For more than ten years now, a series of books have attempted to help people understand the differences in how men and women communicate. Books like the groundbreaking You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen, or the perennial bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray, or the popular GenderTalk Works: 7 Steps for Cracking the Gender Code at Work by Connie Glaser.
Too bad there’s not a book like this for horse people. We could call it something like Pro’s and Ammies: A Conversational Primer. If I don’t write it, someone should, because we need a book that cracks our code.
For example, let’s take the word spoiled.
I think there’s hardly anything — except the words that come from your vet when you really need him — that is quite as upsetting to a horse owner as being told that his or her horse is spoiled.
Interestingly enough, most professionals, at least those that don’t think they have to pander to their clients, will tell clients that their horses are spoiled without thinking twice. They may even interpret the look of horror on their clients’ faces as surprise or perhaps shame — when, in fact, it’s closer to outrage.
How can a word that seems so commonplace, so clear and concise and matter of fact to the pro’s come across as a shameful accusation, a blatant insult and the consummate unfairness to their clients?
I’m sure Ms. Tannen, Mr. Gray or Ms. Glaser could put it into context better than I, but in plain English (an oxymoron if there ever was one), it’s because the word means one thing to some people and another thing to other people.
I’m simplifying this because, of course, there are amateurs who are more professional than most of the pro’s, but for argument’s sake, let’s characterize the amateur as a horse owner with one or two horses who are members of the family. The relationship is as highly emotional and spiritual as it is physical — usually more so. It’s a communion of the highest order, and, like a marriage, a relationship that no one else can truly understand.
Especially someone who dares to pen the scarlet letter “S” on the forelock of one’s beloved. Somehow, and I’m not sure exactly why, the word “spoiled” is taken as a damnation rather than an observation. Spoiled as in irreparably harmed, as if the person entrusted with the care of this perfect creature had now ruined him as a louche might have ruined a lady of virtue in an earlier century. Spoiled, like a mushy and malodorous piece of fruit — once good, now garbage.
Of course, a horse is not a mango. And no professional who tells someone their horse is spoiled thinks of a horse as a piece of fruit or a lady in a Henry James novella. Rather, he’s thinking problem identified, now we can solve it, and solve it permanently, if the horse owner can get with the program. That’s why it’s important to just come out and say it when a horse is spoiled. So the client can be part of the team that fixes the problem. No big deal!
To a professional, saying a horse is spoiled is less a verdict than an analysis. He is simply saying that a horse is overindulged, was allowed to get away with things he shouldn’t have, and now behaves badly when he shouldn’t. Just substitute the word “bratty” (it’s a lot less loaded). Because just like a spoiled (bratty) child, it’s relatively easy to fix a spoiled (bratty) horse. Put him into boot camp. Bingo! Make rules, enforce them, and the horse will fall into line. Once the horse is submissive, things will get better.
Submissive. Hmmm. Even the pros argue about that word. But that’s a misunderstanding for another day.