Horses are excellent teachers…if we choose to be excellent students.
Over the years Popcorn has taught me many things.
From the first day I met him I knew I admired his strong, confident nature.
But that hasn’t always made him an easy horse.
There is this word that starts with ’s’ that has been used about him…
…and about me.
While some may see this as a character flaw…I prefer to see it as a challenge.
Stubbornness is the cousin to many other more sought after emotions; determination, persistence and even patients. Although I admit these are all slightly different flavors.
Popcorn provided me with many lessons but the clearest illustration I can relate comes when I was teaching him to lie down.
The method I use involves no ropes. No force. That was the deal I made with myself (and I’m stubborn so there is no changing it).
But it also allows the horse to make a choice.
They can either stand in a position like the horse in the model ‘the end of the trail’ (head down, all hooves close together)
or they can lie down.
Most horses quickly decide that it’s easy to lie down. And they do.
But not Popcorn.
Every day for over a month I would work with him on this. I would move him and position him…and wait.
And every day for over a month he would outwait me.
I could see him almost choose it…
…and then decide against it.
Eventually, I moved on to other things.
I wasn’t going to break my rule and force him.
And he wasn’t going to choose it.
We were at an impasse.
Every once and a while, I would ask him again.
He consistently declined.
Probably a year (maybe more) after Popcorn and I had begun this process, I had him at Equine Affaire in Ohio and I was teaching. The subject was ‘Teaching your horse to bow’ and Popcorn was really good at bowing.
As the demo wrapped up I had Popcorn in a bow. His left knee was on the ground and his head was tucked beautifully.
I was explaining that although he would bow, he was being much more stubborn about lying down. As I was explaining it…almost as if it were on cue.
Popcorn decided to lie down.
With all the people.
In a strange place.
Without me asking.
I swear that horse understands English.
It was as if he said.
Now I’m ready.
And as a student of the horse, I credit Popcorn with teaching me patients…with a side of humble pie.
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One thing Ginger has taught me is that it’s okay (even advisable) to make things easier if needed. For example, at one point I wanted to be able to back her in-hand without direct pressure. At first I tried using the Parelli “yo-yo game” – standing several feet away and wiggling the lead rope to get her to back; if necessary, I would add voice. Her head would go up and she would look unsure and sometimes try to step forward; when she did back, it was usually just a step or two. By then, my arm would often be tired from wiggling. So I decided to make the cue more familiar. I stood a couple feet in front of her shoulder and pointed at the spot I usually apply pressure to. If nothing happened, I added voice and finally touch or halter pressure. She chose to back much sooner and kept her head relatively level. I never moved as far away as previously planned, but today she will back without a halter on. A few weeks ago I was a few feet ahead of her shoulder in the paddock, facing her, and merely looked at her shoulder with a slight forward shift of my arm and clear intent (no words) and she backed readily.
Another example: When we first tried round pen work, my round pen was set up in a grassy field. I reasoned that if my cues were compelling enough, Ginger would move. And anyway, I’d seen photos of pros working horses at liberty in grass, so it must be possible. Well, apparently it is possible…for pros. My beginner efforts succeeded only in moving my grazing pony approximately one step every 30 seconds or so (or maybe that was the next bit of tasty grass…). After maybe four sessions of this, I gave in and had my dad box-blade the pen. With all grass gone and Ginger now able to focus, starting a conversation became much easier.
My horse has taught me that anything is possible with patience and persistence. She went from a skiddish little thing to, 4 years later, letting me crack a whip off her back. She thinks of it as a fly, and hardly flinches. How? Well, she forced me to be patient when she trotted away from me when I went to catch her; I was rather frustrated until one day an older experienced cowboy told me that horses don’t do things for no reason. After that, I could catch her without fault, putting to use haltering her everyday until she stood there and took it. Lessons like this got me there.
To be in the moment. Often I am going a million miles a minute trying to keep all the plates spinning, multitasking and doing things to just get it done. My horses have taught me to stop and smell the roses, be present and mindful. Mindful of not only them but myself. Sometimes it is a soft and sweet reminder like resting their head on my shoulder but sometimes its a “HEY PAY ATTENTION” kick in the butt. Grateful for whatever that reminds me to take a look around and be thankful.
It is tough to pick one. I would say communication. Listening to him – know what I am saying; am I saying the same thing, am I saying it clearly and consistently each time; am I asking too much of him too fast, do I need to break it down into smaller clearer asks.
Definitely patience. Ask, and wait while they figure it out, especially the babies.
To breathe with others, to sniff the air, to listen, deeply listen to voices, to experience their emotion, to speak sparely but with truth, to hold back judging and just pay attention, and to sometimes “roll on the ground” to release tension. I do a lot of work with homo sapiens. Becoming “civilized” is an ongoing assault on our sensory development. A few minutes thinking about times with Arnold, Rocky, Pacman, Whizard and all the others, especially the babies, always helps. Not to mention the things you and Jessie taught me about listening to the horses.
I know those horses! Lol…
Ok, I think my horse Cash and your horse Popcorn are bros. I’ve been trying to teach Cash the laydown for YEARS. I catch him doing it and reinforce that, and I know HE knows what I want him to do. I’ll will continue to be patient 🙂
My horse has taught me patience. That it’s ok to go slowly. That it’s ok to take our time. She has helped me realize I’m the only one doing any comparing, and that’s not fair to her or to me. She’s helped me be ok with going one step forward and two steps back. And that sometimes we excel and sometimes we need to work harder. But ultimately she’s taught me that everything we do is about communicating with one another.
Took 5 years for Leon to teach the dressage seat out of me and put a saddle seat in…..
Horses have taught me to be in the moment and present. I’ve learned the hard way to pay attention to their signals and to heed the warning signs. While I am not always happy for the result, I am grateful for the reminder to pay closer attention to what they are saying.
(ok let me try this again).. Logan has taught me TRUST. I have had him since he was 6 mos. old He has become my life long partner. Over the years he has taught me to trust him and I have learned to trust him through so many encounters we have had. He could of run me over, stepped on me, run from me, had been scared enough to run away.. but he always has watched and trusted. Last year we were riding near Malabar Farms and after dismounting him and trying to get out of a “sticky” situation he fell off a river bed bank. He fell into a pool of water on his back. I tried to find a place to get down to him but the entire time I just kept talking to him and telling him to stand up,.. stand up, buddy. By the time I found a place to climb down to him he was standing. He turned around and saw me coming to him, he shook himself off and started walking toward me. (Any other horse would of spooked and taken off–fear/flight thing..) I stripped him of his saddle and bridle, checked him over and then found a place I could get his soaked saddle and pad –( a trial in itself!) back up the embankment. He followed me back and forth and then up the embankment! And stood there and waited and waited — I was a mess! — I love this horse. About an hour later I saddled him up and he took me back to our trailer.
He is so trustworthy — he stands untied to be tacked or untacked, do not need to crosstie in the aisle, and is very patient with the grandchildren and is very careful around them. Yes, he respects me and the grandchildren, he has taught me to trust — I have learned to watch others actions like he has me all of these years, and then you learn to trust. Logan has taught others to trust him too.
Logan has taught me trust. I have had him since he was 11 mos. old and over the past 23 years he has been my partner. There have been many occasions that he has been standing right at my side and he could of taken off, stepped on me; but he never has disappointed me when it comes to trust. or he could of hurt himself hurt himself in trail riding situations we have encountered but he trusted me. We were riding on trails near Malabar Farms. He fell off a river bed into a pool of water and he fell a good 20 feet. It took me time to find a way to get down to him and hoping I would find him OK. Finding my way down, I talked to him, encouraged him to stand up, and he did. Now, any other horse could of/ would of taken off out of fear. But Logan stood there, shook himself off and waited. By the time he saw me, he look and turned into my direction and started walking to me.. (love this horse). We were both a tad nervous, stripped his saddle off him and he stood there in the water with me and acted like this was all part of the routine. By the time I threw my saddle and pad — soaking wet –( that was a trial in itself) — he followed me back and forth to the place I could get the saddle up the ridge.
I can leave him untied by the trailer when I am tacking up or untacking, I can take him to the aisle of the barn and leave him to stand while doing other things — he just knows and respects and trust — he has taught me to trust others who respect me, the way he does. He is this good with my grandchildren too — he just knows..
I have taught several horses how to pull two wheeled carts. What they all told me was they were not comfortable in a driving bridle with blinders. They didn’t like having their field of vision restricted. So I just used the regular bridle they were accustomed to and attached the driving lines. They could see and were happy with their new task.
Horses have taught me to WAIT. Give them a cue and WAIT for them to respond. Some people cue their horse and then PUNISH it if somehow it doesn’t respond instantly. Some horses are just slower to “get it” but once they do they are happy to comply and will do so as instantly as they are capable of…if you WAIT until they “get it” the first few times. I think in this push-button age we treat them like machines/devices sometimes.
It’s difficult to chose only one lesson that Ice has taught me.
I would say three most meaningful lesson she has taught me is how to live in the moment.
To be wholly present with her when riding or grooming or training.
This has crossed over into my daily life when I find myself in a hurry “she” reminds me to slow down and be present.
Life is truly a gift.