Pony Precepts: Discovering Lessons to Live and Work By
Right now I'm learning from a 400-pound animal with the brain of a three-year old child, as I train a Shetland pony to pull a cart. Ponies, like horses, are prey animals whose first instinct is to fight or flee, so this can be a daunting and humbling task. My CEO/Executive Director-self has no gravitas here. At the barn, I am a beginner. My teachers range from teenagers to one amazing horsewomen in her eighties. I also work with a very patient and experienced trainer. We never discuss one’s day job; all conversation is through and about our animals Being a novice at mid-life is rejuvenating. I love grappling with new skills that take a long time to master. Laughing at failure and learning from mistakes propels improvement. My competitive self is satisfied with a training session well done, thrilled that Pacific Raindrop and I have done our best for that day.
In working with my pony, I must first understand the world through her eyes, her smells, her experiences, her fears, and her relationships. Equine logic is quite different from human thinking. And what we learn together going to the right often has to start all over again when we change directions. In the training arenas, we lunge, jump, trot, and walk our animals in spiraling circles and figure eights. I have the only driving pony at a dressage barn. While mine is now used to the cart, it is amazing how disruptive it is for new horses to first encounter. Many have never seen a cart before, and even though they fearlessly go over jumps in cross country fields, many get completely discombobulated - rearing and balking with frenzied abandon. Back in our stall, apple treats reinforce learning, but also guarantee affection. It is so fun to be welcomed with a whinny, as her furry head juts over the door. And there is nothing better than warm pony breath and velvet nose nudges after a stressful day at work. Pony precepts have taught me a lot of things, some of which apply to human interactions. Meeting colleagues on their terms, starting where they are, and patience with newness seems like a pretty good idea to bring back into the office each morning, after I finish mucking her stall, of course! To see videos of John Killacky’s Shetland world, visit YouTube.