Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gaining Trust

You know, as Melissa and I work with every new horse that we get on this farm (including Miracle), my mind has mostly stuck on what it really means to gain someone's (or something's) trust. I've come to the conclusion that the steps to gain or breach trust are essentially the same no matter whether it's an animal or human in question. Regardless of the species, acting openly, predictably and with a high degree of consistency help to build trust...even sometimes when the actions themselves are negative. Asking before doing always builds trust too ! Similarly, acting deceitfully, coercively or inconsistently almost always works to destroy trust.

Of course acting trustworthy is only half the story because animals and people have to be receptive to building trust in order for trust building activities to be effective. Just as some people are mistrustful (even when they have never had reason to be), so are some animals. It takes a tremendous amount of patience to work with a mistrustful animal or person, because the slightest miscue can destroy months of progress. On most cattle farms, mistrustful cows are culled pretty quickly because they really aren't safe to work around. Because horses are viewed more as pets than as livestock, and because we tend to be more emotionally and financially invested in them, mistrustful horses are often kept around. Folks work through the issues surrounding mistrust with varying degrees of success. We have a few mistrustful horses here and I can attest that they are extremely challenging to work with, especially at the beginning.

Fortunately, inherently mistrustful people have been fairly rare in my world which is a good thing. I'll come right out and say that I have great difficulty working for very long with inherently mistrustful people ! I usually lose my patience long before I manage to gain a modicum of their trust !

In her short life, Miracle has had almost no positive reinforcement. In the same way that some people maintain a high degree of trust in spite of circumstances that suggest they shouldn't, Miracle is still a trustful animal. We've just begun to build on her innately trustful nature and teach Miracle a little bit more about what it means to trust and that it's safe to trust us. Right now we're focusing on being able to halter her and handle her at will. In order to do this, we need to teach her that good things happen when (a) we come into the paddock or stall and (b) when we put her halter on. As you can imagine, these steps require a good deal of patience on our part (as well as lots of treats) but they are so worth it in the end.

For those who are interested (and on a completely different topic) I saw the first corn planters rolling down by our other farm this morning. With sunny and 80 (or more) degrees forecast tomorrow, I'd say it's time to get those seeds in the ground !

1 comment:

LuLo Designs/Blue Eyed Tango said...

Hi Jason, thanks for stopping by my blog today....good to hear from you. I cannot wait to read all about Miracle! I enjoyed your post about gaining trust. I don't know why I would have thought all your residents were trusting but I guess I did....another new perspective on the world of retired horse farm management. Thanks for sharing!