So, there I was, practicing positive reinforcements with Jazz and building a great relationship and getting very excited about her growth and learning, not to mention my own.

Then she kicked me in the face.

Oops. Or rather, ouch. Flippin’ OUCH. Talk about back to the drawing board.
Once I had figured out that I still had teeth, and that, miraculously, nothing was broken, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and…..
…..And now what?
How do I get back to that easy trusting bond that I thought we had? What do we still have, and what is broken and needing repair?

Well, in true Linda fashion, I was like a dog with a bone. I couldn’t let it go. I pondered and reflected and turned it this way and that. I asked myself, repeatedly: “How is this relevant? Where else am I being kicked in the face?

And if its true that horses are merely a “mirror” – where and how and who, am I also “kicking in the face” as I proceed along the path of my life’s journey?”

I was sore: body, heart and soul. I needed to unpack and rebuild the puzzle for myself. Yes, I do know that a great many people find this rather strange and obsessive on my part, and would surely offer me the advice that the horse was fresh, misbehaved, and needs a bit more discipline. End of dilemma.

Except that I know from my coaching models that behaviour is only the tip of the iceberg. We see behaviour, and we interpret it, according to our own beliefs, values and stories about how the world should be. We do this all the time with one another, and now I realize that I am doing it with my animals as well. I put my own version of “what happened” on to any and every situation based on my own history and life story.

And in my own world of positive reinforcement play with Jazz, I now realized with shock and anxiety, I had no answer to the behaviour she had just offered. I really didn’t like what I made it mean, and I was struggling to find an alternative I could believe. It was several weeks later, feeling still fragile and a little fearful, that I learned my next really important lesson:

Behaviour needs to be categorised. Using a very simple grading tool, we can have above average behaviour, average behaviour and below average behaviour.
I need to be aware of which one is offered and then I need to convey that back to Jazz, with an appropriate response from me, in order for her to decide if she needs to “up her game”.

Needing to make it simple for myself, I played with my favourite learning tool: Acronyms. It’s as simple as ABC, where
A is the Awareness I have of where we are, in this moment, with regard to the
B = Behaviour we are seeing.
C then becomes what either of us need to Change, in order to be able to score an “above average” report card, which will result in a click and reward, as in the positive reinforcement training we have been loving so much.

Okaaaay, then what happens when the behaviour is only average, or below average, or when she offers something I didn’t want at all, and expects to be rewarded for it?

Lets play with the example of teaching her to walk backwards when I lift up my finger. She already knows the cue, and takes a step back with one foot. She has now started to stamp her foot with the second step back, rather like a solider coming to attention. In fairness, originally I thought this was so cute, and she was actually stepping back, so I ignored the stamp, and rewarded the stepping back. If we fast forward to where this could end up, we will have a bossy horse who stamps her foot grumpily to be rewarded for taking a tiny step back. NOT what we wanted at all. I had to learn to reward the good behaviour quicker, and to start to apply a little pressure to the “below average” behaviour (the stamping). I discovered that pointing the whip at her stamping foot while not rewarding a stamp was enough pressure for her to begin to realize that the rewardable behaviour was the step back, and a stamp would mean being pointed at with the whip. It took three practices for her to “get it”. Result: no more stamping.

Back to the face kicking conundrum…. Sadly, it is often really difficult to evaluate and assess behaviour when one is flat on one’s back, or concussed, or otherwise incapacitated…
However, I am beginning to realize that as I work on increasing my awareness of my own and Jazz’s behaviour in each moment, I will be more sensitive to and better attuned to read behaviour with more accuracy and a better understanding of how to evaluate it and either reward or add pressure to initiate a change. I may be quicker next time too.

What’s not always easy to accept is how this applies to all my interactions, and how behaviour (mine and everyone else’s) always has a much deeper, bigger, “underwater” aspect to it that takes a real commitment to awareness to begin to understand. That underneath the water, everyone’s “iceberg” is much bigger than just the behaviour we see.

One day when I finally put all this together I will be a guru. Until then, I’ll just keep Forging Ahead, one step at a time…