Children and horses are often taught that the rules of behavior at home are different than those expected in public. When new friends come over for Sunday dinner children are told to use their “company manners.” Children are asked to exhibit a higher standard of etiquette, restraint, and attention than they did the other 160 -plus hours of the week.
Most parents have flushed with embarrassment when little Johnny or sweet Susie let out with an unexpected dose of reality at the dining room table. Mind you, Johnny and Susie seldom sit at the dining room table. The family only uses the dining room when the good china comes out of the back of the pantry to dress the table on special occasions.
Most competitors in equine events, whether breed, discipline, or community trail rides, have flushed with embarrassment when darling Prince or elegant Electra bucked, bolted, or simply ignored their request. Mind you, Prince and Electra seldom venture into competitive or social environments where they are expected to exhibit “company manners.”
“My dishonor is continually before me, And the shame of my face has covered me.” – Psalm 44:15
Child Rearing and Horse Training that guarantees future failure
The moment parents begin to teach little Johnny and sweet Susie the difference between home and company manners the concept of compartmentalization is introduced. Simply put, Johnny and Susie’s parents model inconsistency. The family culture gives tacit approval to behavior that is less polite and sloppier at home. Rules of right behavior and etiquette aren’t really rules, but entirely subject to the circumstance of the moment.
When parents are consistent enough in such inconsistency, children generally learn that there are two sets of rules, one to be used in the comfort of the home and the other in public. Many marriages encounter troubled water when the new bride or groom learns that the sweet woman or gentle man they grew to know and love in public is actually a completely different animal at home.
Double Standards – a reality in family homes and stables
Some horses receive training that is consistent enough in its inconsistency to recognize that different rules apply in different surroundings. Most do not. (For that matter, most kids don’t either.) One of my horses, General Silver, knew that a bridle with a bit meant he was a show horse, while a hackamore meant he was a working stiff.
At the time, General was probably smarter than me. He was one of my most influential teachers when it came to the world of the equine. I had to earn his respect and cooperation. General also knew how to push the envelope. He and I made it to top ten status in the nation in breed trail, yet he would still pull little surprises out of his pony-bag-of-tricks when circumstances changed.
Early in one show year General and I competed in a number of classes at a big show. We did pretty well until it started to rain. Rain during a show was rare in Arizona, so I had not ridden General in the rain before. I shouldn’t have worn a new cowboy hat that day…
At the end of a rail class, the steward asked us to line up in the center of the arena facing the judges. We did. Sort of. General decided he did not belong out in the rain and made it clear he was unhappy. Right there in the center of the pen he stood up on his hind feet and waved at the crowd. My new black hat hit the mud. One of General’s hooves squashed it flat.
Melding Home and Company Manners
It appears Mr. General’s good manners melted in the rain. Okay, time to address the matter. We loaded up and went home. My husband put the other horses away and I put on my Dry Rider suit, a remnant of my motorcycle riding days. General and I went for a ride. He objected.
The ride continued. General continued to object.
After a couple of hours in the driving rain he was good as gold, behaved as he knew he was expected to, and the confusion about inconsistent performance was made a bit clearer. General learned a lesson and so did I.
The reason horses (and kids) embarrass us with unexpected behavior is lack of consistency on our part. We don’t pay attention to giving precise cues and requiring precise responses from our horses at home. It’s a lot of work! Teach a horse the right way to do things, be consistent, and the horse will do things the right way.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
How Parents and Horse Trainers Fail to Lead Properly
What is the root cause of inconsistent teaching, whether you instruct a horse or child? The parent or horse owner is either unable or unwilling to do the job correctly. If unable, one would suggest he or she gain instruction or get help to become able. If unwilling, well that’s the whole story.
The difference between great parents with successful children and others is the degree of commitment they bring to the relationship. The difference between great horse trainers/owners with successful horses and others is the degree of commitment they bring to the relationship.
The difference between fearless Christians and those who walk around in doubt, error, and want is the degree of commitment they bring to their relationship with Jesus Christ.
God does not change. He is the ultimate example of consistency. His rules and expectations apply in every time, circumstance, and to every one. How does uncertainly and fear first manifest itself in the life of a Christian? Perhaps it happens when his or her parents first begin to teach the art of compartmentalization.
God does not permit His children to be slovenly at home. There aren’t two sets of rules.
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There is a full chapter devoted to Consistency and Commitment in Discipleship with Horses. In it, horse trainers/owners, parents, and teachers can dig in to the whys, hows, and fixes introduced in this article.