Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lessons in Assertiveness and Leadership

At the barn I ride at there is a horse known only as "G". Yeah, that's his 'official name'. His real name is Gooseberry, but nobody actually calls him that.

He's not always called G either...he's been called Glutton, Goofball, Ear Extensions, The Brat and on occasion 'That Horse'.

Last night he was in fine form. In a fairly short period he tried to scrape his rider off on the arena wall, bucked several times (and I don't mean little hop bucks either) and threw himself through high speed ninety degree turns. This was all a blatant attempt to intimidate the teenaged girl riding him into getting off. Because that's what G does.

G's pedigree is a litany of names familiar to cutters and ropers: Wimpy, Three Bars, King, Skipper W and the (in)famous Joe Hancock. He was bred in Missouri and really has no place in an English barn in Maryland. This is a horse that was bred to stare down and dominate a steer. In the absence of steers to dominate, he tries to dominate humans. He's stubborn, dominant and possibly smarter than you are.

I watched his performance with a sigh and my hand twitching towards my helmet and chaps. I then went and had some 'words' with him. (No, don't worry, they didn't involve a whip - but they did involve a stare down. Yes, you can stare a horse down...although most won't try to compete. This one will. Then I got on him and...let's just say he tried a repeat performance, but the session ended with him doing what I asked, albeit with his ears back and a sour 'I hate you' expression on his face. (He reminded me of a teenager being forced to clean his room).

The secret with dealing with animals like G is calm assertiveness. And with horses, you can't fake it. You can't just pretend you aren't scared of them - because they can hear your heartbeat. Studies have proved that equines can sense anxiety, fear and anger on the part of their handlers and react to them. You have to actually stop being scared. (This also goes for dealing with horses that are scared of their own shadow...)

I don't make New Year's resolutions, but I came to a decision last night - to try and be more assertive. And it's no good to pretend not to be scared...I have to learn not to be scared. I have a very strong fear of social rejection that tends to cause a vicious cycle in which my reaction to the fear makes people reject me, justifying the fear.

If I can learn to stare down eleven hundred pounds or so of solid muscle and attitude, then I can learn to deal better...more assertively and with less insecurity and anxiety...with my fellow human beings. I won't say try, because I have to go beyond trying. Maybe I can deal with my stage fright while I'm at it...