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.