Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace – Follow the Leader
A horse securely bonded to its trainer/leader will not exhibit the same fight-or-flight response to any one particular stimulus as a horse without such relationship. The bonded horse need not even be with its trainer to be exempt from concern about a situation that causes panic in another horse. The minds of the two horses are actually different.
Horses often react violently to sudden noises or movements that trigger their flight response. If they didn’t, horses would have been eaten into extinction by predators centuries ago. A sudden movement might be a mountain lion preparing to pounce on to their backs; the smart horse will run first and check out the facts later. That odd noise could be a rattlesnake waiting to strike. Once they’ve bolted to a safe distance, a horse will turn and see if they were right. Better safe than sorry. Such is the nature of a prey animal.
Bolting horses believe it’s “Better safe than sorry.”
Why don’t my horses get too excited about such things? They’ve learned that sudden noises and formerly spooky stuff won’t harm them. They believe I won’t put them in a position to be eaten. They are right. Would they survive in the wild? I don’t know. Horses that have truly learned to rely on humans tend to remain so, even if returned to the wild. Shame on humans when such a thing happens. A story was told in the “Quarter Horse News” a year or so ago by one columnist who had gone camping with her husband and their horses. When they woke in the morning, about fifteen “wild horses” were there, waiting to get in the trailer and “go home.” How difficult it was for the horse-loving columnist and her husband to have to drive these lonely horses away in order to load their own into the trailer so they could quickly drive off as the abandoned horses tried to regroup and return.
My horses are fortunate. I will never abandon them. Christians are doubly blessed. There is none more faithful than our Lord.
As Bo and Swizzle learn to trust me, that old flight or fight response gradually weakens until it rarely, if ever, surfaces. I deal with the thinking side of their personalities. The process is one of creating trust, building foundation, proving my leadership, then maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Each lesson builds upon the last. Tests become more difficult as I apply greater and greater pressure to check on my gray’s responses. I crack a whip at their side; they just stand there. I shoot .45 caliber guns from their backs; they could care less. I throw things at my horses, noisy things, and they just look at me. If I am not concerned, neither are they. They are becoming fearless.
Test of Faith – the Wash Rack Bomb
A few weeks ago I was preparing to rinse Bo off after a sweaty ride. He stood quietly in the indoor concrete-walled wash rack, waiting for me to get organized. I expect my horses to stay where I put them, so Bo wasn’t even tied in the wash rack. The spray nozzle wasn’t on the hose, so I fumbled with the quick-connect ends to attach the pressure nozzle to the hose. I lay the hose and nozzle down on the concrete floor and turned on the water. Not having correctly attached the nozzle and hose, the sudden pressure of the water shot the nozzle off the end of the hose like a projectile with a noise that sounded like a bomb.
This all occurred right at Bo’s hind feet. I fully expected him to bolt out of there and head off to a safe distance before checking to see if I had survived the blast. I am both humbled and ashamed to say that I was surprised when his only reaction was to clamp his tail tightly to his butt and assume a readiness posture as he waited for me to give direction. He never moved a foot. I was humbled by this testament to the change in Bo’s nature. I am ashamed that I was surprised. So, what did I do next? I pretended that nothing unusual had happened, paid more attention to how I connected the nozzle, and gave Bo his bath.
Balloons challenge relationships
In mounted shooting, we have to carry balloons. If you don’t think that is a testament to the trust our horses place in our relationship, try it yourself on a new horse. Actually, don’t try it unless you know what you’re doing. Balloons move, especially on windy days, and they will actually “touch” a horse when he isn’t expecting it. I’ve seen the flight response kick in more than once when a horse met a balloon. Do you really appreciate the confidence a horse must have in its rider to carry a parade flag? Horses with great leaders even learn to ignore helicopters hovering over their heads, firecrackers going off at their heels, and most any other scenario you can come up with.
As children of God, we are changed creatures by the relationship we share with him. The new habits born of this relationship allow us to truly understand what Jesus means when he tells us to “Fear not.”
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A friend of mine asked where to find this story in the book. I messaged her the page number but she had misplaced her book. So, here you are, friend!
Taken from Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace, Chapter entitled “Follow the Leader”, page 96 in the first edition with the blue cover, page 106 in the second with the green cover.