Tuesday, 4 August 2009


Obama has been biting me a bit, (what an exquisite play on words), and as with so much that Obama has taught me, it has taken time for the lesson to sink in. Ponies can't talk but if they want to communicate, a nip is a perfectly valid communication.
i am still scratching the scab where Obama bit me pretty hard on the arm, and unusually, refused to let go. I punched him fairly hard on the cheekbone because punching really hard on the cheekbone is stunningly painful for the person doing it. Obama did let go, and looked mildly guilty as I swore at him, but then I started thinking. It was raining hard, I had hauled him out of a barn where Cally, his latest girlfriend, is in season, and dragged him out to the field to hook up a prototype hoe for clearing the wheeltracks of corn spurry. I was trying to drive this rig, on my own through 5,000 soggy brassicas without Obama succumbing to the temptation to eat them or wander off track. So I was in a pretty vile mood and by the end of the first row when I realised my new prototype didn't work, Obama decided to but in with his opinion, and bit me.
Whose fault was it?
Mine, and Obama was telling me, in clear and concise language (horse) what he thought of it so far. As I nursed my bruised knuckles I realised the answer and gave Obama a carrot. Now when he nips me, i check his harness, check the equipment and once I have straightened the saddle, or whatever it is that is upsetting Obama, i give him another carrot and we carry on working.
Ami I rewarding vice, or rewarding communication. I do ensure that the carrot comes a lot faster if the nip is gentle. So we learn together that what traditionally is referred to as a vice, is communication. Don't punish any attempt to communicate. I now regret swearing at Obama for kicking me.

Sunday, 2 August 2009


Location, location, location, and no this isn't some ghastly property program, but a simple analysis of leadership as a tool of horsemanship. This applies to a whole raft of other disciplines, but not to everything so I am definitely sticking to horsemanship which I am beginning to understand.
Leadership is great as long as you understand the word. You lead from in front. You can follow from behind or you can drive or you can chase, you can sneak up and you can stalk, and I am well aware of other activities but this is a blog that might be read by anyone so I want to keep the tone reasonably pure.
Politicians get on top, as do Generals and you can order, subdue, squash, boss, bully and defecate on, from on top, but unless you can fly, you can't lead upwards.
Leadership works with soldiers and horses for the same reasons. The first person into the new situation is going to get whatever trouble is lurking there. If we work on the lion/zebra analogy as the wild equid with which most of us are most familiar, when a zebra goes through a narrow gap between thornbushes, there is a horrible risk that a lion or two is lurking out of sight. The zebra with the courage to lead the way, deserves whatever perks he earns, because if he is wrong, he is dead.
Not only is he dead, but he is almost certainly the ONLY casualty. Lions kill one meal at time. Soldiers following a brave leader are far more likely to die than a zebra following another zebra, because basically, people are an awful lot nastier than lions. This doesn't mean soldiers are nastier, but the people who direct what soldiers do, load them with weapons that will wipe out larger and larger numbers of their fellow men, while being incredibly careful to stay well out of the way of the faintest risk of meeting the weapons they have so enthusiastically supported, those people are nastier.
So leadership, is done from in front, and it works because it demonstrates your courage.
Courage is another of those misunderstood concepts. Courage is NOT necessary for horsemanship, it is necessary for upper class twit horsemanship because upperclass twit horsemanship developed as a way of showing you were a member of the ruling classes, and in those days, ruling and leadership of men, were pretty similar.
The Earl of Cardigan rode at the head of the Light Brigade down the North Valley at Balaclava in a stunning display of courage which just happened to be an equally impressive display of outright stupidity. But in Cardigan's defence, he knew he was risking his life, and still went.
To impress men, you need courage, and in a modern army, intelligence. Soldiers will no longer lay down their lives for an upper class twit walking into the valley of death. Instead they are sent by a bunch of politicians, to find weapons of mass destruction. There are still leaders, but they are a lot younger and a lot more junior, and they lead from in front, and they die because that is the nature of the game.
But horses don't assess risk the same way. They are still looking out for the lion, or tiger, or wolf, the large meat eating predator, because that is the threat they have evolved facing. Today's threats, assuming you are doing your horsemanship in a solvent, first world environment, don't include any of the threats horses evolved to survive.
But the horse or pony is still just as worried going through a narrow gap, or into a new space with hiding places for predators. In the horse's opinion, there might "be tygers". But assuming you have the intelligence of an Earl of Cardigan, you will be well aware that large, horse eating predators are in short supply in the neighbourhood. So you get the credit for being brave without any of the risks, BUT, and there is always a but, you only get the credit if you lead. Back to location. If you are on top, you ain't leading. If you are behind, you ain't leading.
o, to teach your animal that you are a leader worthy of trust, you are going to have to get off the horse or vehicle and lead, from in front, because there isn't anywhere else you can lead from.