Some parts of training a horse are really easy. For instance the basic idea of round penning is based on how a wild horse herd functions. So when you first put a horse in a round pen it doesn't take very long at all for them to catch on to what you are trying to do with them.
The same is true when you ride a horse for the first time. You climb on and if you are lucky and the horse is accepting of you on their back it doesn't take long to learn walk, stop, left and right. These are things that horses naturally do in the pasture.
But some things are not so easy, for instance teaching a horse to side pass. Side passing as the name implies basically involves the horse walking straight sideways. A proper side pass involves the horse stepping their front legs right across each other. It may seem like a useless thing to teach a horse at first, but when you need to do something like close a gate on horse back or get your horse out of a dangerous situation it can come in really handy.
This is the situation I found myself in with my black Arabian mare one afternoon. It’s not an easy thing to teach a horse because in order to get motion in the horse you have to put some leg pressure on them. The problem is that up until now leg pressure has always meant one thing, move forward. So the horse moves forward and the rider stops them, still keeping the leg pressure on their side.
As one can well imagine a horse can get really frustrated really, really quickly this way. To help my horses figure out the puzzle I will typically line them up with a wall or fence and apply leg pressure. It still frustrates them (the probably thing that their rider just lost her marbles) but they tend to figure it out quicker and without as much pressure.
It’s a tricky situation to be in as a trainer also. Some horses try going forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards and then in frustration they just stop and ignore all pressure. Or some horses will try other methods of expressing their frustration, tossing their heads, pawing the ground, shaking their heads…but eventually they all seem to do the same thing, give up and decide to ignore the pressure.
I have learned through trial and error that the best way to handle this situation is to just keep gently applying pressure until the horse moves again. At that point I don’t care which direction the move, just as long as they move a foot I immediately take the pressure off and let them rest.
By doing that what I'm trying to reinforce is no longer “move your feet side ways” but “move your feet when you feel leg pressure.”
I wonder how often God has tried to teach me the same lesson? So often I have gotten frustrated and angry and said “God, I don’t see where this road that you have me on is going, so I’m just going to sit in front of my TV until you fill me in.” and drown him out with the noise of everyday life.
And so often he’s come beside me, gently tapped me on the shoulder and just kept tapping until he finally got me up off the couch and back moving my proverbial feet.
At the end of the day we might not understand exactly why God put us in certain situations or exactly why this or that uncomfortable thing had to happen to us. But we do know that as Romans 8:28 says, “God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his will.”
So sometimes even if you’re not one hundred percent sure where he’s leading you, just keep trusting and just keep moving your feet. You never know he might even want you to go side ways!