With sore hands, a sore brain, and a sore heart, I kept the pressure on the rope. I knew if I let go I would be teaching the wrong thing to this pretty, not so little draft cross, reinforcing his turn and run behavior. But if I held on... I would be no better than a slave master forcing a horse to bend to my will when he clearly had no desire to do any such thing. I was literally at the end of the rope, holding on for dear life and, metaphorically at the end of the line, trying to decide if what I was doing was moral and just.
In a time, nearly one hundred years ago, forcing a horse to do what you needed was just life as we knew it. We needed horses. They had a purpose with us. That also meant they had to do their job well and without too much fuss when it came to training. Horses that didn't fit the mold were tossed aside or forced through more radical means. But today, we don't need horses in the same way. Sure there are still pockets of people who do need them for farm work or business, but most of us need them for a completely different, but some would say, equally important and valid thing. We need them for psychological reasons instead of physical reasons. We need them to bring us back to nature and away from tech. We need them to bring us joy. But this horse brought me no joy. This horse brought me to the end of the rope. A place where the old me had to die, and a new me could live on.
He finally yielded to the rope. He gave his will to me. I was in control. I held on and my hands healed but my heart did not. Not yet anyway. I knew there was a better way. I teach better ways, but this horse tested everything I knew. He tested my patience, my persistence, my timing, my feel. He tested my knowledge and skill at every turn. He came to me with baggage. He'd been abused by ignorant owners and he did not forgive them, nor anyone who came near him. Humans were bad news and I was no different. No amount of skill I could conjure cured him of his distrust for what humans might do to him. He wouldn't let go, wouldn't let me in until finally, one fateful day where we both met the end of the rope.
What follows is what I believe we both learned...
He learned he must yield. He learned there is no value in resistance. That there would be no peace until he gave up. He learned that he no longer governed his choices at the same level. The good thing is he learned that I care about him more after he yields than before. (This is the same with people too. We seem to care more about them after they fall in line than before they do.) He learned that he could trust me not to kill him, but he must always comply. Was he happier, calmer, more docile in general after yielding? I believe so. Was he more suited for human environments? Definitely. Was it necessary to go to that breaking point to make the difference? Maybe.
What I learned is that patience and persistence are paramount to get past that breaking point. But I also learned I didn't like doing it anymore. I never wanted to force another being to bend to my will. I did not need this horse to be my slave, to give me joy. I needed him to stop giving me pain. I needed to win. And when I won, I broke down. I saw that how I won wasn't fair. I saw that trying to be quick and get through hell together, wasn't fair. I could have made it through if I gave my self more time. I could have taken a year instead of a week to get that point in his trust with me.
As a trainer of horses that aren't mine I understand that I have to teach the horse to comply for the owner spending money on the project, but as a human at the end of the rope, I met my spirit that day and my spirit said to tell this story. Be vulnerable for your audience. Don't judge people, just open your heart and let people judge for themselves what to do at the end of their own rope. My heart says to let the animal take a slower road to learning. My heart says double down on my bonding efforts so they balance out the training. My heart says that if I ask so much... I should give more.
The reason for this article is that I want you to know I've been where you are. If you've ever struggled to hang on or let go... I've been there. If you've ever wondered if you should push harder or wait longer... I've been there. So you're not alone, and there is no judgment on right or wrong. We are all just people doing the best we can.
Thanks for reading. Comment if you care to share your own thoughts.