Monday, November 18, 2019

Don't Should on Me

Several years ago, in yet another self-improvement attempt, I decided to get rid of the word should. I might not be able to tear it out of the dictionary, but I could rip it out of my own vocabulary. I truly think that word is the reason for many world problems.

It was terrible trying to root the sucker out, until I figured out why. In order to quit using the dreaded should, I had to mind my own business. The insistence that I was right in every and any situation, and the overwhelming need to impress said rightness on all those around me, well, it had to stop - even if I was right. That was a rough antacid to chew.

Eventually, after I beat myself up pretty good and often, I got a handle on it. I still didn't understand where I was going with this, or why, it was just an experiment that wasn't quite right, and I was getting a little obsessive over it.  I kept thinking, I shoulda done this, or I shoulda...oh, there you go. I had to quit shoulding myself too.

Want a challenge? Decide to quit shoulding others when you're a riding instructor and horse trainer.
Imagine your first conversation with a client, fresh out of the show pen, who still doesn't realize she ran her reining pattern with her romels crossed, and you can't say should. Or imagine asking your boss why he didn't show up or call the barn for a full week after his due date home from his last show.

Watch him shrug and say, "I needed a break."

Think about the week you spent, cleaning extra stalls, feeding, riding, and placating clients that weren't even yours, then don't utter should even once in your response.

It was a struggle, but eventually, not only the word, but the reasons for it faded off. Instead of jumping into what should or shouldn't be done, I began seriously thinking about why should was the automatic go-to. It appeared to me, it was a control word, a judgement without thought, a glove thrown down without reason.

It entirely turned my approach to horses on its ear.

"My horse won't stand to have his ears clipped."

Does he have to?



"Because he should."

Once that word was kicked to the curb a whole new slew of questions arose. Why did the horse keep fretting? Clearly, he didn't want his ears clipped. Why not? Did the noise scare him? Were the blades dull? Was he picking a fight?

Without should involved, a slew of questions opened up, most of them involved with how the horse was handled. This was not a discussion most clients wanted to have. They want their horses to do what they should. If the horse didn't, well, I was supposed to step in and make him.

I might say, Now, if it was me, I'd quit clipping the horse's ears. A horse keeps bad stuff out and good stuff in with those hairs. Being a horse, it wants to protect its ears.

"It's the way it should be, the judges expect it at the shows."

I figure if the judges see my horse's hairy ears, I'm going too slow and might want kick it up a notch.

"You should have done a better job teaching her to stand still."

Which was true. I gathered up the horse and spent the next three days desensitizing the crap out of her.

It just kept on coming.

Why should a horse happily leave the herd?

Why should a horse stay content in a stall?

Why should a horse load in a trailer?

I'll stop now, you get the idea.

I found myself replacing should with would. Right there is where, in my secret My Friend Flicka soul, I became a better horseman and trainer.


  1. I’ve got a 16 year old TB mare at work who gives me plenty of reasons every day why she shouldn’t leave her herd. Turning it into a why she would is going to give me a headache. But it’ll be a worthwhile one.

  2. WOW...I'm gonna have to think on that one. As a teacher, I have a lot of instances of 'you should'. Now I need to rethink my approach and get them to 'want to'.

    I may just finally become the teacher I want to be.

    Thanks Mugs

    Emily in NC