What a horse taught me today about conflict resolution, communication, and relationships

I may be married to a cowboy, but I’m a novice horse rider myself.  Horses and I have had absolutely nothing to do with each other until the day I started to hang out around Andrew.  And now, horses are my livelihood and my future.  However, amidst the business of our lives, today constituted my second ever horse riding lesson.

My husband has been training one of our horses, Shiloh, for almost 3 years now, and she’s is as broke as broke can be.  We put all the young children on her.  And me.  I’ve ridden her more than any of our other horses, and I’ve ridden a fair amount.

As I warm Shiloh up today, I realized that her and I really don’t have any kind of connection.  Honestly, she bugs me.  She is never respectful to me like she is to Andrew.  Just the other day, she tried to run me over in order to get to the hay bale that was behind me.  When I ride her, I have to spend the first 10 minutes proving to her that I do indeed know how to take charge.  She’s always so quick to try to get away with being lazy or not listening to my cues.  It really gets old and obnoxious.  But truly, for the big part, she does really good.  Today, I just realized that she does good not because of her relationship with me, but because doing good is what Andrew has trained her to do.

So I prayed to be able to establish a better relationship with her.  So instead of being irritated when she is bratty at me or when she isn’t doing what I want her to do as smoothly as I know she would do for Andrew, I tried to be patient and nice.

And that made a difference to a small degree.  I recognized that I wasn’t on edge, ready to swat her and put her in her place.  So that was positive for our relationship I thought.  The biggest difference came from learning how to Shiloh needed me to communicate.

During my ride today, Shiloh was having a really hard time standing still.  So I was making her go back to where she was before she would move, like Andrew taught me, but she would kick her head and throw a little fit.  I was trying to correct her behavior when Andrew happened to come out passed the arena and said, “Try not pulling so hard on her face.”

“I’m not pulling hard on her face.  I was pulling harder right then because she keeps throwing her head, and I was trying to correct her.”

So Andrew had me ride her around in a small circle, stopping frequently and having her hold still.  He showed me how to use my leg pressures better to keep her from going side to side, so that was an easy fix.  He also showed me how get her to give into the reins better instead of her fighting them in order to face the barn where she knew the food was.  Finally, he taught me that I was indeed pulling too hard on her face.

He had me ride in a circle and bring her to a stop, but to pull softer.  I did so.  He then asked me to get off.

“She’s really easy on the mouth,” He explained as he climbed up into the saddle. “Most really broke horses like her are.”  He held the reins with just the back of his pointer finger.  “See, I don’t have much pull holding the reins this way, but watch how easy it is to get her to stop.”  He pulled softly, softly.  She stopped.

“Wow, yeah that was way softer than I was doing.”

Climbing down and handing me the reins, he said, “Yeah, it’s a really difficult concept to teach people because they think they aren’t pulling very hard.”

That was me.  I didn’t think I pulling hard.  But obviously Shiloh thought so.  I thought she was just a brat, not wanting to do what I asked because I wasn’t Andrew and she knew I was still a beginner.  I thought this was a respect thing, but it was a communication thing.  And it was a my-fault communication thing.

The rest of the ride went smoothly smooth.  All because I learned that I was pulling too hard to tell her what to do.  In the language of the reins, I had essentially been yelling at her, when she was happy to comply to just an easy request.  Can you imagine how annoying it would be for someone to be more loud and aggressive than necessary about everything they asked you to do?  No wonder she throws her head and has tantrums while I’m on her.

For two years, I believed that Shiloh was a brat and didn’t like me, when in reality, I failed to understand how she worked and how to effectively communicate with her.  I simply didn’t know that my way of communicating was the source of her irritation, not me as a person.  I wonder how many other of our issues stem from me not understanding proper communication…Leave it to a horse to reiterate the importance of understanding my contribution to the problem and what I could change instead of focusing so much on her contributions and what she should change.  Such a selfish and one-sided approach kept me blinded to what the real problem was, which in turn, kept us both away from the real solution.

I think this qualifies me to move up from novice to experienced rider, eh?


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