Fundamentals

texas sunset

Sunset over Texas Hill Country

The horsemanship clinic began with the clinician asking us to lead our horse around the arena while requiring the horse to remain at the end of the lead line.  If the horse started creeping up on us, we were to prompt him back to the end of the lead line again.

Once that was going well, he asked us to work on stopping and expecting the horse to instantly freeze in his tracks when we stopped.

After that, we spent some time backing the horse to the end of the lead line…then reeling him in…then backing him up…then reeling him in…all while working toward a smoother response on a lighter touch. Then we got even more particular, asking for exactly two steps forward followed by exactly two steps back…then one step forward followed by one step back.

Altogether, we spent over an hour just working on having the horse go forward or back on the lead line, in one form or another. After that, we started working on shoulder turns and hindquarter turns…being very particular about making sure the horse really reached out with his hoof…and very particular about separating front laterals from hind laterals.

We didn’t actually mount and ride until late morning.

If I had known in advance we were going to spend the first few hours of the clinic just doing groundwork, I probably wouldn’t have been very impressed. Frankly, I thought my horse already did fine on the lead line and wasn’t much in need of training in that area.

I was wrong in that assumption.  Like so many areas in life, we don’t know what we don’t know until we learn better.

joe on knockout

By the end of the clinic, Knockout was relaxed while I swung a rope from the saddle

Later that afternoon, I realized my horse was more relaxed and more responsive than he had ever been under saddle.

In the weeks since the clinic, I have been amazed at how much difference those simple lead-line exercises have improved my relationship with each of our horses.

The exercises require both the horse and rider to really pay attention to each other…to really listen to each other’s body language and relative position…and to develop precise timing of response. It requires the horse to walk in sync with the rider, moving as the rider moves.  And it builds confidence.  The horse gains confidence in the rider’s leadership, as well as in his own ability to properly respond to the rider’s cues.  The rider also becomes more confident as a leader and in the horse’s response.

Going forward and back on a lead line sounds a little dull. The idea of making it part of a regular routine sounds a bit stifled and unspontaneous.  Most people acquire horses for the adventure of riding, not to move the horse back and forth on a lead line.  Frankly, it could be dull and not very helpful if approached with a poor attitude.  If the rider treated it as some mindless routine to drudge through, or some requirement to rush past, it would probably yield little benefit.

Done well, though, it is an incredible communication tool! Lead line training provides an opportunity for the rider and horse to work together on really listening to each other, to work on improving timing and balance, and to sync their movements.  The movements are simple enough to allow both horse and rider to remain relaxed…to make it a lighthearted low-pressure game.  It provides a relaxed environment of open communication for building mutual respect and trust…for building muscle memory of cues, responses and timing.  Like a choreographed dance, the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…

I think similar tools can be applied to other relationships.

I love engaging my family in humorous banter.  I notice a potential word play on something said in conversation and feign misunderstanding.  Sherri starts to correct then glances up to see my smile and catch the humor.  She, in turn, plays off of my joke to escalate the nonsensical tangent…and we both crack up laughing.

It’s just playful silliness that may appear pointless.  But it requires paying close attention to each other…to really listen to what the other is saying…to watch body language to realize it’s a jest…to catch the double-meaning of the word play…and to respond in kind.  It is lighthearted playfulness that sets the mood for improved communication and building mutual trust and understanding.

I also value my daily quiet time with God for how it helps build relationship.

Similar to the lead line work, a daily quiet time can sound stifled and unspontaneous.  There have been times in my life when the discipline of a daily quiet time became something of a dry, legalistic chore.  I understand why some may struggle with such a commitment.

Like the lead line training, though, it is all a matter of attitude.  I now view Our quiet time as a time of intentional communication, where I practice listening and responding to the Holy Spirit’s cues…a time of getting in sync with His movement…and a time of building my confidence in Him and in my ability to hear His voice.

Good communication requires intentional focused listening…and important relationships are worth investing the time and effort to improve communication.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Over-Trying

The trainer called him training-resistant…said he forgot everything he’d been taught from one day to the next…said he advised selling him and buying a better prospect.

I decided not to sell him.

There was just something about him.

Partly, it was his excellent pedigree.  Largely, it was his sweet nature…his soft eye…the way he acted like he genuinely enjoyed human interaction.  Mostly, it was recalling how when we first brought him home it was obvious he had never been lead-line lunged, yet it took only a few minutes to have him walking and trotting smooth circles around me.

In short, I didn’t believe what the trainer told us, despite his credentials.  The trainer’s professional testimony didn’t match my own personal experience with this particular horse.

So I decided to take on his training, myself.

Now, after six months working with him, I feel I have the right to my own opinions of this horse’s sweet nature.

He’s definitely not resistant to training. In fact, he’s super smart and very eager to please.

In theory, that should make him really easy to train. However, he still manages to challenge my very amateur training skills.  I have no doubt he’s a great horse…I often question whether I can become a good leader.

We occasionally have days where everything seems to click and I find myself riding this wonderfully responsive majestic creature. Those days I truly feel I’m holding his feet in my hands as we smoothly transition from side-passes to counter-arcs and back again with a 2″ slide of my calf forward and back.  Those days, we transition up from a walk to and trot or from a trot to a lope on nothing more than an inhale of breath…then transition back down on an exhale and relaxing into the saddle…all on a loose rein.  Those days, it feels like the sky is the limit…like I’m only one ride away from teaching this horse to do anything I want him to do.  Those days are amazing!

And those days are usually followed by a day that seems a bit disappointing in comparison…where nothing seems to click quite right…where communication is a struggle…where transitions are jerky…where I have to over-cue to get the desired response…where it seems we’ve forgotten everything we learned from the last ride. On those days, the trainer’s words come back to haunt me as seeds of doubt sprig up.

Then I listen to my horse…really pay attention to his responses…and I realize. The issue is neither stubbornness nor stupidity.  The issue is a really smart horse working really hard to please…whose expectations don’t quite match my own.  He wants so much to please that he tries to anticipate what I want before I ever ask.

Yesterday we backed thru turns after stops…so today he follows every stop by immediately starting to pivot inward. When I block the turn, he starts to pivot the other direction.  When I block the outward turn, he tries to back up.  When I block the back, he side-passes to the fence to stop and relax…because yesterday we finished out the ride learning to relax standing parallel to the gate.

He’s not being resistant. On the contrary, his every move is an attempt to do what he thinks I want…before I have a chance to ask for it.

He definitely remembers yesterday’s lesson!

This is not a poor memory issue.  This is an issue of miscommunication and mismatched expectations.  He remembers enjoying the smoothness of yesterday’s ride as well as I do.  And after thinking about it overnight, he has resolved to do even better today, by doing what I want before I even ask for it.  But what I really want is for him to respond promptly and smoothly when I asknot before I ask.

At this point, I have a choice. I can get frustrated at his seemingly erratic behavior, tense up, and try to straighten him out by over-cuing everything.  He, in turn, will likely respond with confusion and frustration of his own.  He will become tense, making learning more difficult, and we’ll wind up finishing the ride on a bad note, both baffled by the other’s behavior.

Or, I can laugh! I can lighten up, recognize his attempts to anticipate for what they are, laugh at the miscommunication, and appreciate this wonderful animal for his good-natured willingness to try to please.  I can set the mood for lightheartedness and joy…and he’ll respond with softness and grace.  The ride may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And that’s a lesson I can carry into other relationships.

When frustration mounts, I can choose, instead, to laugh! I can lighten up, recognize the miscommunications for what they are, and appreciate the other person for who they are.  The moment may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And I suspect my Heavenly Father often laughs at my miscues just as I laugh at my horse’s misguided anticipated moves. How often do I persist in doing what I think will please Him when all He really wants is for us to enjoy time together as I learn to listen and respond to His ask?  How often does He choose to lighten up and laugh at my miscues, while appreciating my willingness to try and my desire to please?

How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all the day,
And by Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And by Your favor our horn is exalted. (Psalm 89:15-17)

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

First Impressions

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A convenience store I frequent recently hired a new employee.  She looks to be in her early twenties…around the age of my daughters.  She has multiple face piercings and a purple punked-out hairdo. The first time she waited on me, … Continue reading