Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 8-29-11
Consequences are the best teacher. No matter how many times a mother tells her kids, “Don’t touch that stove; it’s hot,” some of them can’t resist the temptation to touch it. When they do, and the bawling begins, Mama has to choke back the words, “See I told you so!” No parents are glad when their children get hurt, but they’re relieved that the lesson won’t have to be retaught.
At least children respond to verbal instruction. Animals have to be corrected with physical means. Depending on the species and the temperament of the individual – time and the severity of the means vary greatly. Good-natured dogs only need a few swats from a rolled up newspaper, while hard-headed mules need more than a few whacks from a buggy whip to change their minds.
Right up there on the stubbornness scale are show goats. Trying to teach them how to walk on a lead is a challenge to anyone’s patience and physical endurance. Even small goats can inflict painful bruises with their horns or pull an arm out of socket.
One of my former students, D’lin, had a particularly willful goat when she first began her showing career at 8-years-of-age. Her dad had showed her how to walk the animal and help her get started, but insisted that she do the majority of the work. After both of them were battered and bruised from countless runaway episodes, and after tying it up in the pen only to have it break free, they tried a harsher training method.
They fastened a rope onto its collar and tied it onto a sturdy branch high in an oak tree in their back yard. There was enough slack in the rope for the animal to move around as long as its head was held high. They thought if it had to stand in one place for hours, it might learn some patience. D’lin and her dad took turns checking on the goat, and it was obviously unhappy about being tied up and separated from her buddies.
Suddenly, they heard some weird goat squalling noise. When they got to her, she was in a terrible bind. She had gotten fed up with confinement, and thought the best way to get out of it was to run around in 50 little circles. In so doing, she’d twisted the rope tightly from her neck to the tree branch until she was practically immobile. In one last escape attempt, she took a flying leap up in the air. When her feet left the ground, the tension was released on the rope, and she began to twirl. She spun faster and faster with the centrifugal force pulling her legs straight out until her brown and white body was a blur. Her tongue stuck out as she let out a continuous bawl. The noise was warped by the Doppler Effect which made it even more comical.
When the spinning stopped, D’lin’s dad untied the rope and the dizzy goat slumped to the ground unable to walk. In a few minutes, she recovered her equilibrium and staggered a few steps towards D’lin. “Try to walk her now, Honey,” her dad suggested, “I bet she won’t give you any trouble.” Hesitantly, the girl grabbed the goat’s collar and attempted to walk with her. Magically, the goat was easily led, and not just that day, but every day after that. Her little acrobatic stunt had taught her that when she was on the end of a rope or being led by the collar, that she’d better act right or face unpleasant consequences.
She grew into a perfectly proportioned show animal. And along with her new docile nature and D’lin’s skillful handling, she won several blue ribbons and showmanship awards. Not that any of that mattered to the goat. All she knew was that if she didn’t spend every moment straining against the rope or butting anyone who tried to control her, that her life was much more pleasant.