A recent interaction with our new boss led me to a sudden realization – I am currently living the life of so many horses out there! It is not as far fetched as it sounds …
For the sake of illustration, I will refer to myself as the Horse and my boss as the Handler.
I am an old campaigner. I know my job well. I am very responsive to direction, but you can also throw away the reins and I’ll find my way through the course on my own. All that I expect from my handler is clear communication and fair treatment.
In one on one interactions with my Handler, we get along very well. She talks softly to me, gives clear information, and listens to what I have to say. In those moments, I become fond of my handler and feel that we can accomplish great things together. But something changes when other people are around. In those situations, my handler becomes harsh. She no longer asks questions – she demands! I want to comply, so I try to respond to the demand in the manner I believe she wants. But each response is met with sharp words and more demands. At the end of each of these sessions I leave confused and frustrated. What did I do wrong? Why was my performance yesterday met with praise, but today the same performance is met with rebuke?
If you’ve spent any time in the horseworld, you’ve seen this – the rider who dotes on her horse, feeds it carrots, talks about how she loves him. But put that same rider in a lesson, or in a show, or just with people around that she wants to impress, and she loses sight of the horse. It becomes all about a result, and the impact on the horse matters not. I have heard some of these people even justify such harsh treatment in those situations as a necessary evil; often this is even followed by how the carrots, soft words and kind treatment in the stable somehow makes up for the harsh treatment at other times.
And so the Handler justifies her harsh words as something necessary. How the Horse receives this treatment is apparently all on the Horse – if the Horse feels injured, or angry, that is not the Handler’s responsibility.
In pondering my recent interaction, and the mass of similar contradictory experiences (not to mention those I’ve observed), I had a sudden new respect for what horses have to put up with from us humans. Those that I’ve observed in this sort of contradictory relationship take one of two paths – they rebel, or they give in (learned helplessness). So far, my fellow horses are rapidly reaching learned helplessness … and that shouldn’t happen to any being.
Personally, I tend to be a bit more like Ben. In the twenty eight years that he was with me, I only saw him bolt on four occasions (minus the time we were almost killed by a sugar beet truck … but that’s another story!). Each of those four occurrences had one thing in common – he was being ridden by someone who thought they knew his job better than he did. Convinced they could get something “better” out of him, all four were simply interfering with the performance of his job. I watched my calm, patient horse – one who packed toddlers and special needs kids – slowly lose his patience as they jerked, jabbed and spurred. My warnings went unheeded, and I could see the split second that he made his decision – and he was off! Fortunately for them, I had ultimate control and it only took my voice to stop him. That worked because Ben knew that meant rescue from the situation … I have no such guardian to protect me from the handler … or her from me!
My interaction with the handler brought another realization – how much my staff owes to my horses. For the second time in my life, I am leading the happiest group in the organization. That is not my opinion, that comes from my own staff as well as outside observers. As with the first time, people within the organization are looking for an opportunity to join my team. Trust me, it is not because I am an outgoing, charismatic person! In fact, I’d be happy to hang out with my horses and only see another human a couple of times a week! However, I take my responsibility to my staff as seriously as that I have for my horses.
It is my job to protect them from threats. It is my job to help them develop to their fullest potential. It is my job to communicate clearly. It is my job to listen to what they have to tell me, and sometimes to find the truth behind the surface appearance. It is my job to be fair. If I do all of these things, then I become a partner and I empower them to shine – whether horse or human.
I will continue to try to be a wise leader for my little herd … human and otherwise. And I will continue to try to find patience for the Handler – but don’t be too surprised to hear a report of bucking or bolting in the near future!
Be good to your horses!