A Story About My Daughter and Hair Brushing
The other day my oldest daughter asked to brush one of the horse's manes. She went into the horse's stall with her mane brush and very nicely began to brush the horse's long beautiful mane. Everything was going fine until she got down by the withers. The horse began to repeatedly turn their head towards my daughter with a grumpy expression on their face (my daughter's interpretation). My daughter, recognizing this as the horse telling her to stop, stopped and left the stall. She walked over to a chair near where I was training another horse and sat down, frustrated. When I asked her what was wrong she said "I wish sometimes there were things the horses just *knew* they had to do and did it." I could understand this frustration, I know I've felt this before. Just wanting the horse to do it because we wanted them to... Not that it was an emergency or someone's life was at risk. The need to control, to satisfy our own wishes for comfort or pleasure, over the needs of another. We talked about how there are situations where we may need to step in for the safety of the horse or others and make the horse do something, like if the barn is on fire and the horse HAS to get out RIGHT NOW. You better believe I'm going to make them get out of the barn to the best of my abilities. That is an emergency though.
Brushing a horse's mane is not an emergency. Riding a horse out on the trail is not an emergency. Wanting the horse to go over a jump is not an emergency. These scenarios should follow a LIMA / Humane Hierarchy approach to preparing and training for them. We then talked about how we need to be understanding and respectful of our horse's way of communicating. I asked her what she would like to happen if I was brushing her hair and there was a knot and she said "ouch! Please stop!". Would she like me to keep brushing and tell her to just deal with it? Maybe even spank her for telling me it hurt? Or would she like me to stop brushing and/or find a better way to brush? She told me she'd like me to stop or brush nicer. And it was in that moment I saw her understand.
I chose this example because my daughter actually hates having her hair brushed, so she could easily relate. She used to scream, yell, cry, and run away when you would try and brush her hair. This made for a perfect analogy with horse training...
For awhile we kept her hair cut short so it didn't really need to be brushed much (management). We also used heavy amounts of conditioners to make sure we weren't actually causing pain (source of behavior). We also used special snacks and TV (management/positive conditioning). And eventually I taught her to brush her own hair, as it appeared to hurt less when she was in control of the brushing (cooperative care, start buttons, consent training, control/choice).
Management, finding source of the behavior, positive conditioning, R+ training, choice/control, cooperative care.. all fit into LIMA / Humane Hierarchy approach to training. With horses and kids.
I didn't go through that whole explanation with her, but I could tell she understood. Brushing the horse's mane was something she wanted to do, but clearly the horse found it really uncomfortable. She could have made the horse tolerate the brushing, but it would have negatively impacted their relationship and eventually escalate the gentle communication behaviors to something worse. Which was exactly what happened between my daughter and I with brushing her hair.
This was supposed to be something enjoyable for the both of them, she wanted the horse to enjoy the experience too. Isn't this what we should want too? As equestrians, as people who love horses, we should want our horses to enjoy the experience too. To trust us, to choose to participate with us.
I wish I had been taught the same when I was younger, and I wish I would have started teaching my oldest this much younger. It would have saved my horses and I a lot to difficult years, and I could have exampled consent based horse training much earlier to my daughter. I could have also saved my daughter and I a lot of hair brushing tears...
But it is what it is! I don't regret the past, because it's made me who I am now. My past mistakes have taught me the things I know today. They are driving me to teach a new generation a more compassionate approach to working with animals, starting with my own kids.