Monday, November 19, 2007

I enjoy working with our horse. Martini, a registered paint gelding (, makes me appreciate that there are various ways to deal with the challenges in life.

There are two basic approaches to life's challenges. Depending on the situation, I suppose that neither of these are wrong. One approach says, "Destiny determines. Enjoy the ride." This proponent may be a dried up old pessimist or a pie in the sky optimist, but both believe you can't change what is going to happen so you might as well not fight it.

The other says all of life is the product of our decisions. This teacher says, "The harder you work, the luckier you get."

There is another way to deal with life, and Martini has decided it is the best way to develop a relationship with him. I must have a clear goal for training each time I come to the paddock (Second approach). I must be aware that since he is involved, some days he will cooperate and other days he will require more encouragement. In other words, be flexible and prepared to just enjoy the ride (First approach).

I am trying my hand at training my horse to become a relaxed and responsive animal. That is probably not a very accurate statement. I am not really teaching Martini anything. I am learning how to cue him to do what he already does.

He knows how to walk, trot and canter. I am learning how to get him to do it when I want him to.

My boy has no problem trotting. His problem is knowing when I want him to trot and reading my cues from the miriad of camoflaged cues coming as I flop back and forth, left and right, on the saddle.

To be honest, he is a pretty patient animal. He is more patient than I am at times.

Herein is "the rub." Patience is a biblical virtue. It is a virtue borne of experience and thoughtful discipline. It is said the horse has the mental powers of a three-year-old. You know why a three-year-old is so dangerous. They are naturally without guile. What you see is what you get. "The king has no clothes."

Martini is honest. He may not express it verbally, but he says it in so many other ways. "I don't understand." "Last time you did that you wanted me to trot fast." "I am not through eating so come back later." "I am not really into the riding thing today."

He says it with his ears, eyes, head, tail, feet, lips, tongue and so many other ways that at times he must think he is screaming at me.

I am a better person because of my horse. Patience, never my strong suit, must be present when I am working with him. Flexibility, less a part of my life since my heart surgery, is making a resurgence. Learning to enjoy the moment, as the comerical says, is becoming "priceless."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Lofty Heights Of Disappointment

I am a child born on the cusp of the Boomer Generation. Birthed in the final year of the '40s, my decade saw the sacrifice of the Depression, unselfish commitment of WWII and the birthing of suburbia. Though eclipsed in later years by moon landings, supersonic flight and the fulfillment of Dick Tracy's wrist watch telephone, my generation has been all about success, productivity and achievement.

My generation spawned "Second place is first loser," Winning isn't the best thing, it's the only thing" and "He who dies with the most toys wins." I wonder if I am the only Boomer who is depressed because he is always exploring the lofty heights and rare air of the furtherist edges of mediocrity. When measuring my progress in life, I usually find myself heaped in the pile with the other "Might-Have-Beens."

While I have never taken inventory of my cohorts, I suspect there are more than many care to admit. In fact, I think there are more of us who were so far back at the beginning of the race that we were in danger of being declared out of the competition before the gun sounded.

Companies want leaders, producers and visionaries. Those that do the hiring look for people who look like the rest of the company. The companies believe they have already created a culture of leadership. They know a team that produces the best product with R&D departments perched on the brink of breakthroughs will cement their position for economic generations to come.

I doubt their culture assesment is accurate. I doubt it because the people who really fit those molds don't often fit company profiles. The current hires, from the people who occupy shipping and sales to I.T. cubicles and Executive Wash Room, are pretty much like me.

What is worse, I suspect they are afraid someone will find out their dirty little secret. They are fearful they will be outed and their paper mache world will disolve into a mushy heap - formless, worthless and useless.

I want to give hope to the rest of us. Mediocrity isn't the curse that the Zig Ziglars and Tony Robbinses of the world want us to think it is. Mediocrity is more about being functional, dependable and trouble-free. Mediocrity isn't about failure to excel. It is about being average. It is also about the failure to quit, even when the end results would seem less than satisfying.

It is rather like the boy who sits on the bench for four years of high school football and finally gets to play in the last 30 seconds of Senior Night while his parents spent those years sitting in the stands warming their hands with a hot styrofoam cup of steaming instant coffee.

There are times that it simply makes sense to do the job, pressing to the end, because we own the job, not because we are better at it than anyone else.

My employer requires daily progress from me in completing my tasks. If I excel triumphantly on one file but fail to complete my tasks on 10 others, I am not a hero. I have failed. If, on the other hand, I complete the eleven files on time and the customers reasonably satisfied they were heard, I am successful.

So self-help books not withstanding, modern-day Davy Crocketts exploring the motivational world of the cerebral traveler simply can not replace the person willing to tackle a job that appears to be do-able, but just barely. The John Glenns and Scott Carpenters of excellence don't really fit in to our world of "I did my best."

Sometimes "my best" is not good enough. I guess I am saying to the rare few that always seem to get elected, promoted or designated "Salesman of the Week," you are going to have to move over and let the rest of us do our job.

You see, you aren't an example of excellence. You are more a freak of productivity planning.

I accept my mediocrity. It may not be pretty, but it is vital. It may not swell the breast with pride, but it doesn't confuse a parade marshall who lines up the floats with a drum major who happens to be marching in front of the band.

I not only accept it, I embrace it as a neccesary step in the evolution of the man who beat on a hollow log and called it a drum. It may not have much of a melody, but it still has a beat and Dick Clark's kids think you can dance to it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Horse Poor - Experience Rich

We recently experienced the joys of being "horse poor." For thirty days we assumed the care, custody and control of a horse that was intended to move us into the equine-enabled community.

We learned some things. Others we relearned. Still other lessons we transfered from former pets.

On the internet I identified a horse that appeared to possess our needed qualities. After a trip with our stable owner to check him out, we brought him home on a thirty day trial lease. If it didn't work out, the owner would pick him up at the end of the thirty days - no questions asked.

In thirty days he transformed from a shy, insecure, almost fearful horse into a headstrong, belligerent animal that walked through any fence except the metal round pen. He became more difficult to handle as the time went on. During the last five days of our tryout time he exhibited aggressive behaviors toward the people that run the stable so I made the decision (which wasn't hard) that he had to go back.

When I contacted the owner to tell her of our decision, I became aware this was not the first time he had gone through this. She asked me what the problem was because "no one will ever tell me what he does that is wrong." (Did you hear the bell go off?)

I explained my observations and experiences. The stable owner shared what she saw and endured. We then watched as a calm, under-control horse was loaded into a trailer and hauled 200 miles to another person who was convinced that this was the horse for her.

Maybe we ought to change his name to "The Professor" because the thirty days were not lost time. Here are some of the lessons he taught me.

Lesson 1) You may buy an animal, but all you have done is assumed the responsibility for their care. They decide whether they become yours and how they will relate to you (horse whisperers not withstanding). If you have ever had a cat for a pet, that is always lesson number one.

Lesson 2) Before you arrive at the stable barn have a clear plan in mind for your time together. He was not very tolerant of the person who failed to have a firm agenda for the day. You don't want a horse that stands 16.2 and weighs over one-half ton to be picking you and your indecision apart.

Lesson 3) Even if you are not a horse trainer, you are a horse trainer. You will train them with your attention to detail or you will train them by being lazy, foggy-headed and overwhelmed by the job at hand.

Lesson 4) Even with good leadership, buying a horse is a "crap-shoot" at best. There are some good rules and measuring tools that can help. Having an experienced and objective advisor is critical. But in the end it boils down to "He'll do or he won't." As I was advised, decide what holes you can live with and make a decision. In this case we decided we couldn't live with additional holes in our body.

Lesson 5) The cheapest part of getting a horse is buying it. 'Nuff said.

Lesson 6) If you are not a rodeo cowboy or an active rancher, expect to enter the world of female equinologists when you buy a horse. Estrogen runs rampant at the stables I have visited. That isn't bad. It is simply a truth that if a testosterone-enriched individual has problems taking instruction from a female, the first lesson you will have to learn is not how to halter the horse. It will be how to halter your attitude.

I'll stop here so as to not recreate "The Ten Commandments."

We are not out of the horse business. We are just a bit wiser. And somewhere out there is the animal we are looking for. We also learned a lot about patience.

I can imagine that on the evening of January 29, 2007, a dapple-white horse, 16.2 hands, was led into a new stall. He looked around the barn and thought, "OK, bring on the next student. Graduation is only thirty days away."