Whiskey to trot, I thought it would help if he saw another horse doing it. Now I am not saying that makes sense but at the time, it was what I was thinking. Anyhow, I wanted him to trot on the rail in my outdoor arena. It was a nice sunny day and the horses were all feeling good--so was I.
I had three horses in the arena: Wilbur my Thoroughbred (who was at liberty), Whiskey my Arabian (the green horse with whom I put under saddle and who I was riding with natural hackamore and bareback pad--Parelli brand of course), and Fosse my other Arabian (who was also at liberty). So basically, I am riding Whiskey and the other two are running around the arena carrying on. I decided that we all needed something to do, together (sure I could have put the other two horses in another turnout area but why--my time with the horses was limited as it was and I wanted to play with them all. Anyhow, I managed to reach a carrot stick that I had on a barrel and directed Wilbur from across the arena to get in front of Whiskey. He lined up at a distance where I could tap his butt (phase one) with the carrot stick. I then asked Wilbur for a trot by light, rhythmic tapping, once he began to trot at liberty in front of me on the rail, I asked Whiskey for a trot and we began trotting around the arena (I remained in the passenger position, intermixing sitting and posting trot). I happened to glance behind me looking for Fosse's location and Fosse was following Whiskey and I at a trot too! This was so cool, so fun, so exhilarating! The session continued where I directed the horses at liberty here and there, and the one under saddle, Whiskey, with little effort, had huge success. Sometimes Whiskey and I would just stay still and the others would circle, sometimes we'd pursue another horse, it was great! All of the horses saw me as their leader and we all had fun, together!
Why did this work? Was it planned? It was not planned but a spontaneous creative thought I had based on imagination, lack of time, and a yearning to make progress. It worked because I had taken the time to get respect on the ground first, with all of the horses, not only that day but many days, weeks, months, etc.--I put in the time (Pat Parelli says, "Take the time it takes and it takes less time" and frankly, it is true, in all walks of life.
The other reason it worked is that I have an independent and balanced seat. This is critical to have your horse believe you are trustworthy as a leader while mounted, period, no exceptions. I can rider bareback with or without a Parelli bareback pad (and this has actually helped my balance--and understand that my shape or weight are less than perfect but, there is more to balance than being the perfect 10--really! However, this is precisely why I joined a gym and am trying to get back into better shape--I believe my fitness level has been interfering with my natural balance (which leads to confidence) and thus my leadership while mounted lately is lacking in my opinion--so instead of crying the blues, I am doing something about it! If you get on your horse and kick him when you mount, yank on his mouth, flop and bump around, flail your legs, or other horrible riding incompetence, your horse will not gauge you as competent and not trust you (for good reason) and thus, he will try to be the leader instead simply out of self-preservation. Now, what if this is a right-brained horse to begin with? Do you want a right-brained horse to play leader? Not me!
Other components I can attribute to this one example of success is that I study the Parelli Program, I discuss issues, reflect, and strive to learn more. I also understand and reevaluate myself and my horses' horsenalities. I know who/what I am dealing with making strategies more easily created and implemented.
True horsemanship is not easy, it takes work, dedication, perseverance. Yes, I see people who hop on, kick to go, pull the reins to stop, just sit on their horse and ride. They say and seem happy and that is their prerogative and that is great for them. For me however, I am looking for a deeper relationship with my horse and not the path of least resistance. I am willing to put in the time, to learn to be a good leader, because I believe that what I get in the end is a richer, deeper relationship with a truly magnificent creature. It is truly a personal choice.
So, I guess my conclusion is to tell you to seek out what you want with your horse and make a plan, be savvy, be creative, have fun with your horses, but work on yourself too--success starts with you!
A final FYI...I participate in leadership seminars and courses all of the time too (I was at an all-day Leadership, Negotiations, and Mediations seminar last Friday)! Anyhow, I strive for continual improvement in all aspects of my life, a life-long project I suppose, and a truly good use of my time. Currently, I am using the FISH! Philosophy with my faculty and staff (and doing a self-study, Leader Fish for myself). It is fun! And, they seem encouraged, interested, and enjoying it--and it truly compliments my PNH journey by the way. The whole idea stems around four principles: Be There, Play, Make Their Day, Choose Your Attitude!