You cannot believe that your horse just WENT THERE; refusing, rejecting, back-talking or worse – releasing a boatload of adrenalin into your bloodstream and a bushel of irritation in your heart. What are you going to do about it?!?
Regroup and settle down.
There are times in any relationship when the right response is retreat, dialing back your emotions, and shaking it off. Regroup and settle down. ALL the way down.
Great horse trainers and leaders of any kind practice self-control. The goal is positive growth, increased confidence, and offering something valuable to your students or followers. Your job is creating win-win outcomes.
Leaders Never Indulge Their Emotions
Horses push your buttons. Like people. Sometimes it’s purposeful, but equine acting out is usually a simple emotional reaction to what’s happening in the moment.
“Trust me” is never as meaningful as BEING trustworthy.
I seldom indulge in emotionalism with horses or people, whether positive or negative. Frustration and anger are poor leadership characteristics. Telling your horse, child, friend, or acquaintance to “Trust me” is never as meaningful as BEING trustworthy. Acting impulsively proves us liars.
But there are times when even the most laid-back or patient person feels the slow burn of frustration speed toward the boiling point. Forty-some years ago I had an old-fashioned pressure cooker. The little rocker on top rattled around like a jumping bean on steroids as heat and tension built in the pot.
Blowing the top off a pressure cooker never ends well. The same thing happens when you blow steam around horses or anyone else. Your credibility hits the mat when you lose it. The instant you’re aware that your blood-pressure is rising, back off.
How to Handle Frustration with a Horse
A while back, I dismounted before the planned lesson was over because the horse was a complete idiot. My feet hit the dirt and I tipped toward irritation. I am shamefaced to report this, but I may even have said, “You have no idea who you’re messing with, buddy.”
While marching back to the barn for a longe line, I recognized my emotion. stifled it, and considered a more helpful response.The horse expected me to get after him. Maybe that’s what he’s used to, but it’s not my way.
I picked up my longe line and started over as if nothing had happened. We walked back to the precise spot where he behaved badly and I asked him to —
Park Emotion at the Door
I asked quietly. Calmly. Free of emotion. Except relief, that I’d caught myself before engaging in wrong behavior. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. Which doesn’t prove that I’m all that disciplined, but that God offers that much grace when we earnestly seek it.
At first the horse didn’t believe me, bolting out at an uncoordinated trottish-lope. I went back to the very first step I used to introduce him to work on the longe on day one. He walked, though he wasn’t sure I was sincere the first circle or two. You can tell how a horse feels just by looking. This elderly, too-smart-for-his-britches fellow looked uptight and skeptical, anticipating trouble.
“She’s gonna do something. It can’t be this easy.”
It was. Just that simple. The horse changed because I changed. In a few minutes, the horse who wanted to pick a fight was happy, soft, and obedient. No dust. No drama.
The lesson went longer than planned, but added strength to our foundation.
It was a good day.
The next day was fantastic.
Never Take the Bait
The next time your horse pushes your buttons, don’t take the bait. Besides, you know what follows after you swallow the bait? The hook sets.
Don’t undo all the hard work you’ve put into this relationship by reacting to frustration. Live up to your promises. Step back. Settle. Change your perspective. This is not a crisis, it’s an opportunity to prove yourself trustworthy.
“I will never hurt you or leave you. We’ll work through this like we always do.”
Faith grows by challenge, never from ease. We are called to be Christlike – even with our horses.
Let Your Horse Win
Whatever you do,
- the horse has to win
- relationship is priority one, and
- keep every promise you make.
Never react to your horse (or anyone else) in a way that burns a bridge, even if it’s only one little-bitty bridge and you have three sturdier bridges left.
Every connection is precious.
Build up, never tear down. Affirm, never condemn. The most difficult thing to remember is that change always begin with you.
When Uncertain, Use a Time Out
When your next step isn’t clear and calm, do nothing. Stop the lesson. Don’t overlook a big DISS (presumed disrespect is rarely true disrespect) and leave on a rotten note. If you can, tie the horse in his stall for a little time out.
Be sweet. Be kind. Be firm.
Safety first. Don’t put your horse in a bind that could confuse or scare him. You want him to be the kid in the corner; bored, alone, and with time to think about how he got there. Don’t add to his anxiety, but his expectation that you’ll return soon.
Both of you need a time to let emotions subside and let the thinking sides of your brains take over.
Patience is power.
Related post: Preach the Gospel by Example – Lessons from Horses
Another related post: Are You Easy to Obey?