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The Lady Is A Teacher!

The Lady Is A Teacher!

By Betsy Kelleher

I enjoy a horse that is eager to go where I want to go! My Tennessee Walking Horse mare, Lady, is like that. She moves briskly along at a smooth running walk, and she is easy and fun to ride. She needs to learn a few things, but I find that she is quite a good teacher, herself!

For instance, I am learning to have more patience. With Traveller, I open the trailer door and say, “Get in there!” He usually walks right in. With Lady, it takes a little coaxing and a little waiting, and it definitely takes a strong hold on the rope! But I have found that quiet patience works best and the job gets a little easier each time. I am quite certain that she may soon load as good as Traveller (well, almost).

I am also learning to be more flexible. For example, if I turn Lady out and she wants back in, I may put her back in her stall or take her out for a bite of grass or work with her in the arena. I don’t tie her unless I am going to be close by, or she will paw. She doesn’t like being turned out alone, so I put her with Traveller or Sammy…but not with both at the same time. She often squeals when she first goes out with one of the geldings, and Russ says she is simply asserting herself as the “boss lady.” Both geldings seem to understand and they keep their distance.

I am learning to accept things as they are. That means I can ignore Lady’s pawing at the gate without throwing things at her. When she squeals at Sammy, I can smile instead of getting worried about someone getting hurt. I must clean her stall quickly, however, because she may soon want right back in…even though she obviously wanted out the minute she saw me in the barn (I’d rather clean her stall than Traveller’s any day!). If I put her out in the small pasture alone, she will keep coming to the door and looking in to see where I am. She loves attention! No, Russ is right…she demands attention! And she loves her stall (she knows it has a snack in the feed pan and a flake of hay waiting).

Because of Lady, I am learning a new attitude toward working with horses. Maybe I’ve been with calm, easy Traveller so long that I was getting complacent and careless. I am learning greater awareness and greater sensitivity, especially when looking for things that might bother Lady. She will accept a yellow plastic flag waved all around her, but she will jump sideways entering the arena if someone has left the white plastic chair inside! But then she will go right over to it and smell of it, unafraid.

Russ is learning, too. When I first put Lady out in the little pasture, she wouldn’t come in and I had to go get her. One day Russ stood at the gate with his piece of carrot, and waited. She walked around, eating a bite of grass here and a bite there, getting closer and closer, finally coming to him. Without realizing it, he was following the philosophy in a book I am reading. “Horses Never Lie…the Heart of Passive Leadership” by Mark Rashid is a bit different and quite interesting. Instead of being the forceful “alpha” leader we’ve always been told to be, this trainer works to become the leader that other horses choose to follow because of trust and respect. By the way, I never have to go after Lady anymore; she always comes when called. In fact, she seems a bit perturbed when Sammy makes it through the door before she does!

Some horses feel uncomfortable with an “alpha” human taking control. Sensitive horses (including mares) work better from a cooperative, positive relationship. Like a woman, a mare responds better when she feels loved and appreciated. Instead of taking charge with forceful assumptions, it’s better to first ask what the Lady wants! Not that you have to give it every time, but it is best to take time to listen and understand before going ahead.

Lady and I had a serious discussion early in our relationship about walking through a certain doorway. It is a narrow entrance with a cement floor, a solid wood wall on one side and a stall on the other with wire mesh above wood. It is the perfect doorway for practice for trailer loading. I had taken her this way several times, but one day I asked her to enter the doorway without me while I held the lead rope…then I asked her to stop halfway thru and back up. She did all that willingly, but refused to go through again, pulling me in the direction of her stall. Of course, I had to have my own way (Russ observed it was like two lead mares butting heads!). I spent half an hour getting her through that doorway. Keeping a tight hold on her reins to lead her on, I coaxed her until she gave a little. At first it was just a leaning forward. I immediately released my hold and petted her and praised her. After a moment, I put the pressure on again until she took a step forward. Fifteen minutes later, she had progressed two steps. When I could sense that she was going to pull back, I held firm with all I had. Luckily, when she found I wasn’t giving in, she took another step, then walked on through with me. Victory does feel great…and I’ve had very little trouble with that doorway since!

I have recently realized a special insight. Putting it into words is like trying to visualize images emerging from a fog...clarity comes slowly. But somehow, I feel a coming together of things I’ve heard, things I’ve seen, things I’ve felt…and once again I know in my heart that God has been in charge and He has a purpose!

Lady is at the center of it all. When Russ fell in love with Lady at the horse fair, maybe she was meant for me all along. She is definitely an “alpha” mare, sometimes unpredictable, but not as nervous as I first believed…or maybe she feels safer now in her surroundings. She is a terrific trail horse with a wonderful, loving personality. Traveller is getting older and can’t do as much as he used to, especially in the heat. And Lady has been a challenge…which I may have needed at the moment.

Someone suggested I take time to just be with Lady, to watch her and get to really know her by how she acts. With any new horse, you establish a relationship first, then work on whatever issues the horse may have so you can safely ride where you want to go. I can’t make her not be a mare, but I want to help her stay calm, and I’d appreciate her being less pushy! She hasn’t yet been exposed to many things she may encounter. Being “boss mare” has great responsibility…perhaps she could relax more if she let me take that position!

Because of Lady, I am working to control my emotions. With Traveller, it didn’t matter if I was a little nervous or in a bad mood. With Lady, it does matter! I feel calm with Traveller, because he is usually calm. The last seven years with Traveller has helped me to relax. But with Lady, I need to be calm and confident in spite of her…to be a gentle master she can depend on, like God is for me. Many times, when I have been anxious or afraid, God whispered quietly to trust in Him and it calmed my nerves and gave me courage. I need to help Lady have the confidence to depend on me. I’ve read that it’s good to feel love toward a horse when approaching him or her. Horses do seem to know a human’s attitude and it does affect the horse’s behavior! With Lady, I don’t have to pretend…I really do like her.

Did God bring Lady into my life for a special reason? Perhaps to remind me how much I need to depend on Him? Psalm 46:10 has the key…to “be still and know that I am God,” is to wait on Him, depend on His strength and His Sovereignty, to be quiet and calm and trusting in His guidance. I want to have a quiet, confident authority with Lady, but I can’t influence my horse without having control of myself.

We can make a difference in our horses…with understanding, with knowledge and skill, with the right attitude and patience and with a genuine loving kindness within us that they know and trust. God can make a difference in our lives, too…if we allow Him to work in us. When He becomes our Leader, and we trust His love and wisdom, we will find the peace and security of being in His care.

As I work with Lady, I know I am working also on myself. Without the self-discipline to change myself, I can’t change her. I will mention another book I recently purchased, “It’s Not About the Horse,” by Wyatt Webb…”It’s about Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt.” I highly recommend this book!

I often hear Russ say, “I’m glad we got her back. I think you need each other.” I am very glad to have her back, too and I’m glad she has a forgiving nature. She seems more relaxed…or maybe it’s the ginseng. Even as I continue to work on her “issues,” however, I have the feeling that she is still the “boss lady!”

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