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Come to Jesus meeting with your horse

Don Jessop

Do you ever get the sense that your horse's resistance to do something moves beyond fear and discomfort and into obstinance? I always, ALWAYS, give the horse the benefit of the doubt first. In other words, I ask him or her to find comfort and trust in everything because, given enough time, any obstacle or challenge can be overcome with kind, slow methods. So, what's the point of making a big deal of a challenge, all in one day, and having a big "come to Jesus" leadership wrestling match?

Well... it just so happens, there are times when having that meeting is worth it. There is a particular kind of magic that takes place when you prove to a horse that they can in fact do what they believe they can't. 

Case in point: The other day, my new horse and I approached a very scary neighborhood puzzle. Barking dogs on one side, chickens on the other. Wind blowing a tarp covering the chicken coop, tractor implements scattered about the fence line, garden hoses coiled up like snakes, and some even slithering across the grass. A narrow concrete path, a bottleneck of sorts, between two buildings at the end of the gauntlet. That was our path forward. He'd never seen that kind of mayhem before. He froze in his tracks. Naturally, I got off and proceeded on foot through the obstacles that caused so much tension in his mind. Three times we traversed the maze and from both directions. Gradually his comfort grew, and I felt I could get back on and ask him forward without my leadership from the ground. I trusted his reactions were diminished enough to keep us both safe, and I was right. However,... he refused the task of going first. He simply said, N...O...! Again, giving the benefit of the doubt, I retraced my earlier steps. I got off, I led him through, asked him to interact with the obstacles a bit, and safely, we navigated the terrain. Once more I found myself on his back, confident, he was ready and willing to take on the course solo, without me leading him from the ground. His answer was still and empathic "NO!" 

This, my friends, is the moment we've been building toward. The famous "come to Jesus" moment. Forgive the expression, I mean no foul, it's just something I grew up with. It's that moment in time where something has to give. A breakthrough moment. To meet and win these moments, you have to hold some self confidence. My own confidence was born of the fact we'd been through this, and I had faith in him.  So, when he said "NO!" I said, "YES!" And the wrestling match began. I fought for every inch. And naturally, I rewarded every inch. (After all, if you don't reward progress toward a goal, you're no trainer, you're a dictator.) The entire meeting, from that point forward, took about twenty minutes. He'd take two steps backward and three forward, then I'd reward him, sometimes even by getting off and taking ALL of the pressure off. I'd allow him to retreat to his comfort zones and then we'd push forward again, only to gain one more inch. But gradually, we made it through. On the other side I dismounted and let him graze for about ten minutes. Then, once more, we tackled the course to ensure we understood our roles in this game of leadership. He didn't even hesitate the second time. Went right through like he'd done it a half dozen times before. Which, in fact, is exactly what we did on the ground. 

​The intensity of the day, of that fight for leadership, gave birth to something magical in our partnership. Now, even in new situations, he follows my suggestion, demonstrating trust and confidence in us, instead of his own ability to run to safety. He will hesitate still, and I'm glad he does. It means he's smart and not robotic. Then he'll check in with me and with a little support, he's always willing to listen and follow my lead. His level of confidence is through the roof because he's learned to pay attention to his rider and not just follow his instinct. 

​What I'm saying, in a nutshell, is when you have a horse that's been to Hell and back with you, you create a trust and bond like no other. You begin to trust their reactions are rideable and they begin to trust your leadership in the face of danger. I often invent situations like the one described above. I hunt for them. I seek some small amount of chaos to test our progress and grow our relationship. Done naturally, it's safe, functional, and extraordinarily valuable. I know it's something many people avoid. I have a brother who won't ever take his dogs of his property, even on a leash, for the fears built up inside his mind. That's okay. Everyone can do their thing. As for me, I like training, building leadership and confidence skills, and growing our ability to enjoy the great outdoors, safely.

There is a path, it's just that sometimes, you hit some roadblocks. I recommend finding a way through those road blocks. Have that big meeting of the minds. Take advantage of the challenge to grow your partnership. Make the big breakthroughs. When you know it's time, don't back down. Be conscious of your skills and the hazards that cause harm, of course, but don't believe the idea that you can control everything and never find yourself in scary places, dependent on each other to get home safely. That fantasy doesn't exist. Real life challenges await you. Instead of looking for a perfect window to enjoy your horse, discover your leadership in chaotic moments. Stay a little longer, breach the wall. Teach your horse to trust you in tough spots. Earn your blackbelt in horsemanship, even if it takes a while longer than you want. It's worth it! I believe in you!

Thanks for reading, can't wait to see you all again soon.
Don Jessop

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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