The famous 'Come to Jesus meeting' with your horse by Don Jessop

The famous 'Come to Jesus meeting' with your horse by Don Jessop

January 21, 2020 1 Comment

Don Jessop

There is a time in every horse's life where he or she says, unequivocally, "NO! I won't do this!"

It's more than a mere hesitation formed out of fear. That kind of resistance is fairly easy to spot and even easier to solve. Just need a bit of patience and time and most fear issues will be sorted out smartly. But occasionally, there lies in the horse, a deep seated resolve to make a stand and say, "NO I won't do this because I don't want to and you can't make me!"

There are often, elegant and subtle things you can do to get past "no" and into "yes." Even in extreme situations, you can often take things slower, for instance, or support in different ways that discourage escalating negative behaviors.

And then there are times when there is no elegant way to advance beyond "no" without sheer determination, persistence, keen observation of position and technique, and will power that is stronger than the horses. Because everyone intuitively knows that backing down to challenges day after day, only makes the relationship weaker.

In a parent/child model of leadership, the parent must help that child enjoy learning and day by day encourage positive behavior with high, light energy, lots of fun, and huge rewards. But every once in a blue moon, the parent must help the child experience winning over frustration and self resistance in the face of perceived discomfort. I call these special circumstances, "the famous come to Jesus meetings." 

This happened to me earlier this month. It happened when I asked a new horse in training to go forward into a new area while I walked behind with two long lines (a nice way to simulate riding and steering control before you ride). He didn't want to go, not because he was afraid to go... we'd already been to that same area many times before without resistance. Only before, we did it with me leading from the front instead of driving from behind. When it was his turn to lead he resisted my request and said, "NO!"

Skimming over the twenty-minute conversation that ensued:

When he said, "no," I said in response, "yes please, with sugar on top?"

Then he said "No and NO!!!"

Then I said "YES please, this is important!"

Then he said "NO, NO, NO*#^%!!!!"

Then I said, "YES and NOW!"

And then he said "OK fine!"

With my perseverance, he made it through and then he got lots of rest and time to graze. The total conversation lasted about twenty minutes. He escalated his negative behavior several times but I didn't get mad or scared and I simply kept asking, each time with more intent and clarity and rewarding any sign of progress until finally he yielded completely and said "yes" instead of "no."

About ten minutes later, after resting and rewarding heavily, I asked him to perform the same transition again, and he said, "You bet, no problem!" 

At that point I knew I could quit for the day and put him away with a huge reward!

The above conversation with my horse is what I call a 'come to Jesus meeting' because in my Christian household when one of us kids would act up, my parents would lovingly sit us down and lay down the law about what is and isn't allowed based on biblical and other household rules. These conversations were rare but added a great deal of clarity in our youthful experiences. 

With a horse, this kind of conversation can happen any day, and we're all grateful that it doesn't happen everyday because working with horses would be too emotionally charged if it did happen every day. The question is, what do you do about it when it happens to you? What do you do when your horse says, "no!"

Do you back down? Do you say, it's not worth it? Do you put it on the "some other day" list? Or do you step up as a leader and say, this doesn't kill either of us, so let's get this done now, as safely as possible, so we don't have to fight this forever?

I understand that different people, circumstances, and horses all require different approaches. I'm sure you do too, but if you've had horses for any length of time you've probably had one of these meetings. I'm curious about you.

Tell me about your last 'come to Jesus meeting' with your horse where you successfully navigated his or her negative behavior... comment below.

And by the way, if you haven't successfully navigated some form of negative behavior. Call me and let's get through it right away 406-360-1390. Your first coaching call is free.



1 Response

Stella Brake
Stella Brake

January 27, 2020

Don Jessop articles ive come across are amazing and duplicate my feelings….also learning from the same stable of thought so to speak is immensly reassuring when you need to learn more….. Im tired of trying to learn horsemanship / riding with people who rush compete and shoot their horses when slightly lame….it hurts me…and has affected my confidence being surrounded by such hasty competitiors on the yard im on….all raising eyebrows at my ‘slowness’ of being with my horse Harry. We have an amazing evolving bond on the ground….and on him he looks after me…. my dearest wish is to do a walk trot test for leisure and fun on him. He is wonderful.
I need to rebuild my confidence to achieve this. Ive had Harry for 4 years (one of which he was lame the whole year) its taken a year to heal…hes fabulous now….and all they want is to get their hands on him…its horrible being a novice or early rider….im not really novice but i tell myself i am …amongst those who are compeititors….or competitive beyond their abilities i have seen here….
they ruin good horses…..im not there for that….
Harry and I have fantastic conversations….he understands my words and totally does anything i ask on the ground. I want tolearn to ride him properly….but thejealousy from the yard is clouding my confidence…. the owner of the yard talks and tells other liveries…..and she actually WANTS my horse and mutters things like….‘I will when hes mine’ when i asked if she would ride him in a walk trot test….she knows how much i want to learn to ride him yet shares no skills of how to ride him with me. Im guessing. my guess work he does everything i ask!! which is amazing.
he stands by the block takes me to the block to get on and off…. during the ride if its too fast he slows….automatically hes wonderful at 16.,3HH of dark bay irish sports horse…..our relationship is something else.
Can you guide me in any way how to regain my confidence …..from surrounding influences…. they keep saying stuff like youve had him four years ….and tut at me…its horrible but in those four years we have developed well two of which like i say he recovered from severe lameness from an injury in the field…
the first year i was too scared to pick his hooves….. now i can do ANYTHING with him , i just say thankyou to him and he moves over i dont need to prod or poke him…
Im so passionate about what we now have and its beautiful…
i want to progress as good leader for him….and find my way to riding him well…instead of constantly doubting myself and wondering.

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