Tuesday, August 07, 2018
The First Day of Class - A Horse's Perspective
During the summers, I usually spend a lot more time around horses and dogs than I do around students (or any people, for that matter). I climbed on the back of a horse for the very first time almost to the day nine years ago at age 55, and life was never quite the same thereafter. And about a month ago, I became responsible up here in Michigan for the care and feeding of a Half-Arabian - the other half is Hackney - with the barn name Markie (registered name: EQL Mark of Mine), below right. (You can see the riding equivalent to a law student's first moot court oral argument here. Last year, after eight years of coaching, I got up the guts to do what is known as a schooling show. It demonstrates the reason for my own barn name - "Tighty Whitey". As I suppose often happens, my partner Markie saved my bacon. Here we are a year later and a little less tighty.)
About this time of year, probably because of the impending transition back to the classroom and dealing with humans, it seems like I always go back to one of my favorite movies, Buck, about the horse trainer (and model for The Horse Whisperer) Buck Brannaman. I posted this several years ago on a blog called The Legal Whiteboard, but it doesn't exist anymore, so I'm resuscitating it here.
Five minutes into the movie, he's beginning a "colt starting" class, in which horse owners are learning how to get horses who've never been saddled, much less ridden, to accept the rider. He narrates: "Colt starting is always interesting because most of the youngsters never been saddled, never had anyone on their back, or a bit in their mouth, so there’s a lot of fear in both the horse and the human."
Then the film cuts to his opening remarks to the owners who are themselves going to have to teach their horses:
“The way I do these colt classes, you guys, you’ll have to get ’em exposed to a lot of things that seem perfectly normal to you but it doesn’t seem normal to the horse.
“You walk up to ’em smelling like a Big Mac, you know, or somethin.’ Your diet is gonna make you smell different to the horse.
“And then you’re gonna tell the horse, ‘don’t worry, I want to crawl on you’ … in a similar posture to how a lion would attack and kill a horse. They jump right up in the middle of them and they reach their front claws around and as they’re biting down on their spine they’re cutting their throat with their claws. You’re asking the horse to let you be in that posture and crawl on him.
"And then about the time he says, ‘Alright, maybe,’ and then you say, ‘Oh one more thing. I want to strap some hides of other dead animals around you before I crawl on you.’
"Damn sure have to have some trust. He’s got to believe in you to let you do that. And amazingly enough, they’ll let you do it.”
I'm pretty sure there's a lesson there for all teachers, but particularly law professors facing a class of 1Ls on the first day. More on the rider's (i.e. my own) fear to come.