Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Problem Solving

I am in the middle of solving a horse problem, so here we go.

Warning: Horse-related discussion below!

You'll hear horse people talk about how precious their little Sugar is and how much Sugar loves 'mummy'.   

Forget it.  Horses don't have the capacity for love or humor or any of the other emotions that makes us humans so, well, Special.  Most likely, if horses were driving the buses, we'd all be sitting way in the back, by the way.  A personality for a horse is pretty much black or white.  In the horse’s mind, either the horse comes first or the rider comes first.

This weekend, my horse, Sam, launched me.  It wasn't just a quick 'get off me because I don't want you around'.  This was a full-fledged space shuttle to the moon shot.  I was in the air long enough to realize that the clouds looked really fluffy and cute and that I might be able to touch one if I could just reach up a little higher.

After re-entry and recovery, I got up, assessed the personal damage, grabbed the end of the rein and worked Sam in a big circle, back and forth, as fast as he could move.  Then I remounted, rode him out of the pasture we were using and carefully dismounted.  I even got his tack all put away before collapsing in pain.  Adrenaline is a really good friend at times.

 The thing is, I was not angry.  I was troubled.  The next day, armed with ibuprofen and a longe line, Sam and I went to the arena and worked from the ground.  He seemed fine.  The incident, for him, was forgotten as though it had never happened.

It bothered me a lot, though.  Sam doesn’t buck like that unless he is frightened.  I don’t frighten him.  I reviewed our ride, what I saw when I took off his tack, what he’d been like prior to the actual incident.  I realized that he is very touchy down at his right rear leg and that when something touches him there, he twitches.  I noticed that the pair of saddle bags was off center and hanging down right over that area.

My horse wasn’t being mean, he was trying to get away from something that bothered him.  For my part, I just had not paid attention when he first started twitching.  He was being a horse and it was my fault for not taking his warnings seriously.

There are two lessons here.  First, with a horse, if there is a buck when you try to get him to canter or move, your response is normally to ride through it.  The horse will eventually figure out that kicking out is too much work and will get on with the task at hand.  I’d better add that the bucking will stop if the rider survives and remains on the horse.

If this is a continuing problem and you want it to be solved permanently, though, you have to look at the cause and then figure out what is needed to correct it.  In this case, I have to go back and work on desensitizing his hindquarters a whole lot.  I’ll do a lot of patting, a lot of rubbing and hang his saddle bags on him a lot in order to get them comfortable.

The second lesson is that I now know that Sam is not going to give me a lot of chances to listen to him.  If something is wrong, I’d better be a whole lot faster at recognizing it.  Otherwise, he will solve it himself and we’ll just have to hope that my protective gear works.  He’s pretty sure that he always comes first. 

The interesting thing is that both of these ideas are applicable to people.  No, we don’t ride people through a buck.  We do tend to push hard when they’re resisting, though.  It is in our nature.  And yes, people do tend to place self-preservation above the survival of, say, their company. 

I’m fairly recovered now.  Thanks for worrying.  I’ve been working with him for some time each day and will be riding him by Thursday evening. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Self Reliance

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.   Ralph Waldo Emerson,  Self Reliance, Essays: First Series (1841).

Self Reliance.  The entire essay is a worth read, or re-read in my case.  I found my way to the essay today because of a speech by Jeff Danielson from Newsroom, the television series.  He gave it during a forum at a university.  I’d have to go watch the whole show to give a complete description.  It was an answer to the question of ‘why is the United States the greatest country on earth?’

He was preceded by two other participants who used the standard, “Freedom” and “melting pot” phrases.  His answer?  “It is NOT the greatest country on earth.”  He went on to say why.  Where we rank.  Facts, all negative, statements that are truths.  All reasons why we are not the best.

Why does it take a television show to speak on our behalf?  Why does it take an actor who has rehearsed his lines and a staged performance in order to tell the truth about the United States?   While I do not doubt his sincerity, I suddenly doubt the value of his performance beyond art.  He did say the truth.  I agree with his performance completely.  He did not tell us whether he, as a person, believes in what he said.  It looks a lot like, oh, Robin Williams playing the part of a gay man in “Birdcage”.  It was believable, it was funny and it did not tell us whether Robin actually was gay (I’ve no doubt that he was not). 

Today’s politicians are conformists.  They play party line, vote party line and voice popular opinions in order to get re-elected.  We travel further down the road toward sameness each day.  Nowadays, instead of seeing lightning fast changes in technology, about all we see are lightning fast enactments of party-line laws designed to allow us to give in just a little bit more and to give up just a little more freedom. 

I think the world of Emerson.  He wrote what he thought and lived his life by the guideline that was his own moral compass.  He did not seek party approval or permission from others to write and do as he did.  I follow that same principal.  It is a good thing to seek advice.  It is also great to get experience, to make mistakes and then resolve them.  It is often good to follow the rules to a certain extent, especially if there is proof that they produce a positive result. 

It is never good to do so blindly.  The uninformed ‘leaders’ that create our rules today are expecting us to do exactly that.  My life may slow down even more as I take some time out to discover exactly why I should obey a new law. 

Here is an epiphany.  A truly conservative person expects to take responsibility for his actions.  A truly liberal person wants to take the responsibility for someone else's actions. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Only if you want to.

My partner has threatened to make me a hat that says “Don’t ask me about my horse”.  Do not do this unless you are prepared to spend an afternoon discussing him, watching the slide and movie presentation, be invited out to ride him.  I promise that your eyes will glaze over and your hearing will be forever altered.  There is no subject more important to me than my horse.  There is no quicker route to boredom on your part.

In recognizing this, I feel it important to include a warning whenever my horse will be used in an analogy, simile or metaphor.  One like this:
Warning:  Horse Analogy Below

You’ve been warned, buckaroo. 

My horse has taught me more about managing human beings than all of the classes, hands-on training and books I have ever experienced.  Horses have been called the best teachers.  For me, that is an absolute truth.

Horses resist change.  Take one out of a field, put it into a pen and tell it to move and the answer you get is, “Huh?”   After that, you get, “No way.”  With patience and a little work, the horse will eventually recognize that the easiest course is to move in the direction you want him to move.  Consistent instructions will give you the same exact results every single time. 

Nearly all horses will react in exactly the same way if treated the same.  Their language is universal and simple.  Put pressure on a spot, wait for the horse to try everything but the action that you desire, keep the pressure there and when the horse does the right thing, immediately release the pressure.  After a time, it takes very little pressure to get the horse to do what you want.   The horse has learned something new!

Employees resist change.  Try suggesting a way to improve performance and you get a blank stare.  Tie it to some sort of pressure and eventually you get cooperation.  Do it long enough and you would think that the employee might just eventually start carrying out the new process on his own.

The trouble is, employees are not horses.  How I wish they were sometimes.  The difference is in the size of our respective frontal lobes, the part of our brains that allow us to joke, love, desire and rebel.  Horses are pretty much unable to do any of that.  Humans do it all.  And if you want a human to keep doing his or her job properly, you have to find a way to make them want to do it.  They won’t just carry out their duties because we taught them. 

The art of management is not in the teaching of a method or the successful increase in productivity.  The art of management relates to getting staff members to want to do things the productive way.  Anything less than want creates a possibility that things will change back to the way that they were before. 

Because we all resist change.