Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When the Answer is "No"

Zorita and her 2009 filly, Segura

In today's journal entry, I'm addressing a comment left by June regarding the concept of honoring the horse's "no".

June wrote:

Another question/comment - both Lynne and Imke seem to take the horse's "no" as absolute, or am I wrong? Whereas KFH will argue back - there's a nice sequence of photos in "What Horses Reveal" where KFH is riding without tack in the middle of a huge open area, and the horse doesn't want to go over a ditch. But Klaus says, "yes, we are going to." The horses is annoyed, saying no - and of course, without tack, is at liberty to do whatever he pleases. But in the end Klaus prevails in the "discussion." I think he calls it a "gentlemen's disagreement."

Whenever we are engaged in a relationship with another being there may arise occasions when one or the other may have different  ideas about how a given situation should proceed.  In my opinion, disagreements can be handled a number of ways depending on how each individual feels within the situation they are facing and how resolutions are presented. 

A dictator obviously responds much differently than a friend when a request is met with resistance.  A dictator meeting with resistance aggressively uses whatever means is necessary to gain a "yes".  You could say in that instance the "yes" is absolute--it is the only answer the dictator will accept and any discussion of the matter is forbidden.  When friends encounter a similar resistance to a request (depending on the content of the situation), to accept a "no" as unquestionablly absolute would also mean any discussion of the matter is forbidden.  Both scenarios to me reflect a stifled relationship, something less than ideal, where one individual's "voice" is absolute and the other has no option but to accept what is given.  Such a situation demonstrates inequality in the relationship, each demonstrating inflexibility and neither is the type of relationship that I feel is healthy or mutually beneficial.

My personal feeling is that I very much doubt Imke accepts a horse's "no" as absolute in every situation...and I certainly do not.  Every time we encounter a situation where resistance arises, the content of the moment is variable and absolutes have no place in resolving things.  Only a perception centered on kindness and nurturing which facilitates discussion allows both individuals in the relationship to fully understand the dialogue they are having.  It is not about absolute authority or unquestionable obedience.  It is not about using physical pain or mental intimidation to enforce our will over another. 

While many people want horses to respond without questioning why, like pressing the button on the dashboard of an automobile,  I want more from a relationship with a horse than reliable, half-hearted obedience.  I feel this way about all my relationships, and it is very important to me to know that whomever I am interacting with is responding freely and participating because it is a mutually enjoyable affair.  This applies not just to the other individual in the relationship but applies to me as well.  A great deal of inquiring into my feelings and those of another means that lots of discussion is encouraged so that we each are fully aware of what "yes" or "no" mean in any given situation.


 Tobacco (a.k.a. Mugs)

Just yesterday, one of my canine companions (Tobacco) provided a good example of how I use a nurturing perception and discussion to come to a full understanding of whether "no" is, indeed the final and absolute answer to an offer I made.

There have been occasions where each of our four dogs did something to make one of the horses uncomfortable and so were aggressively chased.  While Shelagh, Maeb and Ganja will still mingle with the horses but keep themselves extra vigilant to how the horses are responding to their presence, Tobacco avoids them at all costs.  Oftentimes this means that Tobacco will say "no" to going for a walk with the rest of us, or if while out on a walk with the rest of us should we come upon the horses, he will turn around right then and there and run back home.


Tobacco is amazingly perceptive and he knows that when the horses are eating they will not be looking to make sport of chasing him and he will walk right by them as we leave to go hiking, or he will use an alternate route to get through the fence of the yard so he can accompany the rest of us on a hike.  If, as it sometimes happens, all routes leaving the yard are flanked with horses, Tobacco will not come for a walk no matter how much discussion takes place and certainly when he is that committed to saying "no" I accept it with no hard feelings between us, for he has convinced me he truly is not willing.  I would cast a pallor on our relationship if in such a situation I got out his collar and lead and dragged him along--he would not think me a worthy leader and he certainly would question our friendship.

Yesterday was a beautiful pre-spring day, with lots of sun, temps just warm enough to initiate a little melting, and being my day off, I felt a nice long hike was in order.  Tobacco thought so too, and engaged along with the other dogs in great leaps of anticipation as I began to put on boots and outerwear.  When I opened the door and we all excitedly tumbled out, Tobacco quickly noticed that Altamiro and his family were all milling around the gate.  There would be no getting through that way.  He then looked at the hole through the fence to the east and noted that Mistral's group were all standing by that opening and he would not be able to get to the open fields that way either.  So even before I got the door closed he slipped back into the house and said, "No, I don't want to go!" 

But I just knew he really wanted to go...I knew his "No" was not absolute, even though he delivered it pretty emphatically.

So we had a discussion.

I cajoled him and told him I just knew we could find a way by the horses, "Please, Tobacco, come with us, it will be fun and you know it will be fun!"  He still said "No!  I cannot go."  But even as he relayed this he remained in the doorway instead of wandering back to his bed in the other room.  This told me he actually was willing to discuss things further.

I knew he would be a little sad to be left behind today, he just needed more encouragement.  "C'mon Tobacco.  You can do it!  We'll climb over the fence to the north, I'll help you."

I was pressuring him, I know I was, because he began whimpering and dancing in place--but I knew his "no" wasn't absolute--nor did he want me to accept it as absolute.  I knew Tobacco really wanted to come with us--so I kept up the pressure because it was the type of nurturing, supportive pressuring that helps one make a breakthrough through a difficulty that is holding them back from a good experience.  "C'mon Tobacco, we'll do it together.  I know we can make it over that fence!  Let's go!"  And after those encouraging words Tobacco said, "Yes!  Let's go!" 

Before I could even get the door closed and walk over to the north fence, he was already there, checking his options, and in one deft, confident move, he lept up onto the top rail of that fence and then sprung off it in full gallop to the north, leaving the rest of us to find our own way over the fence!  We had a marvelous hike that day!
Where Mistral is standing looking at me is the place in the fence where yesterday Tobacco jumped so he could go for a hike with me and the other pups.  (The horses were not in this exact location at that time.)

I cannot speak for how Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling carried out his discussion with Janosch as he convinced the horse to walk into the ditch.  He called it quarreling, but I feel it was something similar to the exchange Tobacco and I had...that it was based on a nurturing perception of the situation.    Since Klaus was riding in the big wide open completely free of tack, Janosch could easily have made his "no" definitive by dumping his rider and running away.  Instead he remained in the discussion with Klaus and a breakthrough to something better ensued.  Klaus may have projected to Janosch, "You must do this because I say so", or he may have projected "Please, my good friend, I insist, because I know you can do it and it will be good to have this experience."  I'm inclined to think the later was the case, because somehow I don't imagine a strong character like Janosch would accept being dictated to.

In Empowered Horses, Imke Spilker wrote about a situation where she proposed something new for her horse Toppur to try to which she said:

"Toppur retreats in response to my actions and refuses to comply with my request."  --Empowered Horses pg. 96

We all recognize that Toppur had said no.  Did Imke take it as absolute?

She does not, rather she first apologizes for unintentionally confusing him and for causing him to resist and question her reasons for the request she had made.  (Empowered Horses pg.83) 

Shall she accept his "no" and leave matters there, or might she not use the opportunity to explain herself better and make the request from a new place of understanding?

"The more independent our horse is the more quickly he will question the purpose of the work.  Our answer to his question is crucial, because with it we set the course of our relationship.  'Because I say so.'  This answer, emphatically given to the horse, reveals the two-legged dictator.  So, all that went before is really just a prelude to this.  Even the answer, 'Because there is a barrel standing there,' or, 'Because there is a tire on the ground,' does not change the dictatorial drift.  It merely defers the more concrete answer, 'And I want you to go around this barrel.'  Despite everything, horses can--perhaps after a period of hesitation--decide to go along with their person's new idea, even if there are many reasons not to.  It is one of the wonders I wish to tell you about in this book.  Despite everything, horses will go along with us, all on their own, of their own free will, just because we do not obstinately try to force them.  I do not have to assert my will, but nevertheless, my horse complies.  That is a great gift.  The answer that I give Toppur in this instance is, 'Because I think it is important, and because I would very much like it.' Instead of using pressure or exercising power I do exactly the opposite.  I ask my horse to simply try it." --Imke Spilker /Empowered Horses pg.96


And Toppur agrees to give it a try.  Had he still resisted following Imke's idea, if he was still somewhat open, my sense is she would have likely found a different way of presenting her request that he would feel able to comply with, but ultimately she would have honored "no" if Toppur insisted (and likely she would have apologized to him once again).



In sharing with us the manner in which Kirsten asks Kim to leave his pasture mates and join her for some playtime in arena, Imke gives us another example regarding how she regards the horse's "no".

"What would have happened had Kim turned away, if he had signaled, 'No, thank you?'  What would Kirsten do?  She would, one more time, clearly invite him to join her, perhaps also letting him know that it meant a lot to her.  But, what if Kim still did not want to come, if he had even walked away?  Kirsten would respect his position, take away the halter, say her goodbyes with a treat, and leave him in his pasture because his hunger is greater than his desire to join her." --Imke Spilker / Empowered Horses pg. 35

This has been a rather long answer to June's question and probably the short answer is simply to say that I take my horse's "no" as absolute only if I am convinced he feels absolutely committed to saying "no". 



10 comments:

June said...

Before I say anything else, I just want to say: oh my gosh, that photo of the washing on the line is the best photo ever!!!!!

Terence said...

Yes, what you say makes a great deal of sense. The one time Gus didn't stop "arguing" after I'd prevailed in a disagreement as to where we should go next, I suddenly came upon a hunter's hide, and realized we'd strayed onto a neighbor's property. I said, "Sorry, Gus, guess you were right."
- June

June said...

That is a good quote you chose: "Despite everything, horses can--perhaps after a period of hesitation--decide to go along with their person's new idea, even if there are many reasons not to. It is one of the wonders I wish to tell you about in this book. Despite everything, horses will go along with us, all on their own, of their own free will, just because we do not obstinately try to force them. "

I keep getting stuck in the either/or - either the horse does what I want, or I give in and the horse gets his way. As you say, friendship is neither, and horses are strikingly accommodating to their friends!

Gus used to have sore feet some days, and he would refuse to come with me on those days. I could insist and make him come, but I would leave him be. Now his feet feel much better, and he comes along readily - his former refusals give me confidence that when he does accompany me, he does so willingly.

I was discussing the Friesian (the one who didn't like the hoofjack) with his owner, who said the horse feels more confident if one insists on things. He knows the horse a lot better than I do, but the change from cooperation and connection to resistance and alienation was distinct, and I don't see how I could have re-connected by being more dictatorial.

Kris McCormack said...

Lynne,
Your story about Tobacco reminded me of times when I was conflicted or uncertain about doing something, and inclined to say "no" to an invitation. Sometimes a friend "pressured" me as you did Tobacco... asking me "why not?", listening to my reservations and helping me to resolve them, so that I could then wholeheartedly say "yes!"

I think there's a difference between "Absolutely not!" and "I'm not sure about this" or "I'd like to, but...."

One of the ways we demonstrate friendship is by recognizing the difference, and helping our friend find clarity.... as you did with Tobacco. This requires a certain intimacy and knowledge of one another....

poniesathome said...

Lynne, this is a great post. I was thinking of it this morning as I decided to "invite" my cob, Ben into the trailer. He has a slight reluctance to load which I have always been able to get over, so have never approached it directly. Anyway, to do this I put the pony, Rosie, into the stable. Ben became very agitated and his separation anxiety became very obvious. After two tries when he ran away, I invited him once more to come with me and promised him that I would not force him and he was free to go if he so chose.

So, he headed off into the distance and I sat down, feeling a bit deflated, to think about all this. Well, after a while, he came back, looked at me, and came towards me. From there, he went to the trailer and eventually followed me in, freely.

A real example of a horse choosing to go along with an idea, despite his own hesitation. And so strengthening to our bond.

Máire

Annemiek said...

When the answer is ”no” most times that is the start for an interesting conversation. Of course there are definite NO’s, but more often the horse (or dog) is trying to tell you something. I take Rudolf out for walks whenever possible and I am sure he likes those walks. However these days when we are out of the Paddock more often than not he turns his head towards the Paddock (and his butt towards me). At first I was puzzled, why did he not want to go out? Several times I just opened the gate to the Paddock and let him go back to his friends. Until a few days ago, I asked him: “Do you really want to go inside Rudolf? What is it?” I put the lead rope on his back and let him decide where he wanted to go. It turned out he wanted to go outside, but he wanted to take the shortcut! We use the shortcut whenever the weather permits, we walk alongside the Paddock, pass a huge manure pile and from there we can enter the woods. The “normal” route is walking back to where the farm is, pass the stalls from the barn horses, go around the corner where the hay and straw is kept and then cross a small road into the woods. The “normal” route is easy going only a little longer, the shortcut is not so easy going, we have to pass a collection of farming machines that look like torture devises with sharp metal knives and all. Still this is the route Rudolf prefers, I don’t know exactly why yet, but I will figure it out. So if I had accepted his “no” unconditionally we would both had to miss our wonderful walks. The trick is to figure out what the meaning of this “no” is. Sometimes it is easy, but sometimes it is a challenge!

Miek

Lynne Gerard said...

June wrote:
"The one time Gus didn't stop "arguing" after I'd prevailed in a disagreement as to where we should go next, I suddenly came upon a hunter's hide, and realized we'd strayed onto a neighbor's property. I said, "Sorry, Gus, guess you were right.""

This is something I hope to address in a journal entry at sometime in the future. Your experience with Gus demonstrates how by always making a horse do what we ask, regardless of the "no" he may give demonstrates to the horse that we are in fact, NOT good leaders to be following.

And I think when we shut out their intelligence in this way, they shut their intelligence off from us in the future, "Why should I bother telling her what is really going on?" says the horse, "She does't listen, she just forces me to do what she wants regardless. If I just obey, I can be unsaddled and returned to my hay and my mates all the sooner."

Imagine how much we miss out on! Things horses are aware of and could share with us, we will never get to experience when we cause them to withdraw their intelligence from us. We need to forget what we have been told--that a horse must follow the leadership (dictatorship) of the human even--when it makes poor sense for the horse to do so!

I'm sure the horses by and large must think of us as dumb-ass thugs.

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris wrote:
"One of the ways we demonstrate friendship is by recognizing the difference, and helping our friend find clarity.... as you did with Tobacco. This requires a certain intimacy and knowledge of one another...."

I agree, Kris, though I think even if we may not have a "certain intimacy" or "knowledge of one another" there is a level of connection we can make use of that is not so much a "short cut" but maybe more of a "direct line access". I think this is what Hempfling taps into and it enables him to so quickly connect with even troubled horses.

A quote from J.Allen Boone describes what I'm referring to pretty well, and maybe you're already familiar with this:

"Whenever I became sufficiently childlike and receptive in the true meaning of those cosmic terms, I always found myself in rapport with the omnipresent and omniactive Mind of the universe. Then it would become easily possible to hear silently whatever I needed to know about the person, situation, or whatever else it was that required my reporting attention. And those silent communications always appeared to be as boundless in their scope, their value, their meaning, and their purpose as was their eternal Source. It was individual, trustable counseling that was indescribably beyond all sensory methods, as well as beyond all such negations as chance...uncertainty...insufficiency...and failure." --J.Allen Boone / Adventures in Kinship with All Life

Lynne Gerard said...

Máire wrote:

"After two tries when he ran away, I invited him once more to come with me and promised him that I would not force him and he was free to go if he so chose.

"So, he headed off into the distance and I sat down, feeling a bit deflated, to think about all this. Well, after a while, he came back, looked at me, and came towards me. From there, he went to the trailer and eventually followed me in, freely.

"A real example of a horse choosing to go along with an idea, despite his own hesitation. And so strengthening to our bond."

A terrific experience for you! I love how time and again I find the more space I give my horses to think and chose for themselves, how frequently they decide to join me in whatever idea I might have suggested we try together.

And definitely it strengthens the bond! Much moreso than using force to gain compliance ever could.

Thanks for sharing this story, Máire, and for learning to give a little more space for your horses to sort things out.

Lynne Gerard said...

Miek wrote:
"Still this is the route Rudolf prefers, I don’t know exactly why yet, but I will figure it out. So if I had accepted his “no” unconditionally we would both had to miss our wonderful walks. The trick is to figure out what the meaning of this “no” is. Sometimes it is easy, but sometimes it is a challenge!"

Another great example of how giving some space and letting the horse chose--and honoring this type of choice--shows us they have great meaning and reasons for saying "no" which are not related to "lack of respect for leadership" or "stubborn behavior".

Rudolf is such a good teacher! And you, Miek are a wonderful student.

I'm glad to read this experience and am thankful you put it here in the JofR.