“What I do know is that if you don’t fix that one step, if you let that one step become two or three or four, there will be a moment when you are out on the trail and suddenly, when you least expect it, everything falls apart.”
– Tania Kindersley, author of “Climbing Mount Impossible: A Journey to a Happier Horse”
It shocks me sometimes that I could have been such a strict mother of my four children but such a softie for Miss Tara, the horse that I am lucky to have as my work-to-ride lease. There are so many similarities between working with children and horses. The key to success in both cases is consistency because if you give them an inch, they will take that mile, thank you very much.
Ms. Kindersley reminded me of that last weekend as I was reading her very honest and challenging book on her progress with her redheaded and sometimes hotheaded horse. She talked about the importance of not allowing even one unauthorized step when you’re working with your horse. At first read, it seemed she overemphasized the point, but that’s because it should be emphasized. It’s as if the horse can think, “Well, I got my foot in the door, may as well kick it open.” Or at least Tara seems to think that way.
Last Saturday, I was busy talking to a fellow stable-hand while grooming Tara, which was my first mistake. It’s okay to have some small talk amongst friends while working with your horse, but this was a serious conversation requiring my full attention which left none for Tara. My second mistake was when I went to pick Tara’s front hoof. She stepped away from me and I let her, as I was listening to my friend. Without thinking, I took a step toward Tara, which was my third mistake since I was letting her move my feet instead of vice versa. It just went downhill from there, as she took two steps away when I went to pick her hind hoof, three steps when I went for the next one… you get the idea.
After reading “Climbing Mount Impossible,” the next time Tara tried the sidestep at the hitching post I caught it right away, saying a firm “No,” pulling her back a step and saying “Stand.” She tried it once more and I responded the exact same. She blinked at me, then cocked her left hind leg in relaxation as if to say, “Oh okay, I didn’t feel like dancing around today anyway. It’s easier to stand still.”
It’s definitely easier to correct small bad habits in their infancy stage before they grow big.