You have waited all week and now it is finally here. Saturday. You pull on your boots and head out to the barn for that special time with your horse when you can relax, unwind and renew your soul. But, what begins as a morning filled with anticipation and enthusiasm quickly turns into frustration, disappointment, and that overwhelming feeling of doubt. You asked yourself, “What in the world am I doing?” or “Why doesn't anyone understand me?” The irony is that your horse is asking himself those very same questions. The trouble is that you are a predator, he is prey and you don't speak the same language. His doubt is natural. It is my hope to help you learn ways to develop a mutual trust with your horse that I feel is the foundation of every productive moment you will spend with him after that.
In my experience, every frustration between horse and handler can be attributed to lack of communication. You ask your horse to “whoa”, and he plows over top of you...you get angry, because after all, why would he do that to you, as much as you love him? You yell at him, he laughs at you...you are out of control and he knows it. In five minutes you gave him sixteen reasons NOT to listen to you. So, now what do you do?
This is the first of a five part series exploring the intricate relationship we share with these powerful animals. It begins in the will.
B – is for BELIEVE. But, believe in whom or what, you ask? When you instruct your horse to follow a command and he doesn't respond, why do you suppose that is? And when your horse runs from you in the pasture instead of to you, what are you thinking at that moment? How often have you told yourself , “When I get that horse broken to ride, I will have control of her then.”? She comes home from the trainer and you still don't, not really. Do you receive advice from others encouraging you to “Show him who's boss!', or “Be the bigger horse!” or “Don't be afraid!”? You are not sure how or why, but in truth, you are afraid.....of failing.
A carpenter would never begin a job or stay in business for very long if all he ever took to work was a hammer. So many folks walk out to the barn with a hammer expecting to build an ark. When you don't have the proper tools, you know it and you can be certain, your horse knows it as well.
So, we are back to BELIEVE. Believe in what? You cannot expect your horse to believe in you as a leader if you do not believe it yourself first. I am not talking about you believing in yourself as a world class athlete or mother of the year. I mean believing you are capable of convincing your horse you are worthy of being trusted when everything in his nature tells him the opposite. We as human beings can walk into a dinner party and have everyone in the room convinced we haven't a care in the world. Often, we can fool even our closest relatives. But, be certain of one thing: You will NEVER fool a horse. Never. This prey animal has honed his observation skills to a level we cannot imagine. A horse will scrutinize your body language so acutely, you cannot lie. He makes determinations about your leadership ability in the first five seconds. If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, what horse in his right mind would trust you to save him from the mountain lions that are inevitably lurking about?
So, your first priority is to fill your toolbox with believable implements that can convince your horse and more importantly, convince yourself, that you are a leader that can be trusted.
Get a trainer. Whether you send your horse to a training facility or buy one of the several outstanding DVD training programs, find a one that fits in with your goals and your style. Give your horse a couple of weeks off, study the techniques, and make a plan. Decide how much time you can invest and stick to it. Start out slow. A couple of hours one day a week, every week, is far better than all day on Saturday once a month. Be thorough and complete each task well or else, as with any shortcut, holes will show up later in your horse's training. Focus on the process, and the product will come naturally.
Keep a journal. Documenting progress is a critical part of any training program. Record what you worked on that day, any hitches, accomplishments and notes of interest. Make recommendations for the next session while things are still fresh in your mind. This will keep you motivated and focused, not to mention prepared. Knowing what you are going to do gives you confidence and credibility; the first step to being a good leader.
Practice your techniques, document your progress, and believe you can do it, then your horse will, too.
Next stop: Ancient Rome.