Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Fixing Me, Not the Horse
In the past, I’ve worked with trainers who are quick to call a horse “bad” or “spoiled”. When I first bought Silk, she was very high-strung. The trainers who were at the barn where I boarded her always blamed my horse for things she did “wrong”.
There was a list of problems that they tried to correct. She would refuse to do a flying lead change, even though we knew that she could do them beautifully. She would sometimes buck when they asked her to lope. She hated to be lunged on a line, but she was well behaved without one in the round pen. They would warn me that I had to be tough with my horse and “fix” these problems before they escalated.
It took a couple of years of feeling frustrated and worrying that I had bought more of a horse than I could handle. Then, one day, I started thinking about how amazing Silk was. For the first ten years of her life, she never was allowed to run or graze in a pasture. She had been abused by one owner. The next owner admitted to me that she “lunged the crap out of that horse” before she had the nerve to get on Silk. I realized that it was remarkable that Silk was still as well-mannered and good to me as she was. If I were her, I would be really mad and not even let any of those crazy two-legged creatures on my back.
I stopped trying to “fix” her. I began to appreciate all the things that she did well and tell her how wonderful she was. In fact, I told anyone who would listen. I got rid of the trainers who had those “bad” attitudes. I found ways to allow Silk to do what she enjoyed, including eating grass and running around with other horses. Instead, I worked on “fixing” myself. I learned to ride better. I became less fearful and trusted Silk more. I didn’t get mad at her, no matter what she did. I questioned what happened to cause her to react as she did, not blaming my horse for anything. Was there something I could do to help her feel better or understand what I wanted more clearly? Silk calmed down. People who knew her couldn’t believe it was the same horse.
So now, I’m trying to take a similar approach with Siete. I’ve never trained a young horse. I want her to enjoy learning. She is very trusting, but also tries to challenge people. I need to help her be respectful and not do anything dangerous. As I work with her, I find that I often compare my reactions to what Siete does to the way I relate to my 12 year old daughter. They both should learn to be kind to others and to know how to be safe. They are beautiful blank pages, and I must remember to “fix” myself before I make any marks on them.