When you finally discover that the answer to a question or dilemma you’ve puzzled or fretted over for years was embarrassingly simple was your response “Awright!” followed by a victorious imaginary high-five or “What an idiot” followed by a brief indulgent moment of self-disgust?
After several years of declining ability a knee-replacement opened the gate to new experiences and discoveries in the world of horses. One of my early rehabilitory habits that I have continued is walking on a treadmill using hand weights.
Become a better horse trainer – use a treadmill
A new world of horse training wisdom opened once I started walking on the treadmill because I was forced by physical limitation to be simple enough to see it. As new ideas smacked me upside the head I began writing them down in a separate notebook immediately after dismounting from the treadmill. That notebook is already full.
My thoughts and emotions regarding this new insight ranged from delight that I was regaining mobility and balance to a sort of hopeful shame because I realized how many times over the past quarter-century I had mistakenly judged a horse’s inability as unwillingness.
Everyone knows the necessity of a proper warm up. Who would suggest that core strength isn’t a requirement of athletic in any sport? Would anyone disagree that balance is a good thing? I knew about warm-up, core training, and balance. What I didn’t know is that I had great conceptual knowledge about all of them but a less-than-stellar history of application.
“For everyone who asks receives.” (Matthew 7:8)
“You ask and you do not receive, because you ask amiss.” (James 4:3)
The essence of my discovery may be found in these two short statements. Both are true, but don’t they present just a little challenge when you compare them? If you ask you will receive. Okay, that’s a good simple concept. But do you always get what you ask for?
These two verses indicate some obvious caveat to the whole business of asking. It appears there must be some qualification that materially affects whether or not your request is granted in the manner you expect. If you don’t ask correctly you won’t receive. So, how do you ask rightly?
I believe there are only a few foundational truths in life. It seems like there’s a new lesson around every corner and it’s normal to wonder when the bumps and bruises of learning by experience will level out. When is graduation day? The main reason that learning rubs and pulls continue is that some absolute foundational truth has yet to be mastered. A few months ago I wrote a post titled, “Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug”.” The point was that neither horse nor human necessarily start today where yesterday ended.
I had Lesson Deux on the Bug Day concept this morning when the treadmill kicked up to my normal beginning speed and I immediately realized I wasn’t warmed up enough to work at that pace. I couldn’t walk as briskly this morning as I do nearly every morning and as recently as yesterday afternoon.
Learning from Asti – Direct from 1st Gear to Overdrive
Years ago I discovered that Asti, our gorgeous black quarter horse mare, needed at least 20 minutes of warm up before I could get an accurate read on where her body and brain were for the day. Asti is really laid back and quiet when you first get on which I appreciate because I don’t usually longe or round pen first. I figured she just didn’t need a lot of warm up. Asti was a perfect lady from the first step and seldom offered too much opinion.
However, I learned that Miss Asti needed a l-o-n-g warm up before she was fully present in the moment. In other words, after 20 sweet minutes Asti’s energy level shot from first gear to overdrive! Once she was warmed up her stride lengthened, her leg speed quickened, her head came up and she wanted to “talk” about what the plan was for the remainder of the ride.
Once I figured this out I modified Asti’s lesson plans to take advantage of the slow times as well as her energetic times. It didn’t take long to harness her energy effectively, but I will never forget this lesson learned from our beautiful black mare: a proper warm up reinforces promises made and lessons learned. It’s also less frustrating, embarrassing, safer, and far more relational.
Learning from Swizzle – Sometimes you Canter before you Trot
It took me a while to figure out that my cute little Swizzle is far more comfortable cantering than trotting – especially in her warm up phase. Like most of our horses Swizzle is nearly as wide as she is tall; built more like a power lifter than a ballerina. Until she is well warmed up Swizzle is stiff and sticky. When she gets stuck trying to figure out how to move forward she has a tendency to express herself by bucking.
Most warm up programs begin slowly then gradually work up to faster gaits. Not Swizzle. She’ll walk around slowly then bump into a canter. Swizzle couldn’t always trot on a longe or at liberty in a round pen. She could walk and she could canter, but trot was a bit more difficult.
When Swizzle’s energy channels are open and flowing she trots quite well, nicely strided and forward. Sometimes cantering is a necessary step to get her energy flowing in a positive direction so she is prepared to trot confidently, pleasantly, and with good balance.
Once I realized that Swizzle knew what she needed better than I did we made excellent progress and reduced the amount of time needed to warm up because we did it the most effective way for Swizzle. Instead of trying to get her to warm up by the book – trot before canter – I let her decide what is most comfortable. In other words, I listen to Swizzle as much as she tries to listen to me.
Learning from Bo – Because sometimes he’s smarter than I am
Bo always begins a ride with his molasses-in-January walk. When I returned to riding with purpose I wanted just a bit more effort. I asked him to offer just a little more energy in his walk so there would be more consistency in the cadence of his strides as the lesson progressed.
I taught him a cue to regulate his stride to the tempo I had in mind. He knows the cue but still starts out at a snail’s pace. After my treadmill session today I intend to warm up at his pace from now on and not mine. Is this a new revelation? No, but it seems to be a lesson I have to learn in many fashions before I finally “get it” once and for all.
When I was just getting back into the saddle after months off for surgery I wanted to revisit relationship before moving on to lessons or performance goals. Bo was my first ride and I let him warm up at whatever pace he chose. We walked around the arena just getting our rhythm back and he opted for his familiar slow steady walk.
After a week or so we began riding out in the pasture to walk and trot longer distances. I let Bo piddle along at the pace of a lame turtle until he decided to change it. Interestingly enough, after five or ten minutes he would move into a more forward energetic gait all by himself. His ears would liven up and he would begin working quietly and comfortably. No need for me to push him, he offered to work once he was ready.
The Purpose of Warm Up
Asti used to require 20 minutes of warm up before I could determine where she was physically and emotionally. Armed with that knowledge I didn’t take her to shows (or anywhere else) planning to just swing into the saddle and perform. Well, I did once… but then I began to listen to what Asti was telling me. Asti no longer needs that 20 minutes to emotionally adjust, but as a more mature lady she needs the time to get everything moving like it should. That’s a reality she and I share.
Swizzle doesn’t do things by the book. She never did. That’s one reason she is such a blessing to me and one of the Amazing Grays. God didn’t make two molds and pop out horses and humans that are copies of all the others. Each one of us is unique with something special to offer. Once we take two steps forward I know Swizzle will be as good as gold. But until she is warmed up I’m not getting on. I want to build a habit of success and comfort, not one of resistance and failure.
Bo is Bo. His steady personality and good will is a gift of faith that taught me to look in the mirror when we are out of step with each other rather than to assume that he is the one who needs correction. The one who is out-of-kilter is usually me.
Bo never says “No.” If there was an emergency and we had to get somewhere fast right out of the chute he would go. He can quicken his pace in the warm up, but only if I insist. I finally figured out that I have no business insisting.
If I insisted on my usual speed this morning my balance would have suffered and something would have had to compensate for whatever else wasn’t the same today as it was yesterday. I ask my body every day, “How are you today?” I figured out that it pays to wait for the answer and proceed accordingly – or I might hurt something.
I have also learned to ask my horses, “How are you today” and wait for the answer before moving on.
What is your warm up for Jesus Christ?
Lots of riders pull a horse out of the pasture and cowboy up. Some have a great ride while others have to call the vet or an ambulance. In any case, the best results come after a proper warm up. Amazing things happen when our mind, body, and spirit are balanced and ready to work with the mind, body, and spirit of our equine partner.
Do you warm up before spending time with Jesus? Do you schedule a five minute prayer drill each morning before you know where you are physically or emotionally? Do you pull out your Bible and cowboy up to speed-read the day’s chapter? Do you fit in time for Jesus between breakfast and the barn?
If Jesus has something special to say to you today, are you properly prepared to hear it?
“My horse is inconsistent and just doesn’t listen to me.”
Do you greet your horse? Is there a ritual of preparation before getting into new territory? Is your grooming program good enough to alert you to any telltale issues of lameness or laceration? If your horse is distracted or nervous do you insist on business as usual? Do you examine your own state of ability and mood? Are you calm and steady today or flighty and frustrated?
If you’re dedicated to great relationship with your horse you probably do all these things. Can you say the same about your daily walk with Christ? Do you greet Him or just begin to recite a memorized prayer and spell out your list of requests?
“My Child is inconsistent and just doesn’t listen for Me.”
Do you take time to greet Jesus each morning? Do you take time to settle in before getting to the heart of the day’s conversation? Do you assume He is right there where you left Him yesterday? Do you assume that you are exactly where you were when you left Him yesterday?
Do you receive what you ask for from your horse? Do you receive what you petition Jesus for? If not, God’s Word points out that you may be asking amiss in both instances.
Take time to listen to your horse and to the voice of Christ. Prepare. Be fully present. Warm up. Be blessed in relationship.
Ask rightly and you will receive.
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