Imagine stepping into a herd of horses loaded down with treats. What's going to happen?
Put a bunch of kids together and they figure out the unspoken, unwritten social rules. Except the weird kids who don't. Years ago, I read an article about and while I can't really remember much about the article, it stuck in my head.
It came back to me strongly the year I taught kindergarten. It was one of the best years of my life. The school was alright, but the kids. Being a homeroom teacher. Going back to sandwiching English into 40 minutes a day was tough. But I digress. My point is, while teaching kindergarten I was faced with a student who had zero social skills.
If you think about it, social skills are no different than math or science or English for that matter. Well they are different, because nobody writes them down and rarely are the spoken out loud. Nonetheless, it's a set of learned behaviors. And some children need help navigating. It can be quite difficult to teach because first you have to put words to the unwritten rules and then find a way of explaining them and finally create a safe environment for the child to practice their skills. But educating children, especially young children can have a long lasting impact on their lives.
This in influenced my thinking about horses as well. I also read a story about wild horses once, about the how the older mares discipline younger herd members who are causing too much trouble by driving them away from the herd. A horsey time out if you will and when they rejoin they do it with a lot of licking an chewing.
I didn't intervene much when Thunder was introduced to Super. We had one gelding and one mare and that made it easy. However when Thor came, he was weird. He'd ignore anything the other horses did, but out of the blue would jump, bite, and twist. He didn't give any looks or ear pinning. And they way he'd bite was scary.
So I made a paddock in the pasture and anytime he acted too aggressive he went there for a couple of hours and once, a couple of days. Months later during feeding time-- we have no stalls-- I got tired of the squabbling. So, I tried an experiment of driving the horse who squabbled away until the horse changed their and relaxed into staying away. It turned out to be way more effective than putting the offender in a paddock alone.
I've thought a lot about over the past year. If we look at wild herds where humans don't interfere the addition and subtraction of herd members is a much rarer event and less destabilizing. Probably because the wild herd includes a matriarch, a group of high ranking older mares and everyone is generally somewhat related. Even when the oldest mare dies, there is another leader to take over. Being the most aggressive is not how this leader is chose either. It's often more fluid than that. A horse that knows where to find good grazing and water and who is firm but fair. I think that in human managed herds we add horses, take them away, add new horses. We further destabilize things by just being us... grabbing our horse to feed or ride (regardless of pecking order) and much more.
Our herd has clear rules. No squabbling around people for any reason-- these days food and scratches are equally prized. Super particularly with his butt scratches. Offenders have to go stand over there and think about it. And it has worked so well that our boss horse Thor, a guy who used to suddenly lunch, bite and twist, not only gives subtle warnings, but intervenes when anyone (usually Super) is causing a ruckus.
Me: Thor, did you learn that from me?
Thor: That's too much verbal communication for my equine brain, but you're smiling.
Me: You're a good boy.
Thor: I know these words !!!! I love these words!!! Stop mucking, scratch me here (insert itchy spot) and say those words.
And of course I do.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two house cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and three barn cats .
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018