Labels Belong on Jars

How does a label impact on the individual involved and how can we reduce the negative effects of labels by shifting the parametres.

This is Jamie, he is 26 years old and I hesitated before adding a photo for 2 reasons – first I didn’t want to be lumped into the “crazy people who link animal training to children” category and second, because it is such a special game we play I didn’t want to face the haters and the criticism that invariable follows when posts show horses trained using less aversive methods not widely accepted or understood. I have received harsh bully-like comments in the past, so my radar was on! Some people see Jamie doing a useless trick that has no relevance to riding or horses at all – this got me pondering and when I ponder, I write!

Back stories often enable us to get a better understanding and if we only took the time to get to know people’s (or horses’) back story maybe we would be more compassionate…maybe.

Jamie came to me as an 8-year-old “paddock mate”. His meteoric rise to fame as a 3 Day eventer came crashing to the ground due to a recurring hock injury, and suddenly he had no future in the world where he apparently belonged. Jamie seemingly had another purpose which was yet to be fully realised. After a traumatic road accident which I won’t describe here, Jamie became my sole focus and began to learn the many and varied behaviours that have made him so popular, and given him a new lease on life.

Interestingly enough after Jamie arrived another supposedly useless horse came into my life - one with a very different issue. Jaxon was also 8, an amazing appaloosa, considered useless because he was yet broken in. He had been rescued by an experienced dog trainer, who invariable trained him using dog training methodology (way ahead of us!). Jaxon was onto it from day one and alongside Jamie, I was in training heaven. As I watched Jaxon move, I thought about how incredibly it would be to ride him as he was so in tune with his body and moved like a dream horse. I began wondering…and when I wonder, I take action!

Jamie’s useless label (or more user-friendly paddock-mate label) was based on his inability to function within set parameters. The lack of flexibility within these parameters meant Jamie was useless. By shifting the parametres, he had blossomed. Could I shift the parametres around Jaxon’s label? What were those parametres anyway? AGE – generally you don’t back horses late because of the time it takes to train and “use” them. I challenged myself – asking the question - is this really true, is it impossible to back a horse after 10 because it will take years? Why not find out – so, I tore down the wall around my own thinking and started training him at 10 years old! For me the experience was incredible, and I am not sure who has taught whom more! He is a joy to ride and was so easy to train. Anecdotally I believe this is because of the strong history of positive outcomes in Jaxon’s life and he has associated “listening” to people and trying new behaviours with good outcomes.

My horses have brought joy into my world and spread joy to many children and adults alike. People of all ages, who are not at all horsey and have a very limited view of horses based on labels and beliefs about those labels, have learnt to shift their own beliefs. People of all sorts have been able to interact with my horses and gain new insight into what horses can achieve, insights that defy what they previously believed.

Reflecting on this I have made many connections to how adults and children do or don’t cope with crisis or life changing events – their own beliefs and the labels placed on them by others can impact in a destructive way. There are always opportunities to redefine yourself and find a new role to play – we need to be open to these opportunities and allow ourselves and others to potentially outgrow their label.

Questions to consider; and the possible impact of labels

· What is the initial purpose of this label?

Giving important information

Clarifying needs

· How does it serve/help the individual?

Enables them to receive expert care

Allows them access to important resources

· How does it serve/help others?

Provides important information about needs

Enables others to be empathetic to needs or expectations

· How does it limit the individual?

Limits their access to potentially challenging opportunities

Restricts their ability to be accepted and treated the same

· How does it limit others?

Prevents others from seeing new and different potential

Reinforces old and limiting beliefs

Hinders a growth mindset

Labels generally belong on jars in the pantry – Keep that in mind!

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