The first day I practiced with Tank I realized I was simply moving too fast. I wasn’t watching him closely, and I was pursuing my own agenda without regard for him. Since he had done so well with the clinician, I expected he would do the same with me. Ha! Apparently he wasn’t convinced I was a worthy leader, and though he is a very gentle and kind horse, his attitude was basically, “Make me.” Out the window flew all my hopes of zipping through the games and showing off with my super responsive horse.
You talkin' to me?
Aside from learning about my impatience, the other important things I’ve learned include:
- Pay attention—both to Tank and to myself. What is Tank’s body language saying? Is he paying attention to me? How do I feel? Am I tired? Distracted? In a rush? If I’m not wholly present, how can I ask Tank to be? My attitudes and feelings will be reflected in him.
- Slow down. Don’t expect he will respond to me as he does to the Parelli clinician who has years of experience working with horses in this way. It may take me a few tries. This is not a race. I’m not trying to get my horse to do tricks—I’m building a respectful and trusting relationship, in which he views me as his leader. I came to see a successful session as one in which I was sure I had clearly and firmly communicated what I was asking of Tank, whether or not he responded “perfectly.”
- Try something different. If what I’m doing isn’t working, try signaling it a different way. And if something really feels off, take a break. Let Tank graze, or watch my friends work with their horses. Go back to it if I feel like it. We’ve had some very successful sessions this way.
To quote John Strassburger, performance editor for Horse Journal (a sort of Consumer Reports for horse owners), “With horses, the reward comes from the journey with them, not just from reaching a destination. The fun comes from figuring out and developing the horse as an individual and as an athlete. The fun comes from the relationship we develop with those horses and seeing them mature, progress, and (if we have them long enough) to become senior citizens” (“Invest in the Horse, Not the Destination,” March 2010).
The Parellis often say this is not a system of training horses; it’s a system of training people. I’m beginning to see what they mean. I now realize what I’m learning here can be applied to every area of my life: Paying attention, slowing down, trying something different…and most importantly, enjoying the journey.