It's scary when a horse jump, rears, strikes, shoulders in, cow kicks, or pins his ears at you. I know because it's happened to me many times in my career. Your response to these types of threats is important, however.
Take this little quiz, tell me what your natural response is and discover who you really are.
- You're horse rears and strikes at you when you ask him to load in the trailer.
You're response to this is:
A: Smack him for doing the wrong thing.
B: Stand on guard at a safe distance, calmly waiting till his feet are on the ground, then ask again.
C: Let go of the rope and avoid future situations that could cause this behavior.
If you answered "B" you answered correctly. I'm literally asking you to stand calmly in the face of a threatening horse. But just to be clear... I'm asking you to do this at a safe distance and while staying on guard. You can protect yourself if he gets too close but there is no need to smack the horse for not doing what you want. He's just being a horse. If you let go, give up and never attempt challenging tasks, you will never enjoy the success master horseman and horsewomen enjoy.
All you have to do is outlast, out persist, and be more emotionally fit than the animal at the end of the rope. If you lose your cool, you lose the opportunity to be a leader. If you give up, you give in to the horses' fear and prove to him that he's alone and should always face real life challenges with anxiety and frustration. If you smack him for being wrong, he learns that you are too be feared, and never trusted. So all this leaves us with option B. Stand on guard, at a safe distance, calmly waiting till his feet are on the ground, then ask again.
Option B clearly set's boundaries that say, "Don't come any closer or I'll have to defend myself." But at the same time, it says, "I'm not going to hurt you for doing the wrong thing." It's like saying to the horse, "I know your finding this hard, but I'm not leaving, I'm here for you."
Option B is also the most difficult option because it requires you to go against your own human instinct to back off under pressure or push in harder to force it. You have to be conscious and emotionally fit to choose option B. But if you practice by getting in situations that are just a bit harder than normal, you will discover that you can choose option B. Even if you don't have perfect timing or technique you can still have option B.
Recently, a friend of mine engaged in trailer loading her challenging horse. For several days she avoided anything that would escalate her horses' behavior to the point of rearing. She felt if the horse reared, she was losing ground. I encouraged her to live through the rearing, just like option B, then ask again. I asked her to believe that her horse if she just persisted past the heavy emotions, would give it up and stay in the trailer as she hoped. I encouraged her to believe that the rearing and pulling on the rope is nothing to be scared of if she's willing to stand strong and defend her space from a distance. All she needs to do is outlast the horse, even if she didn't have perfect timing and control.
Two and a half hours later her horse walked into that trailer and stayed. The horse was calm, happy, and clear. She was calm, happy, and clear. And I've never been more proud of her for not giving up and not backing down. In fact, I encourage all my students to understand that the best training ground for leadership is right in front of them. It's the situations that challenge you or bore you. It's the tasks you don't yet understand fully. Take one of those challenges and learn to be patient, persistent, and in the proper position. When you do, you will become a leader.
Techniques, timing, tools, they all come in time as you develop a feel and strong inner voice that ensures you stay a leader in tough situations. In other words, don't worry about being perfect. Worry about not giving up. Even if it takes two months longer than you hoped to accomplish one simple task, don't give up. Don't avoid the hard things. This is mastery horsemanship.
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