"The True Way"
The Round Corral ~ The Rope and Flag ~ Hooking On ~ Learning to Learn
Yielding the Whole Body ~ Blanket, Saddle, and Rider ~ In the Saddle ~ Use of Aids
Some Elements of Horsemanship ~ Distractions ~ The Quick Fix ~ Natural Horsemanship?
The Soft Feel ~ Spade Bit ~ Out of the Arena ~ Who's Calling the Shots? ~ Straightness

(last edited 3/05)


by Jan Young

Horses that have interesting jobs to do, such as negotiating jumps or working cows, find it easy to stay focused on what they are doing. Going around and around an arena mindlessly can become boring to the horse; a bored horse will often spook at anything and is easily distracted.

One of the most common distractions is the gate in the corral or arena. Whether the gate is open or closed, it attracts the horse's attention, constantly tempting him as a means of escape from whatever he is being asked to do.

Each time he approaches it, he begins to look at it. His ears point that way, his eyes roll in that direction, then his head starts to turn and you feel the brace in his body as he attempts to shoulder toward it.

The problem is the loss of his attention. It should be on you and on what you are doing, but it is not. That may indicate that it was not really on you to begin with. He is not looking you up. So the first step is to make sure you have the horse's attention when you are riding him. How do you know where his attention is, and how do you get and keep his attention?

Several clues tell where his attention is. If his ears are pointed ahead all the time, his attention is probably on what he is looking at. He does need to pay attention to what is out there, but he also needs to pay attention to you. To momentarily bring his attention back to you, do something to get his attention. Jiggle one rein or one foot. One ear should flick back; his attention comes back to you for a moment.

If he does not notice and give you his attention when you try that, you might have to do more with a rein or a foot, or make a noise. Slap your hand on your leg or the saddle. A horse that has never been expected to pay attention can ignore quite a bit of pressure; that is why he is hard to ride. As you get in the habit of continually asking for his brief attention, and making that comfortable by the instant release of pressure, he will become more aware of you, and you will be able to do smaller things to get his attention.

Another sign that you do not have his attention is a heaviness on the bit, which means he is pulling on your hands, not yielding. Ask him to give his mouth; apply just enough pressure to get him to drop his nose for a second, and immediately release the pressure. That is asking for, and getting, the start of a soft feel. Do this often while riding. It will become a habit for both you and the horse. It develops yieldedness while also getting and keeping his attention.

Once you know how to get the horse's attention, you can use this technique to keep his attention off things like gates. As you approach the gate, begin getting his attention on the opposite side. You may think that moving a rein or a leg will signal him to turn, but the rest of your body is telling him to keep going straight and is not allowing him to turn.

Another common distraction is grass. Many horses take a swipe at it every chance they get. Again, the attention is not on you enough. Get in the habit of keeping the horse's attention off distractions and on the rider.

One reason the horse's attention drifts is that he is not being given enough interesting things to think about. Even if you are just walking down the road or trotting around the arena, work on transitions: a slight change in speed, a change of direction. Circle a weed or rock; change from a straight line to a serpentine; see how fast he can walk or trot, then how slow. See if you can get him to take longer strides without speeding up. Move his hindquarters over a step, then his shoulder. Don't let him get so bored that he looks at grass.

Life is full of distractions for the Christian. The newer you are to the Christian life, the more easily you will be distracted. The longer you are exposed to God's voice, and the more effort you put into listening to it, the easier it is to hear.

God's words, though not audible, are found in the written Word. We are used to listening to audible voices, and we often wish He would speak to us audibly. But He doesn't force His voice on us; He allows us to exercise choice. The more we choose to read His letters to us, the clearer we learn to hear His voice. The more we read His words, the more we begin to think His way.

If we neglect His words, our attention begins to drift. We start looking at gates, at ways of possible escape from what we are supposed to be doing. We snatch at a bite of this tasty distraction or that tempting morsel. We temporarily forget about the Rider, until He jiggles a rein or a toe. If we ignore that gentle reminder, He may have to slap us with the stirrup or even touch us with the spur. He keeps on bringing our attention back to Himself.

Then for a while we stay with Him, determined to really keep our mind on Him now. We may even feel shame for having let our attention drift once again. But there are so many other things to look at and think about that before long, we drift off again. (Not that there is anything wrong with paying attention to what is going on around us; that is a necessary part of daily life.) But He wants more than an hour or two on Sunday or fifteen minutes a day. He wants it all.

When Peter walked to Jesus on the water, he did fine as long as he kept his attention on Jesus. But as soon as he looked at those distracting waves, he began to sink. The harder the task He gives us, the more important it becomes to keep that attention focused on Him.

Hebrews 12:2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…

Each time He brings us back, our resolve strengthens to pay better attention, and eventually it takes less and less on His part to bring our focus back on Him, perhaps just His little finger moving a rein. He wants to see that ear flicking back and forth, out there and then back on Him again, many times a day.

Copyright 1998

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