Maintaining Positive Expectations
I’d been working with Crystal, a four year old Walkaloosa mare, for more than a week. She was a near-leopard the color of tomato soup with a flaxen mane and tail, built like a tank, and possessed especially large, expressive eyes that showed the white sclera typical of Appaloosa breeding. Crystal was taught to pull a cart as a long 2 year old, and was worked in the round pen and lightly trail ridden as a three year old. Though still green, a good foundation had been laid by my assistants, and after a winter’s lay-off I looked forward to developing her as a reliable and responsive riding horse.
It is my habit when schooling horses to end a training session on a positive note. Sometimes this means backing up to an earlier, easier lesson on days when new material is frustrating the horse. Crystal, however, seemed determined to challenge my authority, and refused to work cooperatively on lessons she had easily mastered in the past. I was not only impatient, but her willfulness was creating mistrust. No longer a youthful, agile rider – and out of shape after a long winter – her attitude made me reluctant to mount up and ride. After several frustrating sessions in the round pen, I finally decided it was time to give her a real job. As I approached her with the saddle, she cut a disdainful look at me, as if to say, “Yeah, right!” Ignoring her body language, I tacked up, trying to hide my nervousness from this all-too astute horse.
Unfortunately, Crystal didn’t surprise me. When I cued her to walk, she planted her feet and refused to move. Stronger cues resulted in attempts to back up – always a bad sign, as it is a possible precursor to rearing. Rather than push this big mare too hard, I began to work her on a plumb rein, asking her to walk in circles, first one way, then the other. This usually will create a softer response from the horse – but as I feared, Crystal was the rare exception. She responded to my cues to soften and bend by quickly whirling around, trying to unseat me. Though I don’t believe in bullying horses, this mare was really getting my dander up!
When she continued to act cantankerous under saddle, I dismounted and put her back to work in the round pen. I pushed her hard for nearly a half hour before finally allowing her to rest. Though she eventually cooperated and obeyed my cues for direction, speed, and gait, I could see she did so only under protest. She was as ticked off as I was, and it showed in every line of her body and expression of her eyes. I feared Crystal, who had been born on my farm, out of my best TWH mare, was not going to be the honest and reliable saddle horse I had so eagerly anticipated.
After untacking, brushing her impatiently, and turning her out with her herd mates, I walked back to the house feeling frustrated, angry, and discouraged. Her misbehavior played itself out over and over in my mind’s eye. Soon I was creating even worse scenarios, and picturing myself getting hurt by this big stubborn animal. (In truth, I had already been doing this since her initial misbehavior started – but by now the imagined mishaps were growing more gruesome.)
In the house I listened to soft, meditative music, which calmed my thinking. As I prayerfully considered the events of the past several days, it occurred to me I was inadvertently setting Crystal up for failure, and not the other way around. As an older rider I had diminished confidence in my ability to handle a problem under saddle. I was fearful of getting hurt, and entered into the training relationship with that fear as a guiding factor. In effect, I was expecting trouble – and horses possess an uncanny ability to read our facial expressions, voices, and body language. In truth, I believe spiritual communication transpires between horses and riders (and all living things), just below our level of consciousness.
As a Christian, I understand if we have faith a certain event will occur. . .it usually will. This is true whether our faith is for something positive, or something negative. In another context, this is “The Law of Attraction” at work in every area of our lives. From the moment I first started working with Crystal, she was aware of my fear and mistrust – and simply responded according to my expectations. In order to work successfully with Crystal, I needed to change my expectations, and the tone of our relationship.
The next day, rather than working her in the round pen as I had been doing, I gave her a long, luxurious grooming. I spoke softly to her, and then took her out on a lead line to graze on lush grass. I leaned into her big body, enjoying her warm horsey smell and the opportunity to share time with her on such a lovely spring day. I told her what a good girl she was – and recalling how easily she had come along in the past, I was able to speak from the heart. Then I turned her out, and was pleased when she hesitated to leave the gate. She evidently enjoyed my company.
Over the next few days I spent a lot of time with Crystal, and each day she appeared more eager to spend time with me. We took long walks together at first, and then I hooked her up to long lines, and long-lined her around the farm and up the dirt road into the nearby trail system. She responded perfectly to every request. I enjoyed my time with her, and my expectations for her became much more positive. By the time I decided to ride her again, I was eager to mount up. Not surprisingly, she fed on my confidence, and proved to be the talented and willing student I had hoped for.
This experience demonstrates it is often not our circumstances that need to be changed in order to experience improvement – it is more often our attitude toward our circumstances that dictates the final outcome. Spending time reflecting on positive experiences and events, expressing appreciation and gratitude for those things in our lives that enrich us, and expecting the Lord to honor our faith and prayers, will eventually turn trying events around to our favor.
Especially during these trying economic times, this is an important lesson to remember.
He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. Luke 17:6 (NIV)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2Timothy 1:7 (KJV)