This past summer I was asked to ride this silly boy Cooper by his owner. On this trail lesson I was also working with the farm owner riding her horse Rhett, Cooper’s best buddy and herd leader. Cooper’s owner had been working on his confidence and had varying degrees of success, even just hand walking him away from the farm had its challenges. Sometimes his balking began in the arena before they even got to the driveway. Having owned this little chestnut Quarter Horse for many years myself I understood the balance of sensitivity and leadership he required. He could really dig his heels in and just refuse to move. I felt his apprehension as soon as we left the barnyard.
During the ride he vacillated between looking behind him for the boogeyman, being jittery and accepting some calming cues from me. Once we were headed back to the farm his pace picked up a bit, clearly stating how much he wanted the safety and security of home.
About a football field away from the farm I dropped my “magic wand” in the field. I decided to use retrieving it as a training opportunity. I dismounted a bit before the entrance to the farm and clearly stated our mission to Cooper as Rhett proceeded back to the barn. Knowing this would be a challenge for him I exaggerated my language. I pointed in the direction of the whip, verbalized out loud what my intent was, and took off marching at a good clip, keeping my eyes and energy focused on where I thought the whip was. I was thrilled when he matched his energy to mine without an ounce of apprehension. Occasionally he had to pick up a jog to keep up. He did so willing with the reins remaining slack in my hand.
Suddenly he stopped. I was envisioning that the wand was still about 20’ ahead and to the left of us. I backed up a step to better align myself with him and began to request that we continue. He was squared up in front and pretty committed to not moving. That is when I saw it. The wand was lined up exactly to the right of his front legs. I promised him that we were only leaving the farm to go get the whip……….and he held me to it.
It is amazing how much horses understand us when we pay attention to our intention. Being congruent, honest, and clear is the way of the horse. They don’t know any other way to be. Amazing things happen when we base our interactions on how horses interact with one another. They are never not listening. Be honest, be clear, be a good listener and reap the benefits of a safer, calmer more enjoyable relationship with your equine friends.