Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

‘Resilience’ in human resources has its rewards

David Zirnhelt’s column to the Free Press

If you, as the operator/owner of a ranch business, are still involved in the operation either after retirement or passing on the business then my guess is that your experience is the same as ours.

New start-ups of farm businesses can be financially and personally exhausting, whereas planned transitions to the next generations (notice the plural here) promise to be easier on everybody involved.

This is easier said than done. I muse about what to share with readers. For my first column of this year, I choose a familiar topic: ranch succession and what it feels like to someone in the midst of what is an emotional roller coaster ride.

Hardly a day goes by without thinking about the quality of the experience that ranch life means to grandchildren.

Some of the most difficult times are looking inward and asking questions about the validity and relevance of the work experience and the recreation (fun) side of the place and what is transferable to other careers.

What would we want the kids to write in their journals or put on their resume: “Today I saw a pale white light covering the whole valley” or “today I learned how to overcome a problem with steering a new horse that is herd bound and doesn’t want to ride off on its own?”

As the fourth-generation inhabitants — our grandchildren— of this place we call our ranch to grow in their confidence when taking over tasks, we have to step back and focus on how the experience can be a good one.

We know from the science and old-time practices of horse training that a little concern, dare I say “fear,” about the lessons being provided injects adrenaline into the bloodstream and heightens the animals’ ability the “fight or flee.” It also serves to reinforce a good experience generated by the pleasurable chemicals in the blood such as serotonin and melatonin that come with positive reinforcement of the desired behaviour.

I am sure this is what we want for the people who are learning essential skills and having fun at work.

I only wish I had been great at this in our child-rearing. Some success at a first horse race, mastering driving a stick shift vehicle, or jumping on and off a haystack approximate some of goals for the current crop of children.

Resilience is being able to adjust to a difficult experience (putting chains on a pickup in 10 minutes and driving out of the ditch) and then reflecting on what a great experience that was.

Characters that are willing to work hard and play hard are often the goal we espouse.

My satisfaction comes in seeing the children become young adults as they take on some of my tasks and their parents tasks such as feeding horses and cattle in winter.

Our reward for helping to build resilience is seeing how tough challenges can become wonderful experiences.


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