Step by Step

When we first brought Knockout home 3 1/2 years ago, he was a bit hesitant about trailer loading.  So, trailer loading was one of the very first things we worked on.  It did not take long for him to become confident and even eager to load up.  For the last three years, he has been a super easy loader with no issues.

Until lately…

Across this winter, Knockout has become increasingly hesitant about loading.  It started as a small thing…just a slight hesitation at the trailer door on a dark night.  I started going in front of him to lead the way and bolster his confidence, which seemed to help.  However, as time passed, he started hesitating even with me leading…and the hesitation became much more than momentary.  I was always able to get him to load, but it sometimes took several minutes.

Now, I am usually quick to address issues as they arise.  Far better to deal with minor issues than to wait and let them become major issues.  However, with the protracted rain and cold through the winter months that just hasn’t happened.  Most of the winter trailer loading was to visit the farrier, usually in the dark, cold, and wet…usually running behind schedule for our after-work appointment.  So, I would make a mental note that we needed to spend some time addressing the issue within the next few days…but the time never came…because the rain and cold virtually never let up.

So, last week when I unloaded Knockout at a local roping practice, I took the time to work with him a little.

I asked Knockout to back a couple of steps, stop, then come forward a step.  Then back one step, stop, and come forward two steps.  We did several minutes of simply going back and forth, one step at a time, inside the trailer.  Initially, when Knockout backed, he wanted to turn his head to look behind him, but I asked him to face forward and look at me, instead.

Finally, I backed Knockout to the very edge of the trailer and signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He responded by going all the way out of the trailer…which is not what I asked for.  So, I asked him to load back in the trailer.  We went back and forth, one step at a time, a few times, then I again backed him to the very edge of the trailer, where I again signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He stepped off and I signaled a stop.  Knockout stood still with his hind hooves on the ground and his front hooves in the trailer while I petted and praised him.

Next, I asked Knockout to step his hind hooves back in the trailer.  He did so without moving his front hooves forward, so he was just sort of teetering on the edge.  I praised him then asked him to step his hind hooves off again.

We repeated that a few times, then I asked him to go ahead and back all the way off.  Then we loaded just his front hooves on and backed off again.  Then we loaded him all the way on, walked to the front of the trailer, backed all the way to the edge, unloaded his hind hooves, paused, then unloaded his front hooves, backed out of my way so I could get off the trailer, and called it good for one lesson.  We saddled up and enjoyed the practice.

Later that evening, when we got home, we repeated the same lessons at home before feeding and turning out to pasture.

So…why did I handle the lesson this way?  What was the point of the step-by-step back and forth both on the trailer and at the trailer edge?  Why did I ask him to face forward and not look behind himself while backing?

To understand the reason we have to understand the source of the issue.  Knockout’s refusal to load was not stubbornness or defiance.  He was not being disrespectful or willfully disobedient.  Knockout’s issue was a lack of confidence.  He felt unsure of going inside that dark trailer, and the longer I let his fears go unaddressed the more fearful he became.

The solution to overcoming his fear was to build his confidence in me, in regard to moving inside the trailer.  I asked for the fine control of one step at a time, because that requires Knockout to really focus and pay attention to me.  When he’s paying attention to me, he has more confidence in me, and his fear of circumstances just sort of dissolves.

Likewise, I asked him to face forward and not look back while unloading, because I want him to place his total trust in me and learn he can trust me to direct his feet and to let him know when to step down.  So long as he is looking back, he is relying on his own instincts…including his instinct that the trailer is a scary place.  To move past his fear, we needed him to place his total trust in me and to focus his attention on listening to me one step at a time.

See, the solution to overcoming Knockout’s fear is to replace his fear with faith in me.  And the best way to help him increase his faith in me is to let him practice trusting me and finding me faithful by putting him in a situation where he has to trust me to guide him one step at a time.

Looking at it from Knockout’s perspective, I was asking him to remain in the scary circumstances much longer than necessary.  I could easily have simply let him unload from the trailer and gone about our business.  However, if I had done that we would have missed a really good learning opportunity.  He would have been out of the trailer quicker…but would not have learned to trust me to direct his steps…and the next trailer loading would have been a much more stressful and lengthy process than necessary.

Whether Knockout realizes it or not, staying longer in the trailer and working through his trust and confidence issues was for his own good.  He has become a braver, calmer, more trusting horse through that process.

Isn’t this similar to how our Heavenly Father teaches us to trust Him?

I can think of numerous situations in which I asked God to address a difficult situation.  In nearly every case, God allowed me to remain in that situation much longer than I would have liked.  However, through that situation He was faithful to remain with me and direct my steps.

Most of the major learning experiences of my Christian walk have been things I have learned during these difficult situations.

Walking thru a divorce, single parenting, and child custody battles…walking thru the closing of a company where I had been employed over 20 years…walking thru cancer diagnosis and treatment…

Each of these was a very trying situation and in every one Jesus proved Himself as my faithful friend…not by removing me from the situation…but by walking with me thru the situation…guiding me one step at a time…teaching me to trust him…helping me learn new perspectives…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24 KJV)

God is such a faithful friend!

Hot Wire Authority

Knockout and I finished checking cows, then swung around at a lope toward the corner of the pasture to check fences. Slowing to a brisk walk, we entered the woods trail paralleling the back fence line.  At the corner, we turned north, continuing our ride through the woods until we crossed the creek to ride through the gate to the front pasture.

Coming out of the woods, we recrossed the creek, then picked up into a trot along the west fence line. Seeing a small tree branch on the hotwire, I cued a stop and dismounted.  Dropping the reins to ground-tie Knockout, I walked over and tossed the limb into the woods on the other side of the fence.  Knockout stood quietly as I gathered the reins and remounted.  Uncharacteristically, he started moving before I was settled in the saddle.  So, I cued a stop, backed him, and asked him to stand quietly a moment before continuing our ride.

Two fence posts further along, the wire was off an insulator. Again, we stopped and Knockout stood ground-tied as I inspected the fence.  Since the wire was not sparking against the steel post, I knew it was safe to touch the wire…and something was wrong with the charging unit.  I replaced the wire in the insulator and reminded myself to check the battery and connectors.  This time, Knockout stood quietly as I remounted, and he awaited my signal before moving on.

Next we dropped down a steep bank for our third creek crossing. This crossing is my favorite and Knockout’s least favorite.  The creek bottom lies about ten feet below pasture level with steep banks on each side.  A few weeks ago, Knockout avoided this crossing, but now he takes the steep decline in stride.

Just on the other side of the creek, we stopped again to replace the wire on another insulator and to check the charging unit. The battery was dead, which explains the fence condition.  I made a mental note to make sure we replace the battery before dark, then remounted to continue the inspection.

Riding through a pine thicket, I noticed the top wire was sagging low between several posts. So we continued to the end of the electric fence where I again dismounted and left Knockout standing ground-tied.  Walking over to the corner post, I started untwisting the end of the wire as Knockout calmly nibbled a clump of grass pushing through the thick carpet of pine needles.

Once the wire end was free, I started pulling it tight. As there was quite a bit of slack going down several fence posts, it took a bit of tugging to get it pulled tight.  About the time I got the slack out I caught movement from the corner of my eye.  Turning my head, I saw Knockout eyeing the fence as he sidestepped away.  Glancing back, I realized this section of fence had several long strands of bright flagging that were now bouncing and waving wildly around as I tugged and pulled on the wire.

“Whoa, Knockout!” I called as I took a quick turn of the wire to hold it in place.

Knockout turned tail and continued his retreat in his best quarter-horse imitation of a saddle-bred’s quick gaited walk. To his credit, he did not panic and run.  However, he was clearly uncomfortable with that wire bouncing around flapping all the mysterious flagging…and was distancing himself from the source of his discomfort.

I had to move fast to catch up! Fortunately, Knockout stopped and let me scoop up the reins.  I backed him vigorously a few steps just to remind him he wasn’t supposed to walk off while ground-tied.  Then we returned to finish the fence repair.

I stuffed the end of the rein in my hip pocket, leaving both hands free to work while still keeping the rein close in case Knockout walked off again.  This required Knockout to approach closer to the fence than before…which he was pretty hesitant to do.  I just hung in there asking until he stepped close enough for me to work.

I finished securing the fence wire without further incident.

With the fence repair completed I turned back to Knockout. “Now, let’s talk about this wire and flagging that got you so distressed.”  Holding his rein in my left hand, I gave the wire a vigorous shake with my right hand.  Knockout backed to the end of the rein and braced as I continued shaking the wire.  After a couple of seconds, Knockout softened and took one step forward.  I responded by immediately stilling the movement of the wire.  I praised Knockout, then did it again.  We did that a few more times until Knockout would stand calmly before stepping toward the wire while I vigorously shook it.

Then we had a little talk.

“Knockout, you have every reason to fear that wire when I’m not with you. Yes, you know from experience that touching an electric fence results in a very unpleasant sensation.  I’m glad you know that.  I’m glad you know to stay away from the fence when I’m not with you.”

“When I’m with you, though, it’s a completely different deal. That fence won’t hurt you when you’re with me.  I have authority over that wire.  It only carries a charge when I tell it to carry a charge.  When you’re with me, you can trust me to know whether or not the fence is charged.”

I remounted and we rode home.

As we rode, my words to Knockout echoed through my mind…except different…in a still small voice…

“Joe, you don’t need to worry about everything going on in the world. Yes, American politics is going crazy.  Yes, the country is increasingly divided.  Yes, the number of mass shootings is escalating.  Yes, terrorist acts are increasing.  These are all reasonable things to be concerned about.”

“When you’re with Me, though, it’s a completely different deal. I have authority over all these things.  I have authority over sin and death.  Nothing can harm you without My permission.  When you’re with Me, you can trust Me to care for you.”

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)

Yes, Jesus!  You have authority. Thank you, Lord!

Confidence

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Last week I spent some time helping our 2-year-old stud colt, Archie, learn to back off a trailer. I taught Archie to trailer load when he was about six months old, so we could trailer him to vet and farrier appointments.  He loads with no issue and seems perfectly relaxed riding in the trailer.

However, he absolutely refused to back off the trailer. That big backwards step off a sheer drop scared him to death and no amount of coaxing would convince him to try it!

Archie is currently small enough, and our 3-horse slant trailer is larger enough, that it has not been a big deal to simply let him turn around and unload forwards. However, at some point he needed to learn to back off.

The issue was lack of confidence.

Stepping off backwards into an unseen abyss is scary business. I feel the same way reaching blindly for a ladder rung to climb off a roof.  Archie lacked confidence in his own ability to back off the trailer…and he lacked confidence in me instructing him to back off the trailer.

So, last week we spent some time doing confidence building exercises.

I started by backing Archie down the pond levy. Once he was able to back down the steep embankment without too much hesitation or dodging sideways, we moved over to a concrete slab where we first backed off a 2 inch drop on one end, then backed off a 5 inch drop on the other end.  Once he was acting fairly confident backing off the slab edge, we moved inside the trailer.

I was so proud of how well he backed off the trailer! He did great!  All he needed was some smaller steps to build his confidence to help prepare him for the big scary trailer edge.

I totally get it! I often struggle with confidence issues, too.

Over this past year I’ve been working a lot with our 5-year-old gelding, Knockout.  When I first started working with Knockout, he was a very frightened young horse who spooked at everything and was ready to bolt at the drop of a hat (literally).  Over time, his confidence improved to where we were doing trail rides together and hauling to different arenas to expose him to more environments.

Then I decided to take Knockout on our Spring Break family vacation for a week of trail riding in the Texas Hill Country. This was a big test!  It would be Knockout’s first exposure to a lot of new things, including group trail rides over steep rocky trails through mountainous terrain.

To prepare Knockout, I had him shod and began riding him on the gravel roads near our house. At every opportunity, I threw a saddle bag with a couple of water bottles behind his saddle and we set off to explore the country roads and trails together.  While riding those trails, we practiced transitions, stops, and departures at walk, trot, and lope.  We practiced side-passing, turns, and laterals.

Through that trail riding training, Knockout and I began to really work as a team. I became more confident in our ability and he became more confident in me as a leader.  As the scheduled vacation approached, I told my wife that although I wasn’t positive we would have no issues, I felt confident we would not encounter any issues we could not overcome together.

Spring Break arrived and Knockout did great! He took to the mountain trails like an old pro, calmly leading through dense forest cover on narrow trails and calmly following over steep rocky grade.  When leading, he stepped out on a long swinging walk on a loose rein, without much trouble.  When following we kept a decent space between himself and the next horse, slowing to match the leading horse on a loose rein.

I was so proud of him!  🙂

But there was this one incident…this one scary incident. It wasn’t Knockout’s fault…it was all on me.  It involved loping my young horse with other horses while he was carrying heavy full saddle bags…and the heavy saddle bags flopped up and down in rhythm with his loping…miscuing him to a faster pace.  It had to do with my totally forgetting the saddlebags were even there.  It had to do with my totally misreading the situation…and subsequently mishandling it.  It had to do with my own fear of out-of-control speed.  Misunderstanding Knockout’s miscue…thinking he was a totally panicked runaway for no reason…responding in fear, myself…I bailed off.   I was wearing a helmet and I wasn’t injured…just a few minor scrapes from the coarse prairie grasses.

But my confidence was shot!  🙁

Logically, I explained to myself how none of this was Knockout’s fault…which I knew to be true. Logically, I reasoned that the same could have happened with any horse.  Logically, I consoled myself that it was a simple error on my part that was perfectly understandable…especially for a novice horseman.

But emotions don’t concern themselves with logic.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to ride. However, all my rides stayed within the constraints of our arena…and stayed at a gait of walking or trotting.  I didn’t ride outside the arena and I didn’t lope.  Each ride I would tell myself this time I was going to lope…and each ride ended for one reason or another without a lope actually occurring.

Eventually, I had to admit to myself that, yes, I was avoiding speed.

And the worst of it was, I know my horse tends to respond to my emotions. When I’m unsure he’s more likely to be unsure…more likely to spook…more likely to bolt…which is exactly what I was scared of to begin with…  Yikes!  Talk about a downward spiral of negativity!

Then I began training Archie, the 2-year-old…and I thought about Archie’s confidence issues and how we overcame them. I continued to work with Archie on things that were new to me.  I continued to work with Knockout on familiar transitions, stops, departures, and laterals at a walk and trot.

Finally, this past Saturday, I was working with Knockout in the arena at a fast trot, when he spontaneously rolled up into a lope…and I resisted my instinct to tug back on the reins…forced myself to keep the reins loose. We loped two or three big circles…and I relaxed a bit.  Then I asked for a stop by sitting deep in the saddle (still with loose reins) and Knockout responded with a big sliding stop and two steps back.  Then I asked for a canter departure…and followed that up with about 20 minutes of practicing transitions at walk, trot and lope.

I was elated! I realized Knockout was still the same horse he was before the saddlebags incident.  I had lost confidence in us…Knockout had not.

What a faithful friend!  🙂

The next day, Knockout and I rode the gravel roads near our house again.

Confidence is a funny thing. It takes time and effort to gain confidence, yet confidence can be lost in an instant.  Lack of confidence can be paralyzing.

So how do we regain confidence? By intentionally testing the relationship in small things.

For Archie, that meant learning to back down slopes and small steps before trying the scary trailer edge again.

For me with Knockout, that meant working with Knockout on smaller things while I rebuilt confidence in my leadership and in his response, before tackling my fear of speed head-on. As Knockout continued to prove himself faithful in small things, my confidence grew.

I’ve faced much worse things in life than an unplanned dismount from a horse. A failed marriage and subsequent divorce…custody battles…a cancer diagnosis…death of close loved ones…the list goes on…

Some of those life events hit me hard, shaking my confidence. Some temporarily shook my confidence in God and His love for me.  Others shook my confidence in my ability to hear God’s voice…or my ability to correctly interpret scripture…or my ability to wisely discern a situation or relationship.

So how do we overcome a loss of confidence in these larger life issues?

The same way. We test the relationship in small things. We spend time with God.  We follow His direction in small things and witness His faithfulness…as we learn to trust Him in the big things.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

What a faithful friend!  🙂

 

Have you ever lost confidence?  How did you regain it?

 

Jay-Jay’s Story ~ Life in a Polygamist Separatist Extremist Mobile Compound

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Jay-Jay was born and raised in a mobile compound, out in the desert, by a polygamist group of separatist extremists.  His father, the compound director, preached a separatist position toward all their neighbors in nearby towns, and frequently moved the … Continue reading