Horses have a knack for showing us our biggest flaws. When this happens, we have a choice; we can either blame them for our shortcomings, or we can take the opportunity to look within, acknowledge our mistake, and grow. I recently started playing the Parelli Games with Snowy. It’s been a fun way for us to spend our time together and to learn new skills. Snowy has progressed pretty quickly, so the other day I introduced new objects into the games—a tarp, an umbrella, and a big ball. The tarp and umbrella were no big deal for Snowy. He had seen them before and playing the games with them seemed to make Snowy more engaged. He was having to really think, learn, and play all at once.
The ball was a different story. His fear of the ball was evident throughout our session. He always kept his eyes on it and was more tense than usual. I eventually got to the point of being able to hold the ball against Snowy’s body. He stood quietly while I did this, but I could tell from the wrinkles around his eyes that he still wasn’t the ball’s best friend.
The day after our first ball session, I had the ball out in the arena again so we could continue our desensitizing/friendly game. Snowy saw the ball from outside the arena and planted his feet, refusing to come any closer. I stayed calm at first, patiently insisting that he walk toward the ring. My insistence and patience weren’t working, and I felt frustration start to build. I had tried all the tools in my toolbox and nothing was working. So Snowy and I went back into the barn and I groomed him.
Other horsepeople may have their own opinions on what I should have done, but I’ll say this—I was aware of my frustration building, and I didn’t want that frustration to turn into anger. I’m only human, so of course I’m going to experience emotion; however, anger has no place in our relationships with horses. Snowy and I approached the arena again once we were feeling more relaxed, and he walked in with only the slightest hesitation. We worked on more friendly games with the ball and I felt very satisfied with our session.
Snowy taught me that day that no matter what my plan or goal is, I must be flexible enough to listen to his needs. Snowy needed me to be a calm, confident, patient leader, and when I wasn’t able to provide that for him, I took a step back. I would rather take that step back than take my frustration and anger out on a horse or any other animal any day. I’m still growing in my horsemanship, and always will be. Playing with horses offers endless opportunities for growth and learning. I’m thankful Snowy showed me my flaws that day, for it gives me a chance to be a better partner for him. Remember that no matter how much experience you have, it’s okay to try something new. You may feel like a bumbling beginner again, but it’ll be worth it.