One beautiful Phoenix morning I left the ranch to pick up a new horse. Her owner wanted her fit and shown in halter class. After a few minutes working with the well-bred yearling filly, she loaded in the trailer and I chatted with her owner for a few minutes before heading home.
She asked me, “When are you going to clip her?”
That isn’t the first question new clients usually ask. I wasn’t surprised because no one could get near Lady J with clippers – or much else. The filly was drop-dead gorgeous and a little nuts. You could drug her to clip and trim, but those short cuts wouldn’t get her trained to haul from state to state and show in conformation classes.
Folks knew I worked with problem equine children kindly and effectively. I still do. Other trainers, without the time or inclination to work with horses that didn’t fit their regular training routines, often referred the exceptions to me. I thrived working with difficult horses, which was one reasons why I specialized in stallions.
My most valuable teachers were and are special needs horses. They taught me the foundations of working with any – and I mean any – horse. From foaling to breeding shed to the World Show, I worked with most ages, temperaments, and personalities. The beautiful and unique Lady J came to my barn because the only other trainer the owner trusted wouldn’t take her.
I answered the question, “I’ll clip her when she lets me for no other reason than because I ask.”
Teaching the Finger of Faith
A few minutes later another unexpected question popped up.
“Are you going to teach her the finger?”
I didn’t know what she meant. The finger? The first thing I thought of was flipping someone off, something I’ve never done to this day.
“What do you mean, ‘teach her the finger’?”
“You know, when you hold your finger up so the horse doesn’t move.”
Faith – a Product of Habit
Habits are interesting things, particularly the ones you aren’t aware of. I didn’t realize that I held up my right index finger in what most would consider a shush gesture. It’s a reflexive bit of communication I used without thinking. That finger told the horse to quit fidgeting, and focus on me, while the judge walked by or around. Once the horse settled, the finger went away.
“I never thought about it, but yes, I expect Lady J will learn the finger like everyone else.”
This really pleased Lady J’s owner. Maybe because it wasn’t invasive and was a quiet, powerful signal even stallions obeyed.
Quiet Persistence Pays Off
Lady J is unlike any other horse I worked with. She learned to clip willingly, stand squarely anywhere (because we practiced everywhere, even next to earth-moving equipment), hauled to several states, learned to be a saddle horse, and was eventually sold. I made sure the new owners knew all her idiosyncrasies.
There’s no timetable for special needs horses or people. Special needs horses have a history or other limitation. Boldness is a byproduct of faith. Faith is the result of keeping your promise that “nothing will hurt you or surprise you.” Faith grows when it is tested, extinguishing fear because it’s more powerful.
Faith Produces Peace
For thirty years, I’ve had automatic fly-spray systems in my barns. Four equine facilities, four installations. I put the first one up myself by clinging to a ladder in the bed of the pickup. Now professionals fill the fifty-five gallon drum and service the brass nozzles and quarter-inch tubing.
Changing nozzles requires a tall ladder because tubing and nozzles stretch at least ten feet above the horse stalls. Most horses don’t think strangers should put horse-eating folding ladders into their bedrooms, much less climb on them. Most horses would object or panic.
My horses believe nothing will hurt them because that’s what I promise and so far, I’ve kept it. Never make a promise you don’t intend to keep – no matter what. Faith comes from promises kept. What would happen to your confidence in eternity if Jesus broke even one of His promises? Game over.
Faith is Never a 30-Day Wonder
Faith doesn’t happen overnight. Instant faith is either misplaced or the result of something BIG. Coercion promotes fear. Hope and promises without follow-through never build faith. It strengthens when tried, tested, and proven true. Faith is constant, reliable, and binds your horse more closely to you than anything else.
The more consistent you become in how you relate to your horse, the more normal horse reactions, fears, and emotional outbursts become shadows. Once your horse believes that you control the factors affecting his life, you become the most important element in it. Focus on you becomes his habit, curtailing natural fear.
Focus is a big thing. If you know God is at your right hand, nothing can move you. All is well. When I walk into the barn, I expect all eyes to seek me out and stay fixed on me until I leave; even when I’m not planning to do anything at all with a horse.
Faith is a Gift
Faith you create from your own power is powerless. My faith comes from God, knowing beyond a doubt that everything He promises will happen, that He is who He says, and that He has the power to change eternity. The trust my horses have in me begins with me.
Hooking a finger through the noseband of a halter with gentle pressure in your direction is a tiny bind. The moment your horse yields her head into the pull, stop asking. Let her go, tell her she’s smart and beautiful. Do it again. Ask for a little more bend. The instant she yields one iota, let her go. Eventually you’ll progress to rein pressure, leg pressure, and seat cues.
Faith is Progressive
Faith grows every time you apply a little pressure and your horse finds the release. Training progress leaps into overdrive when your horse learns that she has the power to get out of the bind, motivating her to look for the place of perfect peace, and removing any reason to fight, bluster, or fear.
Faith is being put in a bind, knowing that a place of freedom waits. All you have to do is look for it. It’s there.
“In the midst of the awfulness, a touch comes, and you know it is the right hand of Jesus Christ. The right hand not of restraint nor of correction nor of chastisement, but the right hand of the Everlasting Father. Whenever His hand is laid upon you, it is ineffable peace and comfort, the sense that “underneath are the everlasting arms,” full of sustaining and comfort and strength. When once His touch comes, nothing at all can cast you into fear again.”Oswald Chambers
This is the touch your horse craves.
Related post: From Pressure to Perfect Peace – Horses and Christians