I read a snippet of a celebrity interview in a magazine last month that made me immediately make a note to myself to write about it here. Funny how something pretty much inane led me to thinking about issues that are quite profound and important when applied to parenting and horsemanship!
The celebrity (let’s call her Margot) had just had a baby about a month ago, and the magazine was showcasing her house, and, in particular, the nursery. Margot was proud that she had decked out her nursery with everything she and the baby could ever need since they were spending “17 hours a day” in there.
Now, I’ve raised four children quite well (they are healthy and thriving) and never in their entire lives did they spend more than 17 hours a day in any one room (even as teenagers who seemed to always be sleeping!).
Well, let me adjust that statement…My kids (and I) have spent almost 17 hours in an AIRPLANE (on trips that sometimes took over 30 hours to complete between departure and arrival), but that was only a couple of times a year, and we had no choice if we were to see our relatives.
But, the thought that a newborn child or month-old infant would require such seclusion, such protection from noise, other family members, pets, daylight, artificial light, cooking smells, and (I suppose) germs, in her own home is not only ridiculous, but, to me, downright misguided.
Change and uncontrollable factors are two things that are guaranteed to affect your life from the minute you’re born until you die. Why try to pretend they don’t exist? Why try to protect your child from life itself, instead of trying to prepare her for it?
I am all for helping infants keep a schedule for eating, sleeping, bathing, etc. But, babies need to be a part of the family they are born into. They need to adjust to the new sounds, sights, smells, even temperature changes, of their new home environment.
You’ll be surprised at how hardy babies can be, and how able they are to adjust to their new normal. And, as they grow up, they need even more to be able to adjust to changes in their lives and to not break with the first adverse wind that blows their way. But, how can they do this if we never give them a chance to practice?
This concept applies directly to training horses (or other animals for that matter). We cannot protect our horses from every possible change in their environment. It is inevitable that they will face new herd mates, new living quarters (maybe even as simple as moving them to a different stall or pasture), new feed/hay, new tack, new trails or obstacles. It is also true that we cannot control every factor that could affect them, be it of natural, man-made, other-species, or self-generated origin. Billboards can fly off their bases, other animals can behave unpredictably and suddenly attack, horses can knock over brooms/buckets, ground can give way under them, and bikes or soccer balls can cross their paths. Add to these truths that horses are more than ten times stronger than your average human, and horses become downright dangerous if they are overprotected from such stimuli, and therefore prone to overreact to them.
As horse-owners we have the responsibility of training our horses to be self-confident and responsive; this goes a long way to keeping them and us (and others) safe when their environment changes and they are scared.
They can never be safe if they are allowed to run off, buck, rear, or shy at any fear-inducing provocation.
They can never be safe if, when scared, they do not know how to bring themselves down from a state of agitation.
Now, given that we can never in a million lifetimes expose them to every possible change or fear factor, we have to use what we CAN do, and in this lifetime!
Thanks to the many brilliant horsemen out there who have given clinics, written books, and recorded educational videos, we all have many tools at our disposal with which we can help horses to help themselves: desensitizing, teaching the one-rein stop, yielding the hindquarters (moving the feet), teaching self-carriage, using groundwork to build trust, and asking a horse to stand still.
Add to these tools another important one: TIME (hours spent with your horse on the ground and in the saddle), and you are on the way to better and safer times with your horse!
There is no guarantee that our horses will behave perfectly 100% of the time. But, if your horse is taught to trust you, to respond to you, and to have confidence in its ability to carry itself through new and seemingly precarious changes, the safety rating of that horse goes up exponentially. The more people, places, terrain, obstacles, and experiences you can expose your horse to and safely guide him through, the better, more confident, and more healthy and dependable your horse will become. In other words, your horse will become successful at life!
The same can be applied to parenting your kids to be healthy, responsible, and successful in their lives, too!
Pssst! Margot! Please! Get yourself and your baby OUT OF THE NURSERY.