What can a horse teach you about life? Plenty! Today, my lesson from Leo (my quarter horse gelding) focused on how—and when—to say, “thank you.” My objective was simple: To help him learn to travel in a more compact frame, bringing his hindquarters more under his body—and to make it routine. I used a simple exercise, using my legs to keep his hind end moving forward while my hands—lightly—limited his forward motion. Ideally, these cues help a horse round his back, compress his body like a spring, and become more balanced.
My coworker’s saga of her slightly wayward seventeen-year-old son—smart, testing, and utterly frustrating: “I’m going to be late today. We have a meeting with the guidance counselor.” “I need to leave early. It’s his grades.” I think of Leo, my five-year-old Quarter Horse gelding and of a few other male horses I’ve owned. I prefer mares but occasionally I end up with horses of the other gender.
They are different. Mares, I get. Geldings or stallions? They’re in a world of their own … out past Pluto. They are fine when they’re older. But teenage horses are every bit as challenging as their human counterparts.
Take Leo. If he were guy, he’d be a skinny teenager in tee shirt, greasy long hair, not the best skin, and he’d be riding around in a Mustang held together with Bondo and purple fuzzy dice from the rear view mirror. A pack of Marlboros tucked in the sleeve of his shirt. Baggy pants. Cigarette hanging from his mouth. Nervous eyes. But oh, so smart.
How to help this juvenile delinquent become a good guy.
Failure is not an option: unlike his human counterpart, Leo weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds. It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I’ve decided. Let Leo get away with the littlest thing? The light bulb goes off: “I bet I could … ” Get after him too much and he sulks and gets crabby.
The fine point that I’ve come to in getting this wayward horse to be a good guy: always reinforcing the good stuff and correcting the bad. When my daughter was quite small, she threw temper tantrums. Her grandmother simply took her into the bathroom and said “We don’t do that here.” Voice calm, soothing, but deliberate. A fact. Simple. No argument. I don’t believe she ever had a tantrum at their house again.
I had a lot of trouble being consistent enough to establish good behavior. I’m getting better at it. My job is setting the limits and enforcing “this is how we do things.” I think Leo is happier knowing the rules, and he’s making a great transition from the equine equivalent of a juvenile delinquent to a great show horse. Of course, he knows that there are always carrots at the end of the day.