Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Passive Leadership

Ive talked before about this "new route" of "training" that Im applying towards myself and Milo. Im really comfortable with the ideas and methods that Im learning more about, and trying to incorporate. I dont have to instill fear or pain, or work my horse into a sweat or frenzy, or do anything through force or aggression. It's been (and sometimes is) hard to re-educate myself away from those "inate" responses, or thing that my body learned as a habit to do. But Im trying.

There are a few things I still want to learn about, however. First, I still need to learn how to correctly longe my horse. Doesnt sound like a big deal does it? But with only having "formal" training in Clinton Anderson groundwork methods and exercises, its hard to work my horse on the ground in a manner that isnt overly dominant or "chasing". I want my horse to look at me as a leader, not someone who forces leadership. Mark Rashid wrote a great article on this subject, called Passive Leadership. Its a great read and can be found here. What I want to note most out of it for this reference is the following, items in bold for what stood out predominantly to me:

"There are two types of leaders in a herd situation. The alpha, or lead horse, that rules by dominance, and passive leaders that lead by example. The passive leaders are usually chosen by other members of the herd and are followed willingly, while alphas use force to declare their place in the herd.

Passive leaders are usually older horses somewhere in the middle of the herd's pecking order. They are quiet and consistent in their day-to-day behavior and don't appear to have much ambition to move up the "alpha" ladder. As a result, there appears to be no reason for them to use force to continually declare their position in the herd.

Alphas, on the other hand, are usually pretty far from being quiet and consistent in their behavior. They are often very pushy, sometimes going as far as using unprovoked attacks on subordinates for the simple reason of declaring their dominance. As a result of this behavior, the majority of the horses in the herd will actually avoid all contact with the alpha throughout the day."

"Passive leaders have "earned" that particular title with the other horses by showing them they can be dependable in their passive behavior from one day to the next. In other words, they lead by example, not by force."

"I guess when it gets right down to it, it's more of an attitude than a technique. It's being able to give the horse the benefit of the doubt that they will try and do things right for you, and not constantly reprimanding them for things done wrong."

I very much agree with this attitude, and is something I am striving to display towards my horse. I want my horse to follow me because he wants to, because I am consistent and fair. This rolls over into my work on the ground still, longing particularly. As stated before, I need to learn how to do it in a consistent and fair manner. Sarah said she will help me with this come our next lesson.

All of this attitude falls perfectly into place with Peggy Cummings' Connected Groundwork. I already gave a recap of her clinic I audited and how fantastic it was to observe the changes in the horses as they connected with their owners. I want to connect with Milo. I feel I have a great friendship with him and generally he looks to me for guidance, but I have to wonder: is it because of fear that I have instilled in my early workings with him? or is it because he truely wants to be with me? Interesting things to consider. Of course, you all will be along for the ride as I document our continued journey.

Edit to Add: I had also wanted to add how changing to this perspective have helped in other regards as well. For instance, Milo has always been mouthy. Normally, if he would mouth the halter, cross ties, anything, he would get a pop on the nose. Of course this only seemed to work temporarily, until Milo’s reflexes kicked in quickly and can easily avoid the pop from my hands.

I had an interesting realization the day the new farrier came for Milo, in fact. With anyone, Milo tries to nose himself into their face, lip their clothing, be generally mouthy. And I always embarrassingly apologize for the behavior, always backing Milo up away from the person, or popping on his nose for him to stop. But he always goes right back into trying it again. Generally, people say “Oh, its ok..” and pat his nose or whatnot. But the farrier instead said, “You know, I have found that those horses who are generally mouthy really just want to be touched” as he rubbed his hands on Milo’s nose and muzzle. A content Milo stopped mouthing and just enjoyed the attention.

This got me thinking. Normally, I would see this as rewarding his nosey or mouthy behavior. Of course, a nip, even a playful one cannot be treated by rewarding with a pet, nor can any other demand for touch through being in your space or mouthy. But, selectively, I can offer Milo some physical attention when he is being a good boy.

I have incorporated this new idea into our interactions the last few weeks since the farrier’s visit. Rubbing his nose when he is sweet, not rubbing it when he demands for it. But generally things are getting better. He isn’t desperately trying to get me to touch him, although he still pokes his nose out and mouths to people walking by him especially in the cross ties. And like normal, I apologize for the behavior, and generally wish people would stay away from him so I don’t have to deal with it.

So how can I incorporate being a passive leader to aid in this “problem”? I don’t like calling it a “problem” however, because its really Milo just being Milo and wanting attention. As I think this over, I will continue to add more rubbing and loves when hes a good boy, and think about passive leadership throughout.


Kate said...

It does connect well with Peggy Cummings' work - in fact the place I'm going to the Mark Rashid clinic in May also hosts clinics by Peggy.

I don't do a lot of lungeing, and don't use a round pen, but I try to use some of Mark's lungeing/ground driving techniques - enter into the work with the horse, moving as the horse moves (none of that standing in the middle and driving the horse around stuff) and raising or lowering your energy level to get a corresponding energy level from the horse. It's actually fun and sort of cool when it all comes together. There's some stuff in some of my Mark Rashid clinic posts about this.

As soon as the arena dries out (grrr - if it ever stops raining!), Dawn and I will be doing a refresher on this and Drifter and I will be doing some too before we start our mounted work. I never lunge Pie - just not necessary - and once Dawn and I are riding again I probably won't lunge her any more either. Not sure yet about Drifter - will have to see.

paint_horse_milo said...

Lunging was more emphasized so I can work him on the ground as needed, ie over poles. But I totally agree about moving as the horse moves and it was clearly evident in Peggy's clinic how beneficial it is to incorporate our bodies in our work. Im looking more and more into the M Rashid "methods" as well.

An Image of Grace said...

I LOVE the quotes you posted by Mark Rashid. Interesting - it made me think of leaders in the human world that I know.
The "Mouthy" issue is interesting. Grace has become more mouthy over the last few years. She does this weird thing where she bites the air. She did it in front of Peggy so I asked about it. Peggy said that Grace was getting almost a "high" from it which makes sense, it first showed up when she was in a lot of pain. The Connected Groundwork is helping and it is getting better. It seems to be a coping mechanism that Grace created for herself.

Rising Rainbow said...

This link didn't work for me. I don't know if it's just me or what.