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Your Attention, Please!

Your Attention, Please!

By Betsy Kelleher

We’ve all heard the joke about using a two by four to get a mule’s  attention, right? Well, there is some truth here: it is always advisable to get  the attention of man or beast before trying to communicate!

When we first got Lady, my Tennessee Walker mare, she seemed very  attentive while we brushed and saddled her. She stood quietly in the indoor  arena the whole time without being tied. With someone on her back, she was not  as quiet and attentive and I couldn’t understand the sudden change! Dennis Vogt  in Jerseyville was having a Tuesday evening training session the next day, so we  loaded her up and went to ask for his advice. It was a pleasure to watch him  work with her and it helped greatly to see how she worked for  him.

Dennis began with ground exercises before riding her. I remember him  turning to us at one point and asking, “Do I have her attention?” And we quickly  answered,   “No!” Of course he was demonstrating an important lesson. He then got  her attention back before continuing. He used both movement and sound to keep  her attention, slapping his thigh or waving his arm, often giving a strong vocal  signal to communicate disapproval, and sometimes pulling on the lead rope strong  enough to make her move where he wanted. Other times, he circled her around his  body, using his elbow to help influence her movement. He also demonstrated that  you need to keep control in case your attention-getting maneuver receives an  unexpected response!

Thinking back how Dennis worked with Lady that evening, I find myself  wondering if all “boss mare” types need special training in listening to their  riders. My first horse was also a lead mare and I didn’t have her attention at  first, either. Perhaps the “bossy” mentality in itself needs to be tamed by  learning both trust and respect for the human master. After all, someone is in  charge, and it's either me or my horse. For those of us who aren’t inclined to  be forceful and who believe in ”natural” horsemanship, it is a challenge to take  charge of such a critter!

Part of Lady’s lack of attention to her rider was surely due to her  adjustment to new surroundings. She had been with us only one day when we first  rode her in the indoor arena. I realized later that she had probably never been  in an indoor arena and there were certain noises she did not yet understand.  Once on the trail, she was very attentive and obedient. A horse needs to learn,  however, to always listen to its rider, to prevent certain situations from  becoming dangerous.

Even when riding a familiar trail, a horse can easily become distracted  by some object ahead, or movement, and we may not notice. We give a cue, but the  horse may not be listening. We need to be watchful, and to know our horse and  what might be frightening or distracting to him, in order to stay in charge. It  does help to try to understand things from the perspective of this particular  horse.

If my horse is frightened of  something up ahead, and I’m not paying attention to where his attention is, I  could be unpleasantly surprised by his sudden decision to turn and run, for  instance. But if I see that object ahead, and I realize my horse’s attention is  on that object instead of me, I can work to get his attention back, by asking  him to do some simple task. I can ask him to walk around a tree. I can talk to  him in a soothing voice and use a little leg pressure and rein control to direct  him. I can ask for a shoulder in or a side pass maneuver. I just need to be  aware he might not ”hear” my leg or rein if his attention is on something else,  and perhaps a stronger cue is needed.

While riding, you can practice keeping your horse’s attention in many  little ways: a touch of the leg or rein, your voice, a pat on the neck, even  shifting your weight. Keep in mind, however that too much movement can become a  distraction in itself. Don’t overdo your demands. If your horse is working well  for you, then reward him by not confusing him with unnecessary kicks and bumps.  If his attention is wandering to that spooky big tree stump along the trail  ahead or that cow standing by the nearby fence, however, it may help to ask for  easy little tasks to get his attention back on you. I also recommend reading  Chapter 4, Bombproofing Strategies, of  ”Bombproof Your Horse” by Sgt. Rick  Pelicano.

When trainers like Buck Brannaman or John Lyons hold clinics, they  usually work in a round pen. They run the horse around in circles until they  have his attention, and they work to convince the horse they have control of his  movements. Getting a horse’s attention is the first step in training or in  communicating any request.

God sometimes has to get our attention, too, before He can communicate  with us or teach us an important lesson. I think He has been working on me for  several weeks! After a few inconvenient tests which have disclosed nothing more  than a healthy person’s insides (and I am thankful for that!), I still  experience reoccurring pain with a source that has not yet been identified. Yes,  Lord, you are definitely getting my attention!

For one thing, I’m trying to be more faithful with my daily Bible reading  and prayer times. I’d like to share a timely quote from the “In Touch” magazine  by Charles Stanley: “Sometimes a need in our life, whether it is physical,  spiritual, relational, emotional, or financial, persists because the Lord is  trying to get our attention. He wants us to focus on Him so that He can correct  our thinking. He desires that we experience abundance, but He knows we cannot  enjoy blessing until He has been allowed to work in our life.”

Just as a trainer can’t successfully work with a horse until that horse  decides to pay attention to the trainer, God cannot teach us until we seriously  pay attention to His word and allow it to influence our day to day living. What  will it take to get our attention? A serious illness or a  tragedy?

In Psalm32:9 (NIV), the  writer warns us, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no  understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to  you.” He continues in Psalm, 33:17-18, “A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;  despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on  those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing  love...”

Whether we find ourselves in familiar surroundings or encountering  fearful new circumstances, it’s good to pay attention to the “Master Trainer.”  God may be trying to get our attention so He can work miracles in our lives. He  can help us through any situation He is allowing us to face. We only need to  learn to focus on Him more than our circumstances. We need to take time to just  sit and pray and wait on His answers. We need to listen for what He is trying to  say to us and to let Him lead us to a better understanding of the tremendous  difference He can make in our lives. After all, He is our Creator, our Savior,  our loving Father and Protector and our indwelling Guide.

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