Neu Perspectives

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Of course, by green I mean the lack of experience in a certain area, and not so much the color (though I’m sure that comes with its own challenges). When we struggle with something that we’re wanting to learn, it can be physically and mentally taxing. 

The reward of success is often prolonged and comes in small doses. Yet, despite the discomfort, those who crave that learning frame of mind are repeatedly trying to grasp new things and improve their skill set. 

I can’t imagine it’s very easy being a green horse, either. Not only do they have to deal with the physical and mental strain, aches and growth that comes with learning, but they also have to navigate through all sorts of spooky, unfamiliar things while learning. Some are more sensitive to this than others. Some mature quicker than most. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be trained. But as our horses’ riders, teachers and guides, we need to keep in mind the reassurance we can offer them when things get a little… tight. 

I’m learning that timing is everything here. I’m not particularly naturally talented, and I’ve had to work and struggle to improve my feel for a horse. Watching their eyes, ears and body language is key to knowing when to apply and remove pressure. Starting the amount of horses we do, I’ve seen a lot of colts and fillies react unfavorably to any sort of pressure. They kick, they run, they worry, they ignore the person, or maybe they want desperately to get out of the roundpen and back with their friends. 

Not a single time, has this behavior ever been personal. They don’t pin their ears, whirl away or hesitate to be caught because they have a vendetta against their rider or trainer. So why do we sometimes react as though it is? I’ve watched a lot of people ride, show and train throughout my 30 some years, and I’ve noticed that turning up the pressure doesn’t necessarily garner better, quicker results. Often, if a horse is reacting to our feet, or reins, or a flag, or whatever signal we are giving them, they are already working plenty hard. They don’t need more pressure in order to figure it out more successfully.

We just need to work on our timing to reward at the proper moment, that special little moment when our horse thinks about heading toward our desired direction. A lot of the things we do with these young horses revolve more around getting them to learn how to think well through pressure and not so much how to perform certain tasks. They teach me, and I try to teach them. So I am learning how to teach a horse how to learn to learn. 

No wonder this is tricky!

I write this to remind myself of it, and I truly do think we need to remember that success with our horses needs to be a fluid and flexible goal. Sometimes we are going to make poor choices with what needs to get done, and things will go backward for a bit. That’s ok — it means we are learning. Sometimes we’ll find that (much like writing!) taking a break and coming back to the saddle a week later means that things really are a lot better than we think. And sometimes it means recognizing our lack of expertise in certain areas and getting respected help is the best bet to help our animals progress. 

Transforming a young, green horse into a seasoned, bridled up veteran-of-all-things is a process that needs to be recognized as a marathon, not a sprint. Turning ourselves into knowledgeable, flexible, wise and talented horsemen is not something that can happen overnight, or just because we want to be seen as such. We’ve got to log in the hours. We can only go from green to a more well-seasoned color over time. And just like anything worth working for, there’s discomfort, there’s doubt, there’s rewards, there are good days and tough ones, and there is always more to learn. 

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