DiDi and the Poles
DiDi has been having some schooling from a young lady named Tara, who is a nice softly spoken, quiet and very self confident rider. Tara never waves her arms about; she never raises her voice and her hands are gentle and still. However whenever DiDi decides not to respond to requests, Tara doesn’t just give in and forget. Rather does she gently insist. A schooling session with her can be a pleasure to watch.
Today it was four poles day - 4 x 6ft long 6” diameter poles were laid on the ground: two on each side of the arena. Immediately DiDi had entered the arena she had looked, sniffed and become evasive.
“What are those poles for? They weren’t there yesterday, why are they here today.?”
What do I have to do now that they are here?“.
There was some tension.
Well Tara, being the rider she is, took no notice and round the arena they went together at the walk. Soon DiDi was down ‘on the bit’ and all seemed well until the pair reached the poles. Up came DiDi’s front two legs, and, bang! down they plonked on the front side. Then there was a hop and with gusto DiDi jumped over this major obstacle of a 6inch diameter pole laying flat on the ground.
What could be the problem?
We watched for a few more circuits. Bit by bit things got a little better but still they did not reach an acceptable level of performance. DiDi thought those poles were instruments of the Devil. Suddenly I had an idea: - get DiDi to stop with the pole underneath her - ie two front feet on one side two hind feet the other. Well Tara managed to place DiDi right over the pole but it was still not a fluid movement.
Then suddenly DiDi threw me a look across from the far side of the arena. She was distressed.
She didn’t understand why she was being asked to do what she had been asked to do.
“ Did I do right?” “What’s going on? She was asking - almost with terror in the look.
I walked around the fence, entered the arena and crossed over to her. I stopped by her head.
“What’s the problem” I asked.
“Well I am standing here with a pole under my belly” came the reply.
“Well why is that a problem?”
“Well -mumble, mumble - I suppose it isn’t”
“Well what’s the problem?“
“Well is there a problem?“ she asked
I replied “No, there‘s no problem” -
“Well, why are we doing what we are doing?” -
“Well, why shouldn’t we do it?”
I reached down into my pocket and pulled out a small juicy apple which we ate together. I bit the apple into pieces. DiDi ate the pieces. What did Tara up on top get? - well she was driving.
Once the apple had disappeared and the saliva had stopped flowing, then I stepped back and nodded at Tara. She and DiDi moved ahead with DiDi remembering, importantly, to lift, in turn , both back feet.
She behaved impeccably for the rest of the lesson and neither knocked, nor stumbled on, any pole.
Throughout the session there had been neither tension, nor loud noises, nor whips.
Eventually we had got from DiDi the compliance we had been seeking, merely by asking.
Now, one wonders which emotion was foremost in DiDi’s mind during this episode?
Was she frightened of not behaving and fearing a slap?. I think not.
Was she frightened not to please me and Tara? Maybe - she does like to please.
But can we consider, the fear of not doing quite as expected, an ‘emotion‘. Some humans I know are constantly frightened of not pleasing either their friends or family or work mates. They are mortified at failure. They fear rejection.
Can this be an emotion which both humans and horses share ?
Or was it merely the apple - the fruit of the Devil - which decided the outcome as some folks might lead us to believe?