Consistency is a great aid but do you know how it actually works? There’s an analogy I heard decades ago that has stuck with me. It involves bank accounts. You’re right; never listen to me about money, but it’s not that kind of bank account. Start by thinking that you and your horse each have a bank account of experience. For your horse it’s a reckoning of all of his experiences with humans–all the good times and all those times where he got scared and had no help. Confidence, fear, willingness to partner, and what caused pain and when rewards were given. The account is his possession. He’s the one who quantifies the contents.
Your account has all of your horsemanship experiences, including the times you were confident or fearful. It’s what you have learned from experts and how well you listen to your horse. You get extra points for patience. A tiny corner is reserved for your dreams. It’s your personal wealth as a potential partner for a horse. It’s simple. In any situation, either of you can make deposits or withdrawals. An experienced rider can help a young horse with a deposit of patience and positive training. An old campaigner can enrich a novice rider by carrying them through a rough spot. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Twenty Year Rule; for the best results the sum of experience shared by the horse and rider should equal twenty years or so.
It makes perfect sense; all of us are the sum of our experience. But there was one problem. Back then, I had a very green and spooky young horse and I wasn’t as brave and crazy as when I was a kid. Bankrupt. Neither of us had much to draw on. We had good intentions but it was an against-the-odds start. It’s a pretty common dilemma. Most rideable horses that end up in rescue have training problems, stemming from poor handling. Some riders manage to buy a well-trained horse, but without the right skills, the horse’s account is quickly depleted and he becomes resistant and sour. A rider’s good intentions can become spent on a confused horse, as well.
Seen this way, it’s a fair, impartial accounting of any situation, whether it’s a competition horse or a trail horse. Seeing a horse/rider problem as a math equation takes some of the emotion and blame out of it on both sides and that’s a great first step. Guilt and failure are negative deposits. Start now. The past is data; you can’t change that, so let it be. Horses have strong memories and if that trait is working against you, your best hope is to layer good memories on top that will eventually out-number the bad. You have to get the numbers in his favor. If your confidence is shaky, or you need a few more training tools, then make that investment in getting good, professional help and watch your own numbers go up.
Here is where consistency comes in. Horses love a routine and it’s the sacred job of every rider to leave the horse in a better place at the end of the ride than the beginning. It’s our version of First Do No Harm. Just like the stock market, horses are always moving in an overall tendency. They are getting better or worse. Long range investments have less drama and are more dependable, while others think taking their life savings to Vegas for the weekend is a smart bet. It’s a choice.
Start your ride start slowly with a warm-up that relaxes and supplies him. Reward him for being alive. Get happy. Notice him liking what you’re saying; reward that. On this one day, the most you can do is have one ride. Lower your expectations of perfecting your world in an instant. Instead of getting greedy, be content to make one good deposit.
The truest thing that I know about horses is that it’s time and consistency that trains a horse. There are no shortcuts, no get rich quick schemes that will ever take the place of a simple Piggy Bank approach. The thing we pay attention to grows. If we make a problem bigger than it is by isolating it and scrutinizing it into a huge issue, then we squander an opportunity. We can invest worry until the issue blocks out the daylight or invest in knowing it all works out in hindsight. Because it really does.
Here’s the secret: never give up. Get a tortoise tattoo if you need to, but just stick it out, slowly and patiently, because consistency is the greatest kindness a horse will ever know. He wants the confidence to clearly understand where he should be, without fear of pain. One positive ride at a time, consistency will buy you a new normal. You know that rider that you see who is smiling, riding a dream horse that will do anything? That horse people call a push-button horse? They focused on what was right about their ride and built their fortune one penny at a time. It was no accident; it was a long-term goal. Praise their consistency.
And then one day, if you are very, very lucky, you will take a short twenty-minute ride on a green and frightened horse. In those moments you will have a wealth of understanding and positive leadership to give him. You will be an aid to him. Then he will exhale that first shallow blow of baby trust, as you exhale a breath rich in the memory of that first horse you invested your best self in. Rich in the knowledge that you have something of value to offer a horse.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.