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 ask…not 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)