Two weeks ago I talked about lessons I learned from my dog Clyde, this week I'll be talking about some lessons I've learned from my horse Teddy.
After racing for 9 years Teddy went to a new owner who put him in a reining barn. Generally Thorough Breds aren't great reigning horses. They're not physically suited for the work - it's like asking a marathon runner to start playing football. Teddy didn't do well in the reigning barn and was deemed overly aggressive and should be put down. Imagine being asked to do things that you physically can't do then getting punished for it, how would you react? I'd get a little pissy to say the least! His former owner had scheduled an appointment to have him put down but couldn't bring herself to do it at the last moment and contacted the rescue who took him in.
I believe in giving people and animals a second chance which is why it was important to me to adopt a rescue horse. So I contacted the rescue and they said that they had a great fit for me a first time horse owner who pretty much didn't know anything about horses. If I knew then what I know now I'm not sure that I would have adopted my horse but I digress.....
I met this horse and I could see his heart - he was a kind and gentle giant that knew NOTHING expect how to race. He was over 400 LBS under weight, needed vet care and to have his teeth cared for. Things that the rescue SHOULD have taken care of but didn't. All this was back in Feb '09 so let's fast forward to today.
I was lucky and found the most amazing trainer EVER who has worked with him since September '09. Tanya Striebeck is the female version of the horse whisperer. She's kind, consistent, fair, she communicates clearly and effectively and has VERY high expectations from both the horses she trains AND the people she trains. Tanya reminds me of Simon on American Idol - she's tough but when she gives a compliment you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is genuine and heart felt. You know exactly where you stand with Tanya.
In the time that he's been in training with Tanya he's gone from being 'resistant' to training to being so gentle that one of the other horse owners in the barn I board at commented that they would never get a horse like mine because there isn't enough life in him. Remember that he had an appointment to be put down because he was overly aggressive?
Horses are WAY different than dogs. Dogs are very treat oriented and want to please you, horses just want to get along so will do what you ask. The thing is that they will do exactly what you ask which may or may not be what you want. I have had to learn how to communicate what I want VERY clearly and effectively. I've also had to learn how to be more assertive and less soft. Not in a hard or harsh way but in a more firm way. Dogs are pack animals - horses are herd animals, there is a difference. There are similarities but it's still different. Dogs are predators and horses are prey. Horses need to be able to trust that you will be able to protect them or they decide that they need to protect you both which is NOT a good thing.
Horses are smart and can assess situations very quickly - Teddy assessed me then put me in the category of 'She Who Pampers Me'. This is NOT a good category to be in if I intend on being The Boss of Him. He trusts me and loves me but by being in the SWPM category he believes that he can ignore me. So over the last 4 months I've been learning how to be both She Who Pampers AND The Boss. Slowly but surely (mainly because he's a great horse) he is learning how to trust me to be The Boss first and She Who Pampers second.
In order to help a horse feel safe you need to be able to let them know that you are indeed the Boss of Them and that they need to listen to you at all times. It helps to keep both you and the horse safe if you keep your horse busy and engaged. I had an epiphany about life a couple of weeks ago based on this exact thing. I had worked with Teddy helping him to pay attention to me and what I was asking then I headed home to pick up Clyde so that we could go to a birthday party.
Clyde was having a great time with all the dogs and a new dog came along. Clyde wanted to play with this dog but the dog didn't want to play. The end result was that I put Clyde on a leash to keep the peace - the dog trainer asked if Clyde could get past it if I did some training with him. I shrugged it off and after a while headed home. I thought about it most of the way home and realized that in life I too can get side tracked by new 'dogs' and that it's important to keep my focus just like I was doing with Teddy - but didn't with Clyde.
It's easy to get side tracked when people we don't quite blend with come into our lives and it's easy to get distracted by the little things. It's common to not get what we asked for because we didn't ask correctly and get frustrated when people don't respect us. The truth of the matter is that if these things are happening then we need to look at ourselves and ask "what am I doing that is causing this?" and "what can I do differently to get different results?" It's super easy to blame others but when all is said and done it is usually something that we've done, are currently doing (or not!) or haven't done that is causing the problem.
Teddy and Clyde have been teaching me about unconditional love, establishing clear and firm boundaries, how to communicate clearly and effectively, how to stay focused on what's important, how to ignore those individuals that may pull me from what's important and how to be a leader.
Another lesson is detachment - if things aren't working the way I want them to or how I think they should then I need to take a look at what I'm doing. It's too easy to get 'marrried' to an idea or way of doing things that isn't working and because we are so attached we can't let go when letting go is what we NEED to do for our own best interest.
It's important to do this with a clear head so that I can be objective. I've found that it's usually my fault - total operator error! If I want to be mad that's fine as long as I'm mad at myself and not them. The thing is that it's never constructive to be mad but it IS constructive to be objective and honest.
I'm curious what you've learned from your animals - please share your experiences and lessons learned it will be fun to learn from you and your animals as well.
Here's to your Fitness, Health and Wellness ,
Jennifer Malocha CEO of Fun at Wuhoo Fitness