Monday, April 14, 2014

Invasion of the Boundary Snatchers

Wax Flower photo by M. Klein

It’s spring! It’s spring! It’s spring! Flowers poking up, trees budding, and on the Olympic Peninsula - the occasional sunny day! 

For horses, this means the most important thing of all: grass growing. Grass which is like “pot" for them - except that the drug and the munchies are combined into one powerful intoxicating brew. 

The Grass is Greener.... photo by M.Klein

While there ARE horses that are well-trained to not suddenly stop for any and every tempting bit of grass - that’s not our horses. Riding one of these beasts in spring can be an exercise in frustration when our horses do a nose dive and attempt to gobble up as much grass as possible before giving in to the pressure from the reins. It’s humiliating as joggers on the trail get to witness me trying to get a 2000lb horse’s head up off the grass. It’s comical to watch - and frustrating. 

Hawthorne at 3 months by Melissa Klein

It’s a boundary issue. It’s a respect issue. It’s a training issue. And because we’ve had April for 8 years, and Hawthorne from birth - there is no blaming the former owner for bad habits. So I’ve decided to take this seriously and instead of avoiding being on grass have started to train on a fresh field of grass. When he does a nose-dive - I call him on it and make things more challenging to get his mind off the grass; side passes, obstacles, changes of gait. If it doesn’t feel solid, I get off, and do some remedial ground work. It’s getting better - slowly.

How did this happen? I care about my horses and regularly train… I study training videos and ask questions.

Bad Dog Unleashed by Melissa Klein
It happened slowly and imperceptibly - I accepted bad behavior because I didn’t want to rock the boat. I let them get away with things because I had low energy and didn’t want to deal. Maybe I got lazy with training - showing up, but only doing what was easy. Sometimes I was choosing battles and deciding to let more minor things go and at the time, those were more minor. Sometimes I was distracted with all of the other things going on in my life.

Stop Acting Like Monkeys by Melissa Klein

This happens everywhere - in relationships with loved ones, in the classroom, with administrators…. I’ve also noticed a spike in behaviors with my high school students - who have their own version of spring fever. Do I want to fight every battle? And when do I need to crack down? Or if I do, will I lose all productivity in the classroom due to focusing on dealing with behavior issues?

In all fairness - it IS spring - we are all restless! Or does that sound like another excuse?

Here are some things that I’ve been thinking about how to handle this issue:

Another pic of Hawthorne sticking out his tongue! by M. Klein

Expect It
It’s a waste of time and energy to be outraged at people and animals for testing limits. In a  herd of horses, they are constantly challenging the pecking order. It’s how they figure out where they fit into the group - most importantly, to make sure that the leader is strong. A weak leader puts the herd in danger. 

For students, it’s an important part of how we all learn and grow. And while I don’t think we need to make every mistake (for example, illegal drugs - I don’t need to take them to know that it’s a bad idea, and never have), it’s in making mistakes that the most growth can occur.

Also, when you start to try and change boundary invasion, expect some push back for it. From the other side, try and see that it might be confusing or even angering to have someone call you on something that was previously thought to be OK.

Kahili Mountain Fog by Melissa Klein

Get really clear about what’s OK & NOT OK
I wasn’t clear with my training because sometimes I let those “nose dives” for grass go. Sure, we can take grass breaks, but NOT when we are in the middle of doing something with the training. It has to be intentional, and because it’s been earned. 

Now I have decided to not tolerate that behavior - and will call my horse on it consistently. It’s clear.

Same thing with my students - sometimes I’ve tolerated disrespect, but now need to let it be known that it’s never OK. And that they will held accountable.

Strong Woman by Melissa Klein

Be Ruthless
A couple of months ago I had a student who was becoming increasingly disruptive and disrespectful. I tried to talk to him about it several times, and called home. He kept escalating and became verbally abusive. Administrators became involved. 

I decided that he couldn’t be in my classroom anymore. It seemed harsh at the time, but I could honestly say that I had made several attempts to work with this student, and he wasn’t meeting me halfway. I couldn’t work with someone who was attacking me personally when I tried to confront him about his behavior.

Maybe the lesson that he needed to learn from me wasn’t art, but that if you can’t at least be civil then people won’t want to work with you. 

Forgive It
This might seem like a contradiction to the above, but it’s compatible - because boundary invasion is something that everyone does. Often unintentionally and unconsciously. 

There’s a great line in the Catholic version of the Lord’s prayer that says:

… and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us, 

Which is a good reminder that we are often on both sides of this issue.

(I’m not a part of any religious organization and choose to draw from many different spiritual practices.) 

Letting Go by Melissa Klein

Release It
I love this Polish saying: “Not my circus. Not my monkeys” which is about realizing which issues are ours and which are others'. I also like the phrase I came up when working on challenging paradigms: “I can’t control what others think, say or doo-doo!"

Take Responsibility
And the flip is “My circus. My monkeys.” I created the situation with the horses - and need to take responsibility for their behavior. Accepting bad behavior from others is not taking responsibility for my own boundaries and expectations in life. 

Setting boundaries is both about creating fences and bridges of communication.

What are your thoughts on boundaries? I would love to hear about it!



Bridge to the Ocean by Melissa Klein

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