April 3, 2005
In this issue…
** Basketball Words
** Lessons Learned and Re-Learned
I've watched a lot of basketball over the last couple of weeks.
I am a big fan of the University of New Mexico (my alma mater) Lobos, especially the women's team. Both the men's and women's teams made it to the NCAA tournament, but lost in the first round. Seems we can do well in the Mountain West Conference, but get us out in the big world of the tougher conferences, and we can't quite compete. That's OK. In the regular season we beat most of the teams we played, and it was fun to watch.
It's cute how each round has its own alliterative name. Well, sort of. The "Final Four" and "Sweet Sixteen" work pretty good and have a nice ring to them. Once a team makes it to the Final Four, they play in the National Semifinals and the National Championship games. Those are good solid sounding names. But, what is with the "Elite Eight"? They had to reach pretty far to come up with that one. Why can't we just say the "Quarterfinals"? The two words both start with "E", but they don't have the alliteration of "F-F" or "S-S". Wouldn't it fit better to say the "Apex Eight"? Maybe I'll send that idea to the NCAA. Or maybe not.
All of this leads me to my least favorite sports word.
Before I launch into it though, I have to say that the sportscasters have a tough job. It's hard to talk for two hours and not say at least one stupid thing. Hey, it's live TV, and mistakes happen. I don't even know the names of the guys I am going to jump on, but I do know that they were working their fourth game of the day, and might have been a little punchy. I should cut them some slack.
But I won't.
The word I hate to hear from sportscasters is: Underrated. You hear it in other sports besides basketball: "Joe Winchester is the most underrated cornerback in the NFL." Last Thursday, the CBS guys took the over use of "underrated" to new heights. In the first four minutes of the Illinois - Fairleigh Dickinson game, they used that term four times in the first four minutes. It was probably a tournament record. "Player X is the most underrated player on this team." and "Illinois's defense is underrated." were the most egregious statements. For those of you who don't know, Illinois is the number 1 team in the country and the top seed overall in the tournament. How can they be underrated? There are five starters on the best team in the country, and one of them is underrated? And how about that defense? Is it at all possible for the Number One team to be underrated? How can we rate them any higher?
Not only that, who underrates these guys? I know there are coaches polls and sports writers polls to rank the Top 25 teams, but is there a panel of judges somewhere that spends time underrating players? If there is such a body, I would think I would be able to find a list of underratings on the internet, or at least the criteria for being underrated. But, no, all a Google search comes up with is a list of articles and blogs of different pundits saying why certain players are underrated. If the list contains the 10 Most Underrated players, is the guy tenth on the list the Least Most Underrated? It seems to me that once a player gets on an underrated list, he is no longer underrated. He is now rated high, so he should be dropped off the list. But who would replace him? A player that is less underrated?
Lessons Learned and Re-Learned
I have learned many lessons in my pursuit of horsemanship.
Be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary
Make the right thing easy, and make the wrong thing difficult
Always offer your horse a good deal
Listen to your horse
Take the time it takes so it takes less time
Don't ask your horse to do anything she is not ready to do
The only rule is that there are no rules
Observe, Remember, Compare
What's even more amazing is that I seem to have to learn these lessons over and over again.
On Wednesday this week, while our colt, Mousse, was getting castrated, I spent the whole time the vet was here trying to catch Mousse's half-sister, Mouse. Mouse is very sweet and will come up and be friendly with anyone - as long as you don't have a rope or halter in your hand. If you get a rope close to her, she's gone. The only way I have been able to catch her is to move her into smaller and smaller areas at which point she can't get away and just gives up. Once I get a halter on her, she's relaxed and very soft and responsive while on the line.
But, I finally decided that an eleven month old filly should be catchable and it should be easy to put a halter on her. On Thursday, there were computer problems up in the Albuquerque office, and since I work at home, there was nothing I could do until they got them fixed. I put my cell phone on my hip, told the folks at the office to call me when the servers were fixed, and went out to play with Mouse.
I have taught many horses to be caught by putting pressure on when they are going away, and taking it off when they come toward me. Most horses learn pretty quickly that I am offering a pretty good deal by allowing them to be close and running away is not any fun. The first time I tried to catch Hoss in the pasture, I made him run for about a half hour in our four acre pasture before he started looking for another way and trying to find the easy way out. The next day, it took about ten minutes, and the following day, Hoss had learned that running away is not getting him anything and he has been easy to catch ever since.
My goal with Mouse was to get her into the roundpen and play with her there. I usually work with her in the regular, rectangular pens, where it's both easy to evade me and to get stuck in a corner. Our roundpen is inside our arena. By opening and closing gates in front of and behind Mouse, I was able to get her into the arena. She ran and ran. I tried to offer a good deal by taking the pressure off when she came to me, but it was still too big an area. I had also by this time pushed this filly way to hard, but didn't realize it. I unhooked my cell phone from my hip and called into the house and asked Nancy for help. She came out and we were able to get a halter on Mouse the same old way, by pushing her into a corner and asking her to give up. It was absolutely the thing I didn't want to do, but it was the only way I could see to get Mouse into the roundpen.
I led her calmly into the roundpen, then let her go. Nancy went back in the house, but that was when my troubles really began. Mouse started trotting around the roundpen and would not stop. Ten laps. Twenty laps. I tried stepping in front of her to stop her progress, but all she did was change direction. I tried just standing in the middle, taking all the life out of my body and just waiting. Somewhere around the thirtieth lap I gave up and called Nancy again on my cell phone asking for help. I realized that I had convinced this poor filly that the only acceptable thing to do was run. She didn't see any other thing to do and couldn't see a way out. I was heartbroken and disappointed in myself for pushing her too hard.
I just realized that my access to technology probably made things worse here. If I had left the roundpen and went into the house to ask for Nancy's help, Mouse would have had time to settle down. Of course, I may not have needed Nancy's help then. She would have come out and said, "What's the problem?"
Nancy entered the roundpen and I got out. Nancy stepped right in front of Mouse and the filly finally stopped trotting. Nancy was able to calm her down. When I re-entered, Mouse took off again. Nancy coached me to get smaller. I dropped down on one knee, and while I was bent over fighting tears and feeling bad that I had gotten this poor horse into this mess, Mouse stopped trotting, and calmly walked over and sniffed the back of my head. It's like she was saying, "I'm just a baby here. Don't play so rough." After I had tried so hard - too hard - it was the horse that came over and said, "All is forgiven. Now, let's learn something."
It was Nancy's coaching that helped me through the crisis. She could see what I couldn't in that I was asking too much. While my emotions calmed, I used Nancy's directions - "Step in front of her. Get smaller. Wait for her to come to you. Move slower." - to get back in rhythm with Mouse. I was grateful to the horse for forgiving me, and I was grateful that I have a wife whose horsemanship I trust. Nancy could see what I was doing wrong and could calm me down and show me what needed to be done. I felt really lucky.
Mouse and I ended our session with me clipping the rope back on the halter and leading her back to the pasture.
On Friday, I had learned from the experience. Before I even began, I opened all the gates so that the Mouse could go right into the arena. I strung ropes from the roundpen to the arena fence so that Mouse would be encouraged to go in the roundpen. Finally, when she moved away at my first attempt to halter her, I just let her go, but guided her where I wanted her to go. She walked - not ran - into the arena. She did pick up a trot, but I waited that out with no pressure, then allowed her to quietly find the way into the roundpen.
When we were both were locked in the roundpen, our conversation began anew. This time I was able to listen better to what she was saying, and consequently, she would listen better to me. Basically, Mouse said, "You're big and scary." I found out that when I bent over she would come right to me. I could touch her and rub her, and she was more comfortable with me. At one point she just rested her chin on my back when I was hunched over. By the end of the session, I had almost convinced Mouse that I was not so scary when I stood up. I could put pressure on by just stiffening my body a bit, then take it off by relaxing. I was surprised that not only would Mouse respond to such subtle cues, but that I had learned - once again - to get even softer, calmer, and quieter. She loved picking up the carrot stick and dragging it around. She enjoyed playing tug with the lead line. And eventually, I was able to walk up to her and put her halter on without her moving away. Three different times.
On Sunday afternoon, I walked out to the pasture with a halter in my hand. When I was about 20 yards away from Mouse, she started to move away. I got down on one knee so that I could be as non-threatening as I could. Mouse came right over and grabbed the crown of my Stetson and pulled it off my head. I stayed crouched down, and played with her for a while, then calmly reached up at put the halter on her. She acted like it was no big deal.
And that was all I wanted in the first place, but, boy, did she make me learn and re-learn a bunch of stuff along the way. That's the funny thing about horsemanship. You go into a situation thinking that you are going to teach the horse something, and it ends up that she teaches you more than you ever expected. And it's never the lesson you are expecting. Just when you think you have something figured out, and you know how to teach something to a horse, the "It depends..." lesson pops right up and says, "Hey, remember me?"
There is no better adventure than trying to learn how to be a horseman.
Round pen or roundpen?
My spell checker balks at "roundpen", but it seems better to me than "round pen". Anyone out there an authority on this word? I may have to add the word manually to my spellchecker. (That's funny. I thought the spell checker would think that "spellchecker" was misspelled.)
Obviously, I wrote the basketball bit before UNC beat Illinois for the national championship. I guess the Illini were overrated and the Tarheels were underrated.
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