Should I be a leader or partner to my horse?

Now that I know my previous training methods' errors, it's becoming a little difficult to balance sometimes knowing what role I should be in. Previously, I was all leader, more so a dictator. What I wanted to happen happened; it didn’t matter much if the horse wanted to or not. I was the boss of my horse, and he respected me. Then, I realized how damaging it was to have a relationship where I am nothing but a dictator. I see now that it could do one of two things: forces my horse to shut down, become numb since expressing themselves is pointless, or internalize their fear and anxiety, which turns them into a nervous wreck until they cannot handle one more thing, creating a blow-up. 

Now that I don’t want to be a dictator, I also want to avoid becoming too passive with my horse so he is walking all over me physically or that I am avoiding every situation that makes him nervous. It is a fine line that seems so complicated at the start. Then I realized that it is a lot like parenting, which helped make it a little easier for me to understand. 

As a mom, I want my children always to feel like they can express their fear, anxiety, stress, sadness, and happiness. If my daughter doesn’t want to do something, I try and figure out why. I don’t just force her to do something. I change my perspective to understand her point of view. Is she scared to do it alone? Would she rather have me help her? Is it too hard of a chore? Maybe she doesn’t understand my request? Once I know the reason behind the protest, it’s much easier to navigate the situation. 

Sometimes my children need to be encouraged to do things that make them nervous or uncomfortable. Getting my oldest daughter to jump into my arms at the pool is something that used to scare her. I could force it, make her cry, and she would eventually get over it; but I think the underlying fear would still be there because I wasn’t validating it. Instead, we’ve been working slowly at it, and now she is super brave, making big jumps everywhere she can, and is so proud of herself.

Likewise, I think horses need to be asked to go outside their comfort zones and be shown how to navigate the situation. When I introduced Ace to pulling a sled, he was quite unsure of the whole situation. Spooking at the yellow thing sliding around on the ground, giving occasional snorts, daring to give it a sniff. We started slowly; I pulled the sled alongside us in my hand, leading him where he occasionally danced to the side, nervous of this yellow thing following from behind. Slowly as his confidence grew, I draped the rope around the horn to help give him a better feel of where the sled and rope would normally be. Then, after a break, I was able to get on him. Once riding, I had to retake slow steps as I wasn't on the ground to help him feel confident. I encouraged him, and I tried to listen to him at the same time. I didn’t force him to pull the sled immediately, but we slowly worked toward that. By the end of the ride, we were walking around the arena nicely, pulling the sled. Going slow and steady allows him time to process and create a memory that he can build on. 

We will never grow if I focus too much on being a partner and avoid having my horse be uncomfortable or nervous. I wish I had been able to video his first reactions to the sled to see how much he learned in just a couple of hours. Like my children, it's my job to show them the world's wonders, even if it allows them to be in uncomfortable situations occasionally. To me, it's all about balance. I want to be a leader who cares, listens, and respects them; this shows my horse and children that I don't put them in situations they aren't ready for or can't handle. 

My ultimate goal is to become a leader and partner that my horse wants to be around and work with. 

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