What I like about the term “optimize yields” is that it at first hooks us in to our usual way of looking at things, luring us into thinking we’ll need to get very busy producing a lot of stuff. When working with horses, that gets translated into fixing all the things that aren’t working while training them up to do all the “stuff” we’d like them to do. But even though working with horses requires energy, active participation, and oftentimes strength, stamina and fortitude, these qualities do not require coercion and strain in order to manipulate outcomes and have things go our way. The same is true about growing a garden.
Geoff Lawton has become famous for his understanding of natural systems, so when asked to design and grow a garden in one of the hottest and driest places on earth, he didn’t hesitate. In fact, you can see how he did it in this short 5-minute video, an example of how a seeming wasteland can transform into an amazing food forest without the use of fertilizers, pesticides or, for that matter, much water. You’ll see that he spends little time worrying or complaining about what isn’t available or what isn’t working, he just gets busy assessing what will allow for success, and then puts that into practice.
If you watch the video closely, you will see that everything that requires action has first been studied and considered. Second, Lawton works with natural systems rather than spending unnecessary energy superimposing uncomplimentary landscapes with no regard for what is already there. Thirdly, the area is appreciated for what can be garnered on site. The effort needed for production is spent on “creating conditions conducive to life.” What follows next is a stepping back, if you will, to allow life to do what it does best. Thrive!
In other words, this approach is not based on exploiting productivity — even though the need to eat makes productivity just as important as ever — but from observing life’s generative nature. A willingness to take time for this kind of observation (#1 on our list of permaculture principles), and then applying the knowledge we gain from doing so is what develops skill. If we don’t operate from this basis, we will feel compelled to band-aid outcomes, compensating for our ignorance about how nature actually works.
The same thing could be said about working with horses. We are all taught to fix what is broken, so when we find ourselves getting bucked off, run away with, or trying to manage a rear, a spook, balking, pawing, excessive whinnying, a duck-and-run, separation anxiety, general unresponsiveness or simple tension of any kind, most of us tend to think of the equipment we can use or what technique or method we can impose in order to “train” our horse not to express that undesirable behavior — until we’ve eliminated everything that frightens, irritates or in some way displeases us.
But what if we knew enough about the horse to trust their own inherent nature to solve the problem for us?
What if we knew enough about the horse to work with the very aspects of their nature they currently use to resist us? Just as a desert that initially appears inhospitable can transform itself into an oasis through our respect and understanding of its nature, so can a horse transform itself into a working partner via the same approach, the operative words being “transform itself.” In other words, our job is not to change them. Our job is to create the conditions whereby they can find a reason to trust us, to let down their guard and blossom into everything their nature already intended — utilizing on-site resources indeed! 😀
This does not mean that we sit back and do nothing. It does means that we need to be a lot better educated about our horses and what motivates, concerns and interests them. It also means we will need to put a lot more thought into what it is we are doing and why we are doing it. If we do this first, what we decide to act upon can be done without (or with less) strain, worry, fear, anger, or impatience.
Consider Zoe, a sensitive mare who, at nearly 18 hands, was perfectly capable of intimidation. It was not entirely difficult
to understand why the people she was entrusted to for a time resorted to a range of equipment and punishment in an effort to get the upper hand. Their attempt was to set boundaries on her movements, coercing her to submit and thereby rendering her manageable. But true to any good alpha horse, she merely rebelled. Motivated by fear and anger, she developed herself as her own unique model of a ticking time bomb, and explode she did!
Deemed mentally unsound and pronounced too dangerous to ride or handle, the owner was forced to consider euthanasia. What would you do with a horse who was either too scared to pay a mere human any mind or too pissed off to try?
Find out more about Zoe and her journey next time…