When I was a kid, I spent quite a bit of time watching (and helping) my Dad train horses. He would start teaching the horses with the ground work in the round corral. Then, when the horses were ready, Dad would put the first rides on the young horses and I would ride along on an experienced horse. He was teaching me while he was teaching the horses. Not until I was older did I fully realize that these lessons applied not only to working with horses, but also to everyday life. Here are my five most memorable lessons:
Don’t start something you don’t intend to finish the right way.
The most vivid example of this is the night Dad spent hours working with my little brother’s horse, Boomer, trying to get him to walk through, and not jump, a little water puddle. We had just finished a ride and were putting the horses up when Dad asked Boomer to walk through the puddle just as all the other horses had done ahead of him. Boomer refused.
Each time Dad asked him to walk through the puddle, Boomer would jump it. Jumping a puddle with my little brother on his back was not an option. So, Dad and I spent the next I don’t know how many hours working to get the horse to complete the task the correct way. By the time Boomer finally walked through the puddle, it was way past dark and we were all fairly tired. But you know what, Boomer never jumped another puddle. If Dad had let Boomer get away with jumping that puddle that night, it would have been an ongoing battle. Dad was fully aware of that fact and chose to do it right.
Starting a task or asking a horse to do something without following through creates bad (sometimes dangerous) habits. If you are not willing to put in the work it takes to complete the task the correct way, it is probably best not to start it in the first place. The same is true in life. If you don’t have the time to do it right, will you have time to do it again?
If you do the ground work properly, the rest will be much easier.
Ground work is the first step in training a horse to ride and is the foundation that sets up the entire working relationship with the horse. Dad always did the ground work in the round corral before he ever rode the horse. He would work to gain the horse’s trust while establishing a set of boundaries. If Dad did the ground work properly, the horse would be happy to work with him and eager to do a good job.
As silly as it may sound, I use this concept in my parenting approach. My husband and I have a trusting relationship with our kids. We have set family rules that we follow, and we are working to instill in our kids a good work ethic and manners. The thought behind this approach is that if we do the “ground work” properly, our kids will grow up to be hard-working, respectful adults.
Make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy.
Dad always said the best way to get a horse to consistently make the right choices is to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. If a horse did something undesirable, Dad would have the horse do circles. Doing circles made the horse expend more energy than it wanted to, making the wrong choice more work than it was worth. When the horse quit the undesirable activity, it received praise and was not required to do any extra work. The horses quickly learned that if they did the right thing, no extra work was required.
I also use this concept in my parenting style. If my kids are behaving poorly there are consequences, but on the same token if they make good choices, there is reward.
If you fall off, get right back on.
If you fell off, got bucked off, or ended up on the ground for any reason, you got right back on (as long as you weren’t hurt). If you fell off, getting back on really reinforced being ready for anything (see below). If you got bucked off, getting back on taught the horse that he could unload you all he wanted, but you would be back – so it probably wasn’t worth the effort.
No matter how I ended up on the ground, getting back on taught me to persevere. I think of it as Dad’s version of “If at first you don’t succeed, try-try again.” I have used this lesson in life probably as much, if not more, than I have used it as it applies to riding horses.
Be ready for anything.
If there is one thing I always think about every time I climb in the saddle – it is this. Dad would always remind me that no matter how well-behaved a horse is, they are still a horse. Horses are flight animals which means that if faced with something scary they have a tendency to turn tail and run. If you are not ready they will leave you on the ground. Thus, you must be ready for anything that may happen when you are horseback so that you stay horseback.
I have learned that life is a lot like riding a horse. You may have a plan for how the ride is going to go, but at the end of the day, you do not know what plans the horse might have. You may have a plan for how your life is going to go, but you do not know the plan God has for you. You must be ready for anything, willing to accept what happens, and always thankful for the ride.
I have learned SO much more from my dad than what is written here, and I am thankful every day for all that he has taught, and continues to teach, me. As my kids are getting more and more interested in horses, I often find myself saying, “When I was little Grandpa told me…” I can only hope to teach them as much as my dad taught me.