Monday, November 16, 2009

Mr Murphy's Laws and Pattern Breakers

There is no doubt that the immortal words by Mr. Murphy about his overwhelming pessimism about how things never go as planned, were written because he had a farm to run and I bet he had horses. My husband, Mark and I were laughing recently with a visitor to our farm, that on any given day to begin any project, chore, or activity it would be absolute certainty that things weren't going to get going in a smooth, straight forward way to easy completion. There are no straight lines to being productive on a farm. Each intended move requires multiple precursory moves to even begin the said project. The tire will need inflating, which will require rewiring of the air compressor plug because it shorts out, which requires finding the screw driver, wire cutter, and the new plug which we bought and put in a safe place, which we have forgotten, to be able to find it latter when we got around to needing it. The screw driver can't be found because it got used and left at the site of the last project, which we can't remember what it was and where either. The battery will need to be jumped off, if we can find the cables. The list of hurdles to complete, or begin, any project are so daunting that most don't get started. So life on a farm mostly is a continuum of making lists of things to do, losing the list, and not getting everything done.

One way to deal with this cycle of frustration is to bang your head on the wall. The other is to accept the idea that everything is going to take longer than expected, will not turn out exactly like you planned, and might lead you down a totally different rabbit trail altogether. You just have to accept Mr Murphy's Laws and be content in its uncertainty of outcome.

Dealing with and training horses is a prime lesson in the value of this pessimistic philosophy. If you think you have absolute control over what you plan to train that horse for today, you are living in a fantasy land and are going to be disappointed. Hardly any day at the barn goes as I think it might or should. There can be goals to aim for, for sure, but the best laid plans tend to have a mind of their own. It seems best to have rough ideas of what you want to play with. Then if the wind is blowing gale force and your horse is a bit fresh, or there is a herd of cows (not yours) coming up your driveway, or any other distraction that will impede your initial plan , you try to roll with it, using a healthy dose of self preservation instincts, and use the moment to teach the horse something new about how to deal with these strange happenings and get on with their work. I might, for example, get off the horse and use this opportunity to practice ground driving and basic manners to get the horse to approach this horror, or at least accept it. This just might show you where in your training you have a gap that needs to be addressed, ie. the horse has less respect for you telling him to get in front of you than he has fear of that scary thing. Not a safe relationship.

Such is the way it was this morning, the winds having blown in a new batch of cool air. A fact, that with each decrease in temperature comes a doubled proportional decrease in the momentary IQ of a horse. Normally feeding time comes with a bit of excitement but today there were many tails lifted high and many snorts and blows and some truly spectacular movements shown by all of them. Even Tony, the ancient Shetland stallion, was passaging around his quarters, tossing his locks and looking quite spritely. The dragon head that guards the broodmares and which is totally ignored most of the other 364 days du year, was being snorted, kicked at, and run away from with great bucks and head throws... and this was by my 18 yr old broodmare Joline and her normally laid back side kick Robijn. So it was no surprise when I brought the silly two year old fillies in to their stalls that suddenly the towel laying over the rail outside Cupcake's stall was a sudden source of terror. To that she decided she needed to leave and was considering going over my head and body to do so. Taking advantage of this situation we then schooled "better be more afraid of Margaret than the towel". That was about respect for my space and a focus on me. I can't expect for her to not have fear of things, but I do expect that I don't get trampled because of it.

When things don't go as we planned then we have to address the change and break our pattern. Pattern breakers and moments like this morning are great ways to see other perspectives and to notice gaps, and to learn and teach. It is so easy to get stuck in a safe little rut of repetition and think you can avoid the unknown results of change. You have to use the tests and take advantage of the things you don't expect. The only thing constant is that there will be change. It is how we deal with, adapt and modify that allows us to progress. It does make life, and dealing with horses, more interesting to look at it with Mr Murphy's perspective.

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