Sunday, December 27, 2015

What's My Motivation?

Nose to nose with Smokey Joe

There’s an old joke in theatre circles. Actors always analyze the parts they play, questioning why their characters would or wouldn’t behave in certain ways. What motivates the character? So, during a rehearsal, the director asks the actor to walk across the stage, and the actor responds “What’s my motivation?” Without skipping a beat, the director says, “Your paycheck.”

Of course, I was never paid to be on stage while I was in college. No financial incentive there. And now, many years later, I find myself in metaphoric director’s shoes, asking my horses for certain behaviors. I can almost hear them ask, “What’s my motivation -- and where’s the paycheck?”

In the past eight years, I’ve abandoned the idea of controlling my horses. Control is a great illusion. In a physical contest, my horses will win – hooves down -- unless I bully my way through our encounters. I’m not interested in bullying. I’ve discovered that collaboration is really a better goal. I’d rather accomplish things together, as partners and friends, than have to pretend I’m stronger or in charge. I ask rather than demand. It seems to work better for us.

Motivation factors into the collaborative dance. Sure I can ask for a behavior, but if it doesn’t make sense to the horse – and if I’m not clear about what I want – why should my horse want to cooperate? What’s his motivation?

I needed to break behaviors down into smaller increments, layering new information onto the already learned behavior. It comes down to this:

Whatever I’m asking has to make sense to my horse. An intelligent being questions the reasons behind any request. Horses are really no different than most humans in this way. There has to be some purpose or meaning involved, other than because I said. Common sense – horse sense -- requires me to consider what the horse understands as a reasonable request. The next step for me is to ask for a simple behavior that, when achieved, results in a reward. Rewards make sense. Simple behaviors transform over time into more complex skill sets, all based on motivation and paycheck.

Enter the clicker and a bag full of horse treats. Horses eat approximately 75 % of their waking day, so food is a logical and inviting “paycheck” -- not to be mistaken for a bribe. A bribe is something you dangle in front of someone before a behavior to coax the person (or horse) into doing what you ask. A reward comes after, when the behavior has been satisfactorily presented.

In truth, food equals motivation – but it’s not the only motivation. My horses now see the clicker and treat pouch and know we’re going to play. The interaction has become a game, less about eating and more about connecting and figuring out puzzles together. It’s fun, and horses love to have fun! Now there’s a great motivating factor!!

And what does the clicker do for me? It requires me to focus on exactly what I’m asking. If my horse doesn’t understand what I’m asking, I have to adjust and communicate more clearly – asking for less or simply asking for something differently. If I’m not clear, how can I expect my horse to understand? After all, we don’t exactly speak the same language.

So, the clicker trains me, too. When I’ve asked clearly and clearly see the desired behavior, the click isn’t just for my horse, it’s for me, too. It says, “I got it right! Yea for me!!”

And Yea for all of us who endeavor to bridge the communication gap in positive ways! What’s the motivation? The paycheck? At the end of the day, I think my paycheck is mutual love and friendship.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Everything Changes...

Everything changes…

At this time last year, my family was leasing Paradise… a 25 acre estate with my horses grazing happily by a pond.

The house was old, fantastically quirky, in need of love and absolutely perfect for us.  It was the first place we ever lived where I had my own space ~ my study ~ where I could sit quietly and meditate or write or just daydream as I gazed out the window into a sea of leaves. My husband, likewise, had a space of his own – an expansive Man Cave, enviable enough to make any male drool.  There were fireplaces and a sunny kitchen and a full-sized concrete-floored basement for my son’s rip stick antics. Our master bedroom had an incredible view of the pond and pasture, our bed nestled beneath a red, glass light fixture that I dubbed the “Bordello Lamp” – a funky piece of artistry that I can best describe as sexy in a classy, trashy kind of way.  It always made me smile.  I’m just that kind of weirdo.

We had room to spread out… woods to explore, a fire ring by the pond, an outdoor bath under the magnolias, wind chimes singing on the front porch, gardens. 

All of our animals had space,too, in this happy kingdom.  Dogs, cats, horses and chickens – all content to just BE, because just BEING is what our animal friends do best.

There was a sigh of peace in the air; a deep feeling of belonging.  It’s possible to feel loved by a place, and I felt profoundly loved by the spirits there. 

It was a place of healing for me.  Old wounds, untended to for years, healed.  Doors opened in my soul.  New passion kindled in me.  My heart expanded. I reclaimed myself and fell in love with me again.  Every day was a moving meditation and a prayer of gratitude.

It was magical.

It was our Haven.

I won’t say that all good things come to an end, but some things do.  We were only leasing Paradise, after all.  The property was for sale when we moved there in late 2012.  We knew it could sell, we knew we might have to move, and so our stay was a dance in temporariness.   It was a risk we were willing to take.

The property sold earlier this year, and after many months of chaos, meeting challenge after challenge, we’ve resettled in our new home, not too far away from our former Haven.  The new owners allowed us to take a few mementos of the place with us -- including my beloved Bordello Lamp, which now hangs overhead in my study.

We’re incredibly grateful for our new place. It’s a blessing; a safe place to reorder our dreams, reshape our goals and rebuild our lives. 

Is it Paradise?

What I’ve come to realize is that Paradise really isn’t a physical place. It’s not somewhere you visit, it’s not really something you can buy, and sometimes it’s only temporary state of being.

Truly, what I’ve discovered is that Paradise is within.  The Haven is within.  It lives in our hearts and minds.

I’ve always considered myself a fortunate person.  One Paradise evolves into the next, carried inside – a lesson I’m lucky to have learned.

I’m grateful for everything.  As I write in my new study, my internal Paradise basks in the external glow of a sex-red Bordello Lamp. I love it -- because I’m just that kind of weirdo.