Working with Tendencies

Ah yes, there is my gifted, gorgeous and most perfect Breeze – Who makes having a horse look like a job done with ease.

Working with your horse’s natural tendency will get the best results. If you try to do upper level dressage with a cow pony, chances are you aren’t going to win many Olympic medals. Can the pony learn dressage? Probably, to some degree and may even get pretty good at it. He will do much better and be much happier doing a job that he has a natural talent for and you will be a whole lot less frustrated. When we ask our horses to do something that is new or foreign to them, they need our patience and encouragement all the more. Getting upset and punishing wrong moves is not the best way to teach correct moves and certainly kills the want-to-please incentive for the horse. It is not perfection you are striving for at first, it is the try that needs to be recognized and encouraged.

I was reminded of this basic principal this morning when I attended my 5 year old grandson’s very first baseball/T-ball game. The players were all decked out with a new uniforms, shoes, helmets, bats and gloves.  They all looked the part but when the game started it quickly became obvious they were not all naturals. Some had the confidence but lacked skill. It was obvious that with some work, they would be great players some day if they chose to.  There were the more advanced players who could already hit and knew the basics. They probably had sports-minded family or at least had a lot of extra help. They were the naturally good players. It looked effortless and they were truly having fun. There was a combination of these and then there were the few who just did not want to be there. Scared, tearful, reluctant little guys who had to be pushed out to the diamond when it was their turn. One particular little boy who comes to mind that I watched this morning and there was no miraculous transformation when he got up to bat. He did horribly. He swung at the ball with barely enough enthusiasm to knock it off the T-stand. He just wanted to get it over with and be done with it. Of course, the parents were shouting and wanting him to get fired up and show everybody he had the stuff. Didn’t happen. The child had absolutely no desire to play baseball and therefore had even less tendency to do well at it. He left the field feeling even more dejected after being tagged at first because he wouldn’t run to the base. This brought to mind a book I read last winter about a guy who lived to rope cattle. His whole male side of the family were hard-nosed horse trainers who specialized in getting horses ready to run cows. Then one day, he saw the horse of his dreams and just knew this was the one with the natural talent he had always wanted to excel at the rodeos. Problem was that his horse didn’t share the same dream. He didn’t like cows and hated his job. Hours, weeks, months and years were spent practicing to perfect the horse. He had the looks, he had the speed, he had the breeding – he did not have the tendency. Could he do the job? Of course, and he could do it extremely well. He proved it to him and ran perfectly  at one show winning the highest awards that day. He ran like a well-tuned machine with innate instincts. It was like a miracle. Never before that day and never after. The cowboy got so frustrated that he actually hauled off and kicked the horse when he couldn’t get a repeat performance out of him. He didn’t know how to make that horse want it as badly as he did. That was all I could think of today as I watched that game and saw how it will be for some of those kids and parents I watched today.  Some of them will be great – the ones that want to be. Some will be pretty good – the ones that are doing it for fun or that practice enough. Some will never be good ball players and never want to be. They will have other desires and talents to work with. Same with your horse. Whatever it is you want to do with your horse, keep in mind that to get the best results, it has to be good for him too and don’t try squeezing a square peg into a round hole.

Galloping on Guilty

Galloping on Guilty




Emotional Triggers

Of all of my treasures – This one I won’t trade, This is one that I shall value – It’s worth doesn’t fade.

Ann worked with Patches in the arena doing ground work without a glimmer of worry on the horse’s face When it came time to tack the mare up,. Ann walked over to the hitching post which consisted of a 500+ lb. length of telephone pole setting on two additional notched out posts made of the same type of heavy duty telephone pole. She no sooner had tied the rope around the post than the mare just went berserk for no apparent reason. She spooked back suddenly and violently, pulling the huge pole down with her. Of course, when the log dropped, the knot on the rope halter tightened from the weight, sending her into yet another fearful flight mode as it pulled her head downward. She was backing up furiously trying to escape the pressure which only amplified it. The quick-release knot wasn’t working either. Finally, finally, I was able to get the halter slipped off her head. It was a horrifying few seconds which could have been disastrous for the horse, Ann and me also as I struggled to release the horse with a 500+ lb. log being dragged across the barnyard. After all was said and done (Ann had a few stitches in her hand and we both had some bruising on our legs), all she kept saying was: “There was no reason”. Ann hadn’t seen anything to set the seemingly calm horse off like that. No bees, to quick movements or loud noises. Nothing she could see. I have since come to the conclusion that she was 100% right – There was nothing she could see. It was something in the horse’s head that caused it.

I realized the power of those emotional triggers just the other day at the grocery store. I was standing in the checkout line when I noticed the woman the next isle over. I couldn’t quit staring at her and after a few moments she couldn’t help but notice. I smiled weakly at her but still couldn’t tear my eyes from her. My husband was poking me in the side saying” you’re staring”. She was getting uncomfortable at my steady gazing so finally I spoke to her. “I was just admiring your hair. It is thick and wavy and very beautiful. My mother had hair just like that and the same pretty silver gray color. She has been gone for 18 year’s now but I couldn’t help but think of her when I saw you.” When I said the words out loud, tears sprang to my eyes. She smiled at me and said “I understand, That is a good thing, right?” “Yes, it is a very good thing”. As my husband and I walked out to the parking lot to the car, my husband reprimanded my in a disbelieving tone “You didn’t just tell that woman that she looks like your mother, did you?” (Did I mention that I am 62 years old?) My reply was that “yes, I did and we both knew it was a good thing”.

I am sure you are wondering what this has to do with the incident with Patches at the hitching post. The point is, although no one could see any reason for me to suddenly stare stupidly at a perfectly normal looking stranger or fathom why all of a sudden I had tears in my eyes, I saw it. It was an emotional trigger. These can be really good memories or really bad ones. Sometimes it isn’t a memory at all but just a feeling – like on a new crisp late spring day and you are driving down the road with the radio playing and the window down and all of a sudden you get the same carefree feeling of youth you felt when you  were a teenager. It has been my experience that, as a rule, our bad memories tend to stick with us more or at least cause a bigger reaction. Fearful situations especially. I am sure that whatever caused poor Patches to freak out at seemingly nothing was really very real to her – something only she sees in her mind’s eye. Just as no one can make me stop feeling the sadness I feel for losing my mother no matter how long ago it was, I will not be able to make Patches not remember whatever it was that bothered her so much. You just don’t get over some things.

We can both learn how to deal with it and control our reactions better. I will not tie Patches to the post again and I will never tie her using a rope halter. It has to be one of those two variables as I have tied her to trees while on trail rides without incident using a regular halter. Doesn’t matter. I will not make her “go there” to that place that terrifies her so badly. As for my triggers about my mom – well, even though they make me sad and I may want to cry, I love having those unexpected jolts that trigger my emotions when they concern my mother. Tears are a small price to pay.

Emotional triggers

Emotional triggers