I love great training articles. I love reading about the successes people have in their training and how they achieve it. This isn't that kind of post.
Sometimes we just need to call it a day. Not all training sessions end with that warm fuzzy feeling you get when the stars align and all seems are right with the world. I was working with my friend's 3-year old the other day, and I have to admit, I started out pretty confident that we would have a good session because our last few had gone really well.
We have a decent amount of snow on the ground and I was working in the round pen. I was laboring to move my feet through the deeper spots and work the young horse around me. She is just wearing the saddle and getting comfortable at the different gaits with it on. She was reluctant to move, and obviously having the same trouble I was. So here's where I went wrong.
I should have stopped when she first showed signs of frustration, but I didn't. I kept going, working even harder to bring up some life in her unwilling legs. At first, she just stood there and looked at me. I swung my rope around in an attempt to get movement from her. She didn't move, so I clucked and tossed the end of the rope towards her and she lazily walked away. So, I applied more pressure and she took off at a trot. Success! Not exactly.
She went about half way around and promptly turned her butt toward me and came at me humped up and ready to kick. Again, I should have stopped. Instead, I decided that I would just simply not let her get away with that sort of behavior and I pushed her off again with my swinging rope.
There are moments as a trainer when you just don't get it right. I hesitated sharing this because I am sure there are people who would have done it differently and are happy to rip me apart for my short-comings. On the other hand, I believe we all learn from our experiences and it just isn't fair when we never hear about the failed attempts along the way. I want to be transparent in my horse dealings and I want to share the bad with the good. I think it's important that others see that every horseman makes mistakes. What matters is what we take from them.
I continued in my efforts to get her to move and she continued to show me how much she hated it. Meanwhile, I was working up a sweat of my own trying to move through the snow. Did I listen to the horse, or myself? No, why? Because, it was the first decent temperature day we had had in a couple weeks and I was on a mission. Had my mission been to exhaust and frustrate myself and the horse, I would have succeeded. I continued this way for about 20 minutes. She tried to tell me to stop. She backed up and offered to kick. She never actually kicked out fully, but the warning was clear. Finally, I was too tired to keep going, so I quit. She just stood there looking at me with this pathetic look on her face. In her eyes, I had just pushed her over the limit and she was huffing and tired and so was I. We left the round pen and headed for the barn.
I decided to let her stand tied and think about how naughty she'd been while I cleaned stalls. At one point, I asked her to step to the side so I could get around her and she humped up her butt and offered a kick at me. Obviously, she didn't think I had learned anything, so she continued to try to teach me. I was furious! I yelled at her and used the end of the stall pick to move her over, so I was out of harms way and could get around her. I would love to say that I have endless patience and that I am always loving and kind and only do the right thing. That just isn't true. This particular day, I had caused myself to be frustrated and mad and pushed this little horse into the same.
Before you judge, let me share the rest of the story. I left the horse alone for that day and pretty much blamed her for the horrible session we had in the round pen. I told myself that she was just “in a mood” and that young horses are not consistent. I consoled myself with all the excuses I could find, until the next time I worked her. I put her halter on and groomed her and talked to her about how today was a new day and we were going to be nice to each other. It hit me like a Mack truck! I suddenly realized I was the sole cause of her actions. I had pushed and caused a fight when it didn't need to happen at all. She was having the same trouble I was moving her feet. I was bossy and pushy and she returned the same.
Horses are a mirror of us. We get back from them what they see in us. I didn't have to turn my back to her and threaten to kick, my body language said as much and she just mirrored it. You may have heard the saying, “there are no bad horses”. I believe this to be true and I have seen it all my life. I know that my attitude invoked the attitude in this young horse. I am not proud of myself for pushing her to the limit and I am not going to promise it won't ever happen again, but I have deepest desire to learn and continue to be a student of the horse. I will take my lessons and do my best not to repeat the same mistakes. Fortunately, horses are very forgiving animals. Our very next session was in the lines for the first time and she was a perfect a horse as I could ask for. She listened and gave to the lightest of pressure. She never once offered her butt to me in defense. My energy was calm and forgiving too. She mirrored it beautifully.
For the record, I use natural horsemanship methods and have been training and instructing for over 20 years. I am a constant student, however, and am in no way perfect. Even though I know better, some days I just don't do right by the horse. It's my ultimate goal in life to do better and to have a beautiful working partnership with every horse I have the privilege of working with. I appreciate comments and feedback, but please do be kind. It may not seem so from this article, but I can assure you, this is one bad day amongst a great deal of very good ones. Thanks for reading! I hope in some way you learn from my experiences and become a better partner with the horses in your life.