Who is your trainer?
These days, I'm bouncing around between three, The Big K, HMT and ... myself.
Working with K for ten days was beyond great. He (1) got after me where I needed it, (2) got me thinking in a few new directions and (3) made sure I understood he feels I'm doing a fine job with my horses. The first two I expected, the third I wasn't sure I would hear.
To be honest, I am pretty confident in my abilities and weaknesses with the horse deal at this point in my life. I know what I want and with periodic prodding from my peers, am capable of getting it.
Part of me, the part that yanks the legs out from under my confidence, the same part that drives me so hard to keep going, to keep learning, to keep trying, seems to have grown up some. Because not so many years go, I couldn't, wouldn't, hear K when he tried to say the same thing.
I didn't trust that other trainer, as in me, enough to accept a vote of confidence from K. It was a good part of the troubles we found ourselves in, and helped build a rift we almost didn't recover from.
"You can ride way past your thinking," K said.
"You are so chicken you won't try," I heard.
"Let go, that horse has nothing you can't handle," K said.
"I'm going to die," I thought.
"Find the worst he's got, then you know what you're riding," K said.
"If I face the worst, I'll fail in front of everybody, then they'll know I can't do this," came screaming out of me, but died in tight lipped silence before it left my mind.
K ran into my silence often back then, it's my worst vice, even if my Comanche warrior name is "Chattering Squirrel."
He ran into it so often, eventually he returned the favor and our troubles began to run deep.
Will I ever write about that time? I don't know, it's a tangled mess of things and I don't really feel a need to wade through it all. For now, it's enough to say we wanted things to be right enough to go through the work it took to recover. Good friends are rare, hard to find and impossible to replace. Lucky us, we know that.
There are some constants that come with horse training.
I learned these from the horses, K and myself.
Patience. Horses deserve it. If they don't get it from their rider, you won't end up with anything worth a damn.
Quiet. There's a big difference between quiet and silence. Fast hands, loud voices, jumping, screaming, slinging, screeching -- horses hate it. So do I. Steady hands a horse can count on, legs that communicate clearly, even smooth movement, confidence around them and on them, this makes for a secure horse. I'm talking in the barn, in the arena, on the trail and especially during a crisis.This is quiet.
Fairness. I can only expect from my horse what I've taught him. If I didn't explain or make myself clear, then I don't get to blame my horse.
Know my craft. I mean, really, really know it. When I realized I could feel which lead my horse was going to take, from the trot, or at the walk or just standing and thinking about a depart, and coax out the lead I wanted, then I knew I understood leads. My horses are only as good as my knowledge and my ability to give it to them. Which goes back to actually riding them.
Never, ever, say "Been there, done that," when it comes to training horses, because either been there or done that will immediately bite you in the butt.
These things are so ingrained in me it's the same as breathing.
These days, Brockle and I are working with the Heavy Metal Trainer, and I'm having to sharpen my listening skills again. HMT has said, more than once (OK, like 30 times each session), "Wait a little. He's still a puppy. You don't want to shut him down."
So I do. I take a breath, step back and promise to be patient. Even when he charges the chihuahuas, the Angus bull, or the barn kitties. I grit my teeth, calm my mind and say, "Leave it!" with appropriate ferocity, but only once. Then, when he finally comes back, with a scratched nose, a castrated bull crying behind him and chihuahua parts dangling from the huge grin on his speckly face, I dig a little deeper and say, "Good leave it!"
It has been hard. Brockle is a dog that tries me, stretches me to my very limits.
He is so very different from any dog I have ever had the privilege to own. His devotion and loyalty are so intense it can be unnerving. Every fiber of his being is dedicated to figuring out what I want, what I need, in order to make our partnership what he so clearly wants it to be. Mix it up with high, exhausting energy, pure, wild joy with life in general, and some pretty crazy interpretations of what I'm trying to say and I've got a headache.
He reads my mood, better than I know it, and can tell me when the PD is about to curtail ALL my fun way before I'm aware. When I'm about to get staggery, he is at my side as a physical point of balance before I know I'm going to need him. He also knows the second I'm distracted and whether or not I'll notice in time to stop him from starting a fence war with the dog next door. He knows he can get me off my computer if he wakes up Snocone, since she has to be taken outside immediately after she gets up. He knows bouncing a tennis ball in front of me for eternity will get me to do almost anything... if...he...will...just...stop...it!!!
Through all of this, HMT says, "Be patient, wait, give him time."
So I try.
"Don't point your finger at him," HMT said.
"Say what?" I was truly confused.
"You want to avoid using your hands as any kind of punishment."
"I was just telling him to stay in the car."
"It was still negative. A pointed finger is an extremely strong statement. Use your voice."
"OK," I answer, all sweet compliance. Of course, inside, I'm grumbling. Don't point, don't let anger show in your voice, or your face, get rid of your negative feelings before you correct him, don't, don't don't. How the heck do I deal with him when he's at his most Big Fat Jerk Brockle-est?
I decide, in revenge, to begin training by sniveling. Brockelllll...doooonnnnn't dooo thaaaat...Brockelll, quit eating the little kiiiidddssss. HMT will love listening to that.
All this positive attitude crap is killing me.
Then, I filter things a little more, remind myself I swore I would learn this method of training before I passed judgement. Remind myself the HMT has a whole yard full of very large, very well behaved GSD and they all turn into joyful, obedient, balls of goo around each other (HMT included) when called upon. Then I sigh, find my happy, happy, joy, joy spot and get to work.
HMT and I are at a very different place than me and K. We are still new to each other, still figuring out each other's trainer brain.
He gets after me once in a while, but not as often as he'd like to, definitely not every time I need it. Thought I didn't see that, didn't ya, HMT?
He has definitely given me some new direction to think about.
Doesn't know me well enough to know what I hear and don't hear. Yet.
We're doing pretty good though. How do I know?
My poor suburban dog got a crash course in ranching over the last 10 days.
I saw him figure out with lightening speed how things worked around there.
He learned that all business is not his business.
He learned his job was to protect me, our camper and our horse trailer.
He learned to do it within 25 yard parameters, not the entire ranch (sorry Red and Rastus).
He learned that other dogs belong with their people and he belongs with me.
He learned to trail along with my horse quietly, past cattle, other dogs, other riders and things that go bump in the night.
He learned that Charlie really knows his business as a ranch dog and is perfectly willing to throw him under the bus.
This was a huge amount of information for him to digest. He absorbed it with the same enthusiasm, joy and wild delight he has when we play "Find it!" or "Bite!" at home and with HMT.
We got it done without shouting, finger pointing or bad karmic waves emanating from my brain.
The leash and prong collar never had to come out of the training bag.
Turns out I'm really happy I've stuck with this program. So is my dog.
Quiet. Yes, even with all that enthusiastic "Good boy!" I can still be quiet.
Fairness. Brockle can look me straight in the eye, without a hint of insecurity and figure out our next step. It's absolutely frigging awesome.
Know my craft. Not yet, but I can feel someday coming.
So it turns out this training is pretty much the same, even though they're worlds apart, these dogs and horses.
It's coming together though.
Because I make sure I listen to my trainers. All three of us, and it's starting to look like I can actually hear what's being said.