In search of ponies: Success understood across species

We just didn’t speak the same language.

And it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if he didn’t have the ability to run over me like a Mac truck, a point which was driven home with every nervous or confused twitch he made.

I can still see him standing there, nose to the fence, trembling hind quarters pointed my way, as I tried everything I could think of to get him to respond… to show me that he heard me… to do anything.

Waving arms, yelling, the whip snapping through the air, the plastic grocery bag tied at the end of a stick, annoying tapping on his rump… you name it, I tried it, thinking that the size of the communication needed to match the size of the recipient.

That poor horse.

To this day I have a soft spot in my heart for him, partly because he didn’t swat me like the mosquito I was, but mostly because I now know he was trying to learn my language even harder than I was his, even though it didn’t seem like it at the time.

I thought I knew what I was doing, or at the very least, I knew what I wanted – to get him to move in a circle around me. It should have been simple.

But it wasn’t.

Spending hours upon hours staring at his unmoving backside, I’ll admit I thought he was messing with me and having a big old joke at my expense — an opinion onlookers were quick to share as they chuckled and shook their heads.

But even with his stubborn behind pointed at me, his posture was that of a martyr and I just didn’t feel good about the heavy scare tactics that, as far as I could see, had only left him trembling and jumpy but too uncertain to move.

And then, one quiet day having nearly given up, I tugged his nose away from the fence, lined him up the direction I wanted him to go and stepped back, like I had a thousand times before.

I had never hit him and had no intention of doing so, but my aim was off as I snapped my wrist and the whip licked the saddle with a loud, “CRACK!”

In one solid movement, his head snapped up, hind quarters gathered and he bolted forward with wide eyes.

Lowering the whip in shock, I encouraged him forward, giddy as could be.

Trotting around me, the negativity melted away for him too as his neck curved and his trembling uncertainty was replaced with sure-footed steps.

Life is full of “Duh” moments and anyone who says differently is just not in touch with their inner idiot. For those, like me, who sometimes have difficulty hugging their inner fool and uttering that particular word, I have found a positive alternative — “Eureka!”

We had finally clicked.

By the following week you wouldn’t have known there had ever been a problem at all as he circled, his posture confident. He was so in tune to me; he would screech to a dusty stop or move from a slow walk to a steady jog, then back to a walk, in response to a slight gesture.

In hindsight, it wasn’t really the crack of the whip against the saddle that changed things because I soon realized I didn’t need it.

Rather, it was the success that changed everything.

In that single and brief eureka moment of celebration after our first win, we broke the language barrier.

Up to that point, we had taught each other a lot about failure and error, and we had reinforced it until we were both so frustrated we were literally getting nowhere.

Looking back, I had all the right commands, because the instructions I give him are the same today as they were back then.

But the syntax only mattered to me, never him. All he really needed to know was the bottom line, and it needed to be one he could feel good about — eureka!