He’s Running | Facing frustrations in horse training

I haven’t moved in minutes. 

The cold is painfully pinching my toes. A breeze brushes my coat – thankfully it’s not a strong wind. I hate standing still, especially in the winter. But it’s what I have to do right now.

Because he’s running.

He has been since I led him into the small pasture. Snow has white-peppered his black legs, mane bouncing with his stride. I can hear his breathing – an even tempo with the dull pounding of his hooves. 

Really, he’s doing a beautiful 10 meter circle at liberty. If I was asking for it, I’d be quite pleased. But that’s the whole problem – I’m not asking for it. In fact, I’m not asking for a darned thing. 

And still, he’s running. 

His inside ear is on me, but I know he’s not thinking about me.

He thinks he is – he thinks he’s doing everything right. He assumes he knows all the cues I’m going to give, so he’s running instead of waiting for orders. Because that is how he feels in control.

Even loose in our make-shift arena, he’s bracing against me. Which means I’ve got to do the opposite of what he’s expecting – nothing.

And it’s driving me nuts. My instinct to intervene makes my muscles ache. I could ask him to slow down, even though I’m pretty sure he won’t listen. And that’s why I can’t ask; I need him to want to listen. Because he needs to realize he doesn’t have to work right now. He doesn’t need to run.

He just needs to slow down. 

This could take a while

And since I’ve started, I don’t feel like I can quit until I finish. But the sun is blindingly bright on the fresh snow and my toes are bloody cold. And the kids are in the car – cozy, thank goodness – watching Go, Dog, Go on the laptop. Still, I hate making them sit too long-

He just slowed to a walk. 

Instead of feeling relief my tension becomes deafening, like loud static in my brain. This is it, we’re getting closer. And one wrong move could send us right back to the beginning.

I’ve got to end this well. Remember to breathe… 

Then he stops. 

I didn’t even see it coming – I have to strangle my surprise. He’s still edgy and keeps looking at me, searching for an excuse to go again. And if he decides to run again, I can’t do a thing about it.

So I wait.

Then he lowers his neck and huffs out a breath. There it is, the release. And the tension quiets to a peaceful hum, so I walk toward his shoulder to pat him. “Good job,” I say.  “Now how about some breakfast?”

Frustrations are real

I once asked a horse trainer if she ever felt stumped. Like she reached a point with a horse where she just didn’t know how to progress or what to do next. Her response: a deadpan “no.”

It was a lie.

After a year and many hours of working together, I got to watch said trainer experience the frustrations I’ve felt. The only difference was, she felt them on a smaller scale because she had more experience than me.

In leu of that, I decided to share a snapshot of my thoughts during a session with my horse. Because we all feel frustrations. But we can train well despite them.