Where You Are
By Cat Black
In the Fall of 2017, I was asked to work with our appaloosa Tobias (Toby). Over the summer he had grown sour from the work and had begun to act out. I got a sample of this “acting out” when I went to fetch him from the pasture for his farrier check up. When he saw the halter and lead rope, he started to run. And when I chased after him, he kicked at me. Now, sometimes all we need to do to help a sour horse is to give them a break from new riders. By working with a more experienced riders, consistency becomes sanity and once they have re-established their sanity, they are able to get back to work. It wasn’t working with Toby. He was getting harder to catch each time I went out to work with him and when we did get to work, he pinned his ears the entire time.
No matter what I tried, Toby was only happy when he could get back to the pasture and be left alone. I didn’t want that for him. I wanted him to enjoy working with me. I wanted him to see me as his his partner, but my techniques and training were not working. So, I went back and reviewed some of my training materials when I stumbled across this clip: “Sometimes these horses that have been really hassled with, they are kind of like people who work from hard feelings and, that is, they are used to doing combat with other people. So, if you approach them that way, they know how to respond. But if you approach that real combative person a little differently, they have no game plan because they aren’t expecting someone to be nice to them because they figured the behavior towards them is going to be relative to their behavior. So, you just change it and make it different. And sometimes you will find that real combative person is a very lonely solitary person. They would love to have a friend. They just don’t know a [darn] thing about getting one.”
This was a revolutionary approach in my experienced with horse training. Up until that point, I understood that I needed to established myself as the dominant one in our “herd of two” and sometimes that required me to rule over the horse with a firm hand. I demanded they understood what I wanted before I gave them a release/break. And this technique worked most of the time, often with me and the horse a little grumpy by the end of the session. But the phrase “you will find that a real combative person is a very lonely solitary person. They would love to have a friend” really stuck out to me as I thought about Toby out in the pasture. Even among other horses, Toby seemed to prefer to be by himself. So, what did I have to do to show Toby all I wanted to be was a friend? How was I going to prove that I was different? I had to meet the horse where they were at and not where I wanted them to be. In the end, I found it required less physical effort and establishes a better relationship between me and the horse.
In Toby’s case, I started by doing something small. I met him where he was, in the pasture. I would just stand or sit near him and demand nothing from him other than to accept my presence. At first, he would walk away or pin his ears. Then, he realized what I wanted and dropped his defenses. He started to see me as a friend and the friendship grew quickly into one of the best partnerships I have had with a horse. I did less and got more done in a shorter time span. It turns out, the same approach is just effective in how I interacted with people who appear to be combative about the church and Christ.
Most of the time I have found people who were combative were hurt or knew someone who was hurt by the bride of Christ. So, I decided to meet them in their pain. I had to stop trying to excuse it (“I am not that kind of Christian”) or explain it away (Not every Christian/church is that way). Instead, I listened and then I apologized for the hurt. While my change in approach didn’t create any instant converts, I did notice a change in tone in how they continued the conversation. Immediately, you could tell they didn’t have a game plan and they began to drop their defenses.
As for personal development, I noticed my motivations started to change. By meeting these individuals where they were and acknowledging their pain, they began to trust that I wanted healing in their lives more than I wanted to be right.
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2 Timothy 2:23-24
Much to my great sadness, the partnership I had with Toby was short lived. He developed an undiagnosed illness and passed away. It is my hope to honor the gift God gave us through Tobias as I meet those around me – at the Ranch and in my community – where they are and not where I expect them to be. It is my hope by starting there, I can build a better foundation, where instead of adding to their pain I can simply offer the healing God wants for them in their lives.