Deal Your Horse a Winning Hand



Could it be that you treating your horse like he’s a one-arm bandit — believing that if you keep on putting in quarters and pulling the lever that you will magically win the jackpot – and have your horse behave as you think he should?

Or, given your ongoing struggles, have you become convinced that your horse is a one-armed bandit, unpredictable and a little scary? Are you about to throw in the towel because you are frustrated or afraid of an injury?

Friends, I have been there myself and I see it working on a regular basis with others as they interact with their horses as if this animal were a slot machine — pulling on a rein or kicking with a leg bent on hitting the jackpot — namely a “positive” result (in their minds, not necessarily their horse’s) for all of their efforts.

For the most part, out of good intention, they are simply doing what they have been taught or learned through observing others. Unfortunately, mostly because of the generosity of the horse, many of these riders get by way too long with their repetitive merry-go-round ground work, bottom-line unfair and sometimes cruel acts of lunging or some other method until, to the complete surprise of the rider, something goes South and there is a wreck of some sort.

If this is something that you struggle with, here’s the good news. With a little help, new perspective and change of behavior, you can dump Vegas and create a win-win relationship with your horse.

From my perspective, here are some guidelines to help you on your way.

First, be committed to dealing your horse a winning hand. What do I mean? Doing what it takes as a rider to create as good of a tension/trouble-free relationship with your horse as you are able. This is what your horse wants from you more than anything else you can do for him.

This means that you are going to need to set aside your plans and or agenda for the moment. Try to take stock of what your horse is thinking about and feeling at any particular time when and while you are in his space trying to accomplish something. Remember it is your responsibility to provide a safe place for him to learn. It is quite fine to have an overall goal in mind, but that can only be realized by working in the moment.

Sound impossible? Not in the least. It begins by taking into account the fact that your horse is truly a living decision-making animal with a belief system. Said another way, your horse is not a machine. Or the child. Or the villain. No. Your horse is a created thing, an animal, that has the God-given capacity to make decisions that will preserve his life (when he perceives it threatened) and allow him to live in peace.

As I have learned over the decades, the “training” of a horse is relatively easy thing. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repeat something enough and you can “train” a horse to do just about anything – but you might never gain his trust or give him a moment’s peace.

Here is an example of what I mean by dealing your horse a winning hand.

The other day, as I was riding a horse that I have been working with, Pistol, out through a field looking through a small bunch of cows and calves, his thoughts turned towards, “home,” which happened to be out his right eye. As I asked him to swing off to the left to look at a certain cow, he held onto that “right eye” thought.

Physically he was making the left turn, mostly a wide arc, but, with his mind to the right, it was like pushing a board through the water from behind — and with his mind to the right and not right, 🙂 🙂 , his body was not right. His nose was tipped ever so slightly to the right. His left jaw was pointing slightly to his left. His left shoulder and ribs were pushing against my left leg — not much, but, if you were aware of what was going on inside his head, it was obvious.

Again, although Pistol was complying physically, what I was asking of him set up some angst within — a tug-of-war, if you will, in which he did not feel good about the situation. To remedy the situation, though, was a relatively easy task. First, I asked him to let go of the right thought and then prepared him for the left turn by having him think (look) that way. As his eye (mind) looked left, I used my hands and legs to help him follow through straight and soft on the desired path that I had chosen.

Mission accomplished – – for the moment. Because of the nature of the life in the horse this may need repeated many times over for the horse and rider to truly get together.

Now, this is just one simple scenario of what we are seeking to accomplish with our horses. Ultimately, we would like our horses to believe in us enough to trust us to make competent decisions on their behalf when trouble shows up.

Now, as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I am always amazed to discover some parallel in my interactions with the horse and my relationship with Him. How often do I treat Him like a slot machine — praying, petitioning and hoping to hit the jackpot? Or are we seeking to find Him where He is “at” – letting go of our thoughts in order to hear His mind and thoughts.

The first ride or two with a colt you basically go with him wherever he wants to go for as long as it takes for him to learn to go with us. In this light, Jesus is already going with us, but the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we learning to go with Him so that together we might accomplish something useful in the Kingdom.

Jesus has dealt us a winning hand at Calvary. May I encourage you to deal your horse a winning hand that he might learn to believe in you and live in peace.


Blessings and Happy Trails,

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