What a WEEK!
I am overwhelmed with gratitude, resources, and possibility. This week I continued my tutelage under Kim – who, by the way, officially referred to herself as my mentor – and I started the Solider to Agriculture program while also reading two horse books.
Soldier to Agriculture is currently run by NC State University and is offered as a DOD SkillBridge to veterans who want to transition into the world of farming. I learned today that they are struggling to maintain funding and the program may morph into a new venture called Veterans Farm, but this six-week program is the BEE’S KNEES. I hope they can find a way to keep it going. I’d even love to launch a version of it myself someday.
The program (they call it STAG for short) starts with the basics of the basics – what is agriculture, farm safety 101, why do you want to get into farming – and by the end of it, you’re ready to start a farm. The course is designed to link you with available resources (and knowledge of course), and to plug you into an amazingly helpful network of farmer advisors. It’s basically the Boots-to-Business class I took through MS State University, but tailored for agriculture and six weeks long.
In just two days, I already understand how I may be able to fund this farm, and I feel emboldened to reach out to people in the Knoxville area for help. It’s so much more than just technical details. At the end of February, the class is going on tours of six different farms, all with different farming methods and processes. The idea is to show us the variety of ways to operate, but also to link us up with some mentors in the industry who we can ask for advice later on. One of the things I really like is that this program is next door in North Carolina, so as I meet these people, I don’t have to worry about the fact that I’m also their competition. With Kim and with STAG, that is kind of a perfect fit.
Naturally, I’m also reading a ton. Kim gave me a short stack of manuals, and I’ve been ordering popular books on Amazon. This week I read Kim’s volunteer guide and How Your Horse Works by Sara McBane. Kim’s guide includes horse tack and leading, as well as the range of disabilities that her therapeutic riding program addresses. McBane’s book reads like a textbook and covers everything from muscular function to why horses “move into pressure.” To balance the technical detail, I also read Horses Never Lie by Mark Rashid.
Horses Never Lie explains the way horses view and interact with each other, then applies it to how people can best interact with them. Rashid’s thesis is that horse herds actively avoid the alpha horse, instead naturally following more peaceful peers. He concludes that if people want horses to follow them, they must conduct themselves less like pushy alpha figures and more like teammates. He explains that by gently asking a horse to do something, and then watching carefully for their willingness to do it, people can quickly develop trust with their horses. Importantly, that trust is then extended to all the other people the horse encounters.
All three of the books this week had a common theme that I was grateful to discover: the core understanding that horses are prey and herd animals that just want to get along with each other and do what is asked of them. Horses Never Lie in particular makes some compelling points that align with my world view.
Rashid refers to “the try,” a small hint of agreement or cooperation where a horse indicates to you that he wants to be a team and is thinking about doing what you want him to do. It can be very slight – the flick of an ear, a momentary hesitation in the step, an inhale of breath – so you have to pay close attention to the horse’s behavior. If you miss the try, Rashid says, then you break down a horse’s desire to cooperate with you.
It is a powerful concept – which I believe is applicable to kids and adults as well. I think most of us can relate to a time we tried to please a demanding boss, or those of us with kids have witnessed a small change of heart in an unruly toddler. We all are just doing our best.
As I wrap my mind around what I want to do with this farm, I keep coming back to the link between horses, kids, and leading. The way that horse whisperers deal with horses is so similar to the way that successful leaders deal with their followers or great parents handle their kids. Love & Logic, Five Start Leaders, Passive Horse Leadership… it is all connected. The moment I put that together was powerful: softness works everywhere, and access to softness itself is part of the good life.