Bad Baby Bella!!!
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say that animals can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. When we approach our animals with agendas and expectations, we may find that our animals have agendas of their own. As our wills collide, there may be unwanted outbursts from the human, the animal, or both. All of us who choose to share our lives with animals have had this experience, yet few talk about it. Take my horse Bella for instance. Bella is a stunningly beautiful 4 ½ year old American Paint. I rescued Bella at a young age after her mother’s death. She is one of the most curious horses that I have ever seen and she plays the role of pasture “clown” very well. All of my other horses come willingly into the arena and due to the bond we share, I am able to train them quite easily. Not so with Bella. Although she loves to come into the arena, Bella always has her own agenda which usually includes resistance to the training that I would like to do. In my clinics, Bella is always the most popular horse because she loves “being on stage.” She is like a child in a classroom who “cuts up” to get attention. At one point, her behavior became so atrocious that I nick-named her “Bad Baby Bella!”
As I advanced in my training with Bella, I began to realize that I was beginning to dislike her. At first, I thought that this was due to her incorrigible nature. Gradually, I began to notice that I was learning a few things about myself. It seemed, as if out of nowhere, Bella could hit my “hot button”. I knew that if Bella realized she had “gotten my goat” she would continue to push my buttons, so for a while I tried to ignore her behavior and not let my feelings show. That didn’t work because all I had done was to store up my anger which could come out when I least expected it. Thus, I decided that I needed to stop training Bella.
As I continued to train other horses in the arena, Bella could see them. When it was time to take her to the paddock area, she would make a bee-line to the arena often dragging me in the process. When I tried to prevent her from cutting in front of me, she would rear so closely to me that I felt my safety was threatened. When she doesn’t want to move, she locks her feet and she WON’T move. Bella fights with my dog, bites often, and will allow you to pick up her feet on her terms only. Most trainers would dig in their heels, match force with force, and make Bella comply with their demands. I must admit that not matching Bella’s resistance is one of the hardest things that I have ever done! I wanted to take my anger out on her but how could I? I teach other people every day about the importance of the relationship we have with our horses. Bella was definitely forcing me to “walk the walk” if I wanted to “talk the talk.” Matching resistance is the quickest way I know to NOT having a relationship with a horse or a human. Making me do something that I don’t want to do is the fastest way to get on my %@#* list and I’m sure Bella feels the same way.
I have developed a personal rule to keep me accountable for my actions. The rule is that when I train my horses, I always train as if I am being watched by the finest horseman. This rule allows me to train with integrity and honesty. I suggest that all trainers adapt a similar rule. It doesn’t mean you’ll never get angry. It just means you won’t act on it.
Months ago, I decided that my first step with Bella would be to learn to like her just the way she is without imposing my judgments or expectations on her. I have shared countless hours just being with her in the pasture (sharing territory) as I have learned to appreciate her for who she is, my class clown. After many long months, I now can honestly say that I do LIKE Bella! Learning to open my heart to Bella has been the greatest of training for both of us. Student of the horse, always..…. Linda
Have a great rest of the week!