"Dragons, B-HAGS & Ropes - Oh My!!!"
"Golden Wish Dragon" by Melissa Klein
There is a tale of a Tibetan monk who was followed by a dragon wherever he went. This dragon tormented him and made his life a living hell. The monk tried moving to many different places, but always after a day or two, the dragon would appear and torment him. Finally, the monk said to the dragon "Open your mouth." The dragon opened his mouth. The monk went in. The dragon disappeared.
"A Good Mother - April & Hawthorne" by Melissa Klein
About 8 years ago, we adopted a pregnant, Percheron (draft) rescue horse from the pharmaceutical industry - that was a tipping point for many positive changes. About six weeks after we adopted April, (full name "April Hester Prynne - after the lady in "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne) she gave birth to Hawthorne. Even at birth, he was never small. And then he got bigger…
"Hawthorne at the Awkward Age" by Melissa Klein
and bigger…. And…
"Hawthorne & Melissa" by Henry Paterson
I've been working on training Hawthorne - who is now considered a teenager in draft horse years. He tips the scale at about 1800+ pounds and his back is higher than my head. Training April was challenging, but she's a really easy horse for me - we think alike and when not certain, slowing down and petting works wonders. She's turned out to be a great trail horse - solid, sensible and willing. Hawthorne - needs play, creativity, games, reverse psychology, and fun - which can be hard to deliver when I'm feeling unconfident.
"Hawthorne Sticks Out His Tongue" by Melissa Klein
"This dragon tormented him and made his life a living hell."
Hawthorne… has developed some bad habits due in part to my inexperience and in part to an inconsistent training schedule. And any bad habits he has - are my responsibility to work out. No former owner or past trauma to blame here… No finger pointing. One of those bad habits is if he gets bored during ground work, or if I push him too much, he just turns and bolts. It sucks! I try to stop him by jerking the rope, or if I can think quickly enough, have him turn around or do something different. But there's this moment where he turns, his massive butt bunching up and then he springs away like a runaway freight train and I am helpless to stop him. I've tried and have the rope burns and blisters to prove it.
"The monk tried moving to many different places, but always after a day or two, the dragon would appear and torment him."
I've been working hard on this for the last nine months - and while there are a few days here and there that are missed - overall I am so much more consistent. He is more respectful - and has a better attitude and is willing to do much more. It happens less frequently, but there are still those times, where he turns and bolts. It happens usually just when I feel like we are "making real progress" and maybe ready take him off the property and out on a trail in the next week. Hopes dashed. Back to square one. Two steps forward, three steps back. And it sucks! Because until this problem is fixed, there is no way I would take him outside a fenced in area - the idea of him running into the street or over some hapless bystander is terrifying.
"Finally, the monk said to the dragon "Open your mouth." The dragon opened his mouth. The monk went in. The dragon disappeared."
I had an "A-hah" moment. Train him to come to me when I let go of the rope. Let go of the rope on purpose. Give him lots of rewards, scratches and praise for doing so. Instead of the reward for him being when he gets to run away from me; make the reward be to come to me. Try it at the walk, the trot and the cantor. Try it in the round pen, and then in the larger field. Try it on a 12' foot, 20' and 40' rope.
Something shifted in doing this. It took only minutes to train him to do this. And while I haven't quite tested it thoroughly enough to take him off outside a fenced area - it seems to be working - at least on a 20' rope on an acre pasture. He comes more quickly to me now, even when he's at liberty. He seems more positive. I'm feeling good enough about the groundwork, to start riding regularily.
"Bright Star - Hawthorne" by Melissa Klein
For me, to go into the dragon's mouth was to let go of the rope. This made what I had wanted all along to happen - to have my horse want to stay with me. It enabled having more control through letting go.
In "Switch - How to Change When Change is Hard" by Chip and Dan Heath, one of the things that can galvanize people is something called a "B.H.A.G." which stands for "Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal." Hawthorne is my B.H.A.G. - do groundwork without having him bolt away, ride him at the walk, trot and canter with confidence. Ride on trails with streams, bridges and through rough terrain.
"Hawthorne the Big B-HAG" by Melissa Klein
What's your B.H.A.G.? What rope do you need to let go of?
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