We expect a lot from our readers, to find us, to read and enjoy our books and, of course, to follow us. Not to mention we hope they will spread word about us far and wide across the great social media savannah…ideally, just after the ‘rains’, (aka promo days), have been so our works catch and grow in the hearts and minds found seeking there…
In return – are you listening to your readers with equal intent? If you think you are – how hard?
My name is Adele Jean, I’ve spent a lifetime with horses and, most recently, have taken up writing about these extraordinary experiences.
While I’ve yet to meet a horse who can read – the written word that is – I would, however, argue that they can effortlessly ‘read’ us like an open book.
So, here’s a question I guarantee you won’t be asked very often…how do you get a 1200lb horse to listen to you? (Swiftly followed by, how do you ‘listen’ to the horse?)
R I G H T! I hear you say. What’s this got to do with life, the universe and our readers?
Let me take you on a journey into the world of horses, a world where you get to decide where your reader might stand and how the reader might act in these surroundings. Surprisingly, it may change how you relate to your own readers.
The journey begins with you and the horse, alone, in a 50ft round pen. Do you feel intimidated, fearful? Would you try and make yourself smaller, step back even – all the while planning your exit strategy? The horse is now ignoring you…would this be a good time to make that exit??
You could get hold of a whip and start cracking it haphazardly. You, or rather the whip, has the horse’s full attention. It will likely go into ‘flight’ mode, turning tail and heading out as far and as fast as the pen allows.
You, when you were good and ready, have learned a far more enlightened path than that. You know that forcing an issue rarely works or lasts…
The sizeable horse may be staring at you or possibly racing round and round the pen desperate to put great distance between you.
You know what you seek – listening and respect. After all this is a big, inherently dangerous animal. If things get out of hand it could get awfully ‘messy’, awfully fast!
You’re just not sure how to get the respect you seek. Realisation eventually dawns that you need knowledge, experience and the right toolset.
Back to that round pen – someone’s handed you a long stick with a plastic bag tied to the end of it. Huh? How will that help?
What to do next? Is doing something better than doing nothing? You choose to at least try. You square up to the horse, make yourself look really big, start waving that stick and shouting to make it move.
Well, that sure worked! You continue to ‘chase’ the horse around, the plastic bag is making enough noise to ensure the horse isn’t going to slow down any time this week!
About that respect, will the horse have any for you? Will he choose freely to slow down, get closer? Nope.
How about this then – you stand calmly and relaxed in the centre of the round pen, deep down inside somewhere you are probably feeling distinctly uncomfortable, way out of your league.
You take your time observing what the horse is doing. Maybe you wait for a quiet moment, you judge the timing of your next move…raise one arm and point with your index finger in a direction – either way, matters not. In the other hand wave the stick with the plastic bag at the horse’s back end, instantly ‘sending’ the horse away from the sound. The horse reacts to this and heads out – fast. Round and round. You stop the moving pressure. You wait. The horse slows down. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat. It takes time. Soon the arm and the finger pointing get a response by themselves.
Strangely, an odd thing starts to happen. You start observing different behavior in the horse. How best to interpret this? Do you respond by doing something different? Do you keep doing what you were doing? Maybe ignore it?
By this time the horse may be tentatively offering its respect to you. Are you worthy though? The horse may stop and even takes a small step towards you, ears and eyes locked on you – yes, don’t look behind you – just you.
How did this happen? All you did was stand there, look confident lift your arm and point occasionally, oh, and wave a stick.
You hardly moved. The horse did though…a whole lot.
I’ll let you in on the biggest secret there is in horse training…ready?
The way to sort out who’s the leader today is…to move the other’s feet. If you can do this you’re instantly promoted one rung up the hierarchy.
Don’t get used to it though – you’ll be challenged regularly…just as in real life.
The real secret is not the moving, it’s how you get the horse to move.
You’re seeking “thinking” movement, not fearful movement. You have to be ready for the signs. While you are watching the horse, the horse is watching you. The impressions you make with your body language, and your very presence help get where you want to go faster and more easily. Experience and timing matter.
A good horseman, or horsewoman, will perfect the above technique over many hours. They may be regarded over time as a ‘horse whisperer’ capable of transforming ‘green’ or unruly horses into willing partners.
What then of truly great horsemen? These rare beings will spend hours…days, months, years, whole lifetimes…observing, practising, learning, asking, listening, going backwards when ‘stuck’ on something, (backwards is a great way of going forwards with horses, but that’s a whole other story!). Listening, always listening.
Then practising some more…
They will not creep around the horse or make excuses, or leave a job half done. They will persist, quietly, confidently, patiently, always improving until they ‘know’ and ‘feel’ what the horse does – inside their own heads. Ask them to explain it and they’ll almost certainly struggle for words…
They do not whisper – they listen…hard.
If you are ever privileged enough to observe a great horseman, or woman, you’ll be hard pressed to see any cues whatsoever between human and horse. No raised voices – just sheer beauty as they literally dance with one another – on the ground or astride, it makes no difference – just the deepest, all-embracing respect for each other imaginable.
It’s a sight guaranteed to take your breath away…
Okay, so what does any of that have to do with being an author, you ask?
Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from these grand masters of their life’s passion.
I am not suggesting we corral up our readers and chase them round with sticks until they ‘give-in’ and read our books! Although the idea has a certain appeal
I humbly suggest we adopt the latter approach. The one where we take the initiative having ‘found’ where our readers are and ask them to ‘follow’ us because they choose to. That we go to huge lengths to keep our readers actively engaged with us, respecting each and every one of them, listening – hard – to what they have to tell us every step of the journey.
If we endeavour to listen, learn, practise, improve and be respectful, maybe, – just maybe – we’ll be rewarded for our efforts. It’s not a given though. If it happens we’ll remain humble, content in the knowledge we offered value and enriched someone’s life a little – just like those great horsemen and women.
As we set off purposefully to traverse that vast savannah, one stride at a time, we get to do what we love, following our life’s passion – all day, every day.
Just like they do…
I wish you all the most success possible on your journey and a huge thank you to Gilda for offering me this opportunity to be a Guest ‘blogger’ on her terrific site!
If you know any ‘horse mad’ ‘any’-agers I’d love to meet them on my pages and share all things horse-related. Links below…
Adele is passionate about horses and loves riding, training and writing about them as often as she can. She has written a number of non-fiction books on the subject and has recently published her first horse adventure fiction novels for the YA:
– Flying Horse Discovery
– Flying Horse Revealed (due out Feb 2013)
The fiction series is for pure enjoyment of adventures with horses – aimed at teenagers, however, will be enjoyed by all, with or without an interest in horses.
Adele had such fun writing them – she can’t wait to write the next ones!
When not being involved with horses she keeps on top of a busy work schedule, writing and mastering the training of her partner, two human children and one in-human dog!
She is a native of New Zealand.
You can find Adele on Facebook: www.facebook.com/HorseSecrets and Twitter: @adelejjean
Adele’s website and blog: www.adelejjean.com