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.
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)