They say old habits die hard… I would agree with that statement. They also say that when you know better, you do better… I would like to believe I subscribe to that theory as well. Thankfully, even with old dogs like me, sometimes old habits can lead to discovering new beginnings.
I have been a horse lover since long before I can remember. I have had the honour and pleasure of owning horses for thirty years and counting. Over the course of those years, I have met my fair share of horses – some pretty, some athletic, some smart. Most were a combination of all of those things to greater or lesser degrees depending on the individual. They all had something to teach me though, whether I realized it at the time or not. Some I got along with, some I didn’t. Some stayed with me for a long time and some unfortunately didn’t. To those horses who tolerated my old habits, my sincerest appreciation. To those I didn’t have the knowledge to understand at the time, my sincerest apologies.
Over the course of those years I encountered my fair share of training methods as well – some good, some bad, some downright ugly. As I grew and matured not only as a person but as a horse-person, the voice inside me that kept insisting there was a better way was refusing to be silenced. I found myself becoming less brave and more apprehensive around horses which was something I also attributed to my age. After all, it’s true I no longer bounce like I used to! I had bid adieu to the teenage girl who happily volunteered to ride all of the rogue horses at the barn a long time ago. Who was that crazy kid anyway?! I should have had my head examined!! But my attitude truly transformed from a take-no-crap, get ‘er done type of girl to a soft, overly cautious pushover. While I no longer believed in using force to train my horses, I also knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere being a giant mushball. I attended clinics, bought videos, traveled to horse expos and watched and listened to “horsemanship” trainers for hours. I longed for a better way to communicate with my horses but still felt like I was getting nowhere fast.
One day I came across an ad for a yearling filly and couldn’t help but feel drawn to her. Part of me thought seriously Lisa, the last thing you need is a basically untouched baby horse… Another part said don’t be silly, you’ve raised young horses before, maybe this will be the confidence boost you need! How. Hard. Could. It. Be?? So, of course, we bought her. And I am here to tell you that over the course of the past 18 months, saying she has challenged me would be more than a bit of an understatement. I tried the old methods I knew, I tried the new methods I was learning and while I had a modicum of success I was still discouraged enough (and intimidated enough) that I was convinced the best option for both of us would be to part ways. In fact, during my most recent visit to a tack store I had my hand on a chain twitch and I contemplated buying it. I sat there staring at that twitch, conflicted, and I struggled. And that’s when the shift happened. No, I said to myself. I took my hand off the twitch. I promised my filly that I would find a better way. There was a reason she
came into my life. I would make it my mission to figure out what it was she was sent to teach me.
Two days ago I made the decision to begin teaching Willow using only positive reinforcement. After all, what did we have to lose? The result after such a short period of time? Astonishing. The change in my filly has been so profound that it has inspired me to open up and share our journey. Despite all the ups and downs we’ve been through, she has shown that hasn’t given up on me. I solemnly vow that I will do everything in my power from here forward to not give up on her.