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The Hazel Tree by Julia Debski

The Hazel Tree

by Julia Debski

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Learning Way- Treats & Dragons

Q. Why do you not use treats to train horses? Are there exceptions? 

'Horses are like dragons' 


I don't use treats to train my horses because my main focus is the connection, the relationship, the friendship, the quality of my inner "horsechild" and my self at the moment. Even though people say that it is okay to use treats as an incentive and not as a bribe, I still would not use them for my own horses. To give horses incentive by treats is, to them, very shallow. I will try and explain all of the reasons that I do not like treats fairly organized, but no promises. To connect and let them feel your true thanks, pride, and joy of the connection with each other, the true freedom that comes from it (if there) is far better than giving them a tree to "reward" your horse. This is similar to having a child do something and giving them a piece of candy or a sticker without any other type of recognition. Let's say the child has just saved a butterfly from a cat, and you give it a Tootsie Roll. The child, or at least I know I would have, would be disappointed that the actual depth of the act and the quiet joy and kindness of it was not recognized by the parent who gave the Tootsie Roll. It is quite easy to give a child a Tootsie Roll, whether absent or connected. You see, each time a horse does something for us ignorant humans is a gift. They could choose at any moment to leave, to strike because of us, to run away, etc. They are beautiful. If you do not give your horse a reason to run away, they will not... But the horse's gift to you still needs to be recognized, appreciated, and thanked for. Instead of telling my horses, "Good girl!" I tell them, in a meaningful and soft voice, "Thank you." because I know that for my horses and for the way I am with them and the way we are comfortable with each other is special and I am "blessed" for it. I show them the quiet joy that I have for everything we do together. And they are so much more appreciative for your collaboration, for your input, for your feelings... Than for a mere dried out cookie.

People who expect their horses to perform better when given cookies, in my mind (and no offense to you or Emily meant, just my opinion) are shallow in that respect. These creatures are wise. They are not stupid, nor are they mean. They have no mean thoughts, but they do have thoughts of protection, thoughts of anxiety, and thoughts of disturbance. If a horse feels as if they have been disturbed, they may act out in violence or in fear. The more you give your horse cookies and expect them to perform better, the less they feel appreciated and recognized and thanked, and the more cookies they expect to make up for it. They may feel incentive for the moment, but if you ask yourself truly if your horse is a bit disappointed every time you don't recognize even the simplest of feats as the greatest gifts, what will you find?

I often think of horses as dragons - simply because when thought of as horses, people often underestimate their power, grace, pride, strength, and emotional and soulful and connective depth. They have seemingly magical powers to heal - there was a local girl who was mute all of her life, and at the tween ages, she began Therapeautic Riding. She bonded with a pony there who did not particularly enjoy any of the other children, and suddenly she could speak again. Before, it had been physically impossible. There have been similar "miracles" to this. Women who have been sexually abused and are internally tormented are suddenly brought "back to life" so to speak, and become alive in their soul and heart. They are so emotionally sensitive that they can change people's characters and beliefs. I can almost guarantee you that a big reason this mute girl couldn't physically speak was because she didn't believe she could - There is a saying by Theodore Roosevelt that goes something like this: "Believe and you are already halfway there." or something. Horses make you believe. Horse's eyesight, hearing, smelling, and any of their senses (even vibrations in their hooves, muscle sensitivity, etc) far surpasses us. Compared to humans, they may as well have magic powers in that aspect. They are powerful and free spirited creatures - and we often forget this... but why? "It's only a horse." I've heard far too many times. No. They are beautiful creatures of stride, power, grace, sensitivity, and mind that far surpasses any human. They're creative geniuses, intuitive masterminds, and compassionate souls. They love those who realize their power, and those who admit to being lesser than they. Are horses "gloat-heads"? No. They love to be understood, but they love more to have a sensitive partner.

For some reason, when horse and human join, amazing things can happen. They are so similarly different and differently similar that they can even each other out and create something that can be seen as magic by even the blindest of humans.... literally. Unfortunately, humans in the modern time have lost this. I have never had the pleasure of witnessing a person that was connected to their horse... Which is why I am the way I am. I have set out not to be like others - I've never been one to follow anyway. I've never been one to lead. I've been one to join... to adventure... and to flourish in our private friendship in under the sun, the trees, within the grass. With the world. This is the land of horses - the land of dragons without literal scales, literal wings, and literal scorcery. But I know that my mare has scales - rough spots that have laid over the skin of her character from the way that she was treated in her "previous life" as I try to call it. It is her "previous life" because she will never go back there. I will not let it. My horse has wings - she can fly over the sea of flowing grass, and her soul flies with the birds all the time. My horse has "scorcery" - she can feel or free any thing. My horse breathes fire - at anyone in warning, and you can see where her legs and her mane have been charred. Her eyes are touched with the amber ashed edges, and her coat touched with the shine of the fire's glow. She carries the flow of water in her mind, the feel of the wind within her. She holds the color of earth in her coat, and the forest trailing in an outlined white up the charred black legs. She holds the night star upon her forehead. Her tail is the flag for which she carries. Is my horse not a dragon? So why should we not treat her as one?

Any dragon so mighty and prideful would be disappointed at the bribe, incentive, or reward of a treat. The only time I encourage treats is when you are done, or when you are just hanging out, or for no reason. You are just giving your horse an extra piece just because, just because you want to, just because they deserve it. You give them your joy and giddiness at your surprise along with the small token which points to the metaphor. For me, this is when the treat becomes meaningful. When it has no purpose.

Thank you to Kara Cumberton. She is so wise. Follow her blog here.

Next Time: Learning the Way- Biting & Cribbing.

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