SLOW IS FAST, FAST IS SLOW
Yes, this has been my mantra since gentling my very first mustang. But Willie really brought it to an entire new level. Let me explain.
You see, I had learned to go slow to get results fast. I had learned how to read horses, honor what I call their thresholds (I define a threshold as the horse’s physical, mental, or emotional boundary; crossing the the threshold causes the horse to go into one of the three reactions: fight, flight, or freeze.) And by doing so, could actually get very fast results. Start colts in 2 days over 3.5 hours? Check. Teach an untouched mustang to ride successfully in one week without ever using a single rope? Check. Perform bareback and bridleless on a previously wild mustang in 100 days of gentling? Check.
Sooo given these previous accomplishments and their respective time frames, hopeful and overly enthusiastic, 24 year old me thought this “Willie” mustang would take 2 weeks, max, before I could close his case study, consider him rehabilitated, and adopt him out all before I moved to Arizona for the winter. HA, silly, silly me.
“Fast forwards an ENTIRE YEAR and I am finally ready to say our journey has come to its final destination.”
But because I had only allotted a 2 week time frame for Willie, I began to develop a lot of anxiety about the entire situation. What was I going to do now? I was supposed to be putting on clinics, performing with my other mustangs, starting a “Zorse” undersaddle, finishing my book and online courses, running a business that seemed to constantly have one fire to put out after another, traveling around the country for horse fairs that spring, and not to mention trying to put effort into an already strained long distance relationship.
So I began to hurry.
And the more I hurried, the more Willie screamed at me to slow down. If I hurried anything, Willie would regress and things would slow down by at least 10x the amount they would’ve otherwise progressed. We would accomplish one training task, only for another 5 issues to appear in need of care.
Looking back, I know there are better ways I could’ve done certain things. But I’ve tried to have compassion for myself, knowing that I was doing the best I could given my level of knowledge at the time and the pressures I was under (more on this later). One example was with the lay down.
Previously, I have taught the lay down by using ropes. Which, IF used appropriately, causes minimal stress to the horse and prepares them for giving to pressures around their legs, which is a very useful tool (especially if your horse ever winds up caught in a fence). But with Willie, I decided to try a new method, advocated by my friend and fellow trainer, Ariana Sakaris, in which you teach the horse to assume the position he naturally takes before laying down (a kind of head down, back feet tucked under like a mountain goat, front foot propped kind of position).
But Willie would assume this position and hold it for minutes at a time without giving in and laying down (which had a lot to do with him resisting such a vulnerable position). Especially using this method, the lay down was not something I could force to happen.
“Here’s the catch: As soon as I gave up the expectation of a timeline regarding him laying down, or him even laying down altogether, he did it! “
Here’s how it happened: After an unsuccessful session, I released him and walked out of the roundpen. He immediately laid down and rolled. Click and treat, treats, and more treats! I changed my approach. Now I would let him loose at the beginning of each session. He would sniff around and start to lay down on his own. Click and treat. Eventually he got more comfortable laying down with me near him and I was able to then re-introduce the cue and pair it with the behavior.
There are several examples of this type of lesson throughout his case study, but this one was particularly powerful for me. When I went back to Colorado, I took time to really build the basics with Willie and dove into more positive reinforcement training, which turned out to be a total game changer for him and really led to his total transformation.
“Willie showed me that when I stop trying to force things into existence, rush the process, and confine myself by restricting timelines, I can truly open myself up for growth and creativity. The trick was then learning to apply this to the world beyond horse training.”
Behind the Scenes
In my 24th year, I took a deep look at the business I had created. Business was booming–Or so it appeared. I had reached 100,000 followers on Facebook with over 15 million hits on my videos. I was being asked to teach and perform around the world. I made 2 major magazine covers, COWGIRL and HORSE & RIDER. I appeared on a television show on Animal Planet with Dr. Jeff. Everyone was asking how I had managed to accomplish so much at 24. But what they didn’t see was the the behind the scenes struggles. I still didn’t have any stable form of revenue. Organization within the company was a mess. Systems were nonexistent–We operated out of survival 99% of the time. I had invested thousands of dollars into an online platform that failed. I was spreading myself thin and fading away from giving so much of myself away with no time to recover (I was on camera or teaching every day for a long time…And I’m the highest level introvert you can fathom). I was losing sight of why I had undertaken all of this in the first place; The vision that had kept me alive for so many years. Years of overwork and strain were finally taking their toll.
Applying My Lessons
That was when decided to apply my lessons with Willie to my business. I had jumped into this journey 400% after my first Mustang Makeover at 21 years old, saying yes to everyone who wanted me to come to their farm to do a clinic, flattered that they wanted me and determined to make a business out of it. I naively planned my first tour in 2016, crisscrossing the country and severely underestimating my resources. It was finally time to stop and pause. To take a step back from the chaos and get clear on my purpose, focus, and vision and to build a foundation for my business rather than trying to “make it big.” I had grown too fast, too soon. People had warned me, but I had naively waved them off. I finally understood. I cancelled the rest of my tour in the spring of 2018 and retreated back to my parents ranch in Ridgway, Colorado.
I also looked at building the foundations within myself. Starting that spring, I woke up early everyday and spent hours journaling, doing yoga, meditating, and reading every self-help book I could get my hands on to unravel my fear stories and ask myself the big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?
I wanted to build a foundation within myself so that I was doing what I was doing for the right reasons…Not to rise to someone else’s definition of “successful,” not to gain the approval from others that I had always denied myself.. I wanted to build a strong foundation within myself to be the most authentic, stable, and grounded I could to prepare myself for the years that lie ahead.
More than anything, I also wanted to learn how to find balance in my life. The past two birthdays, that was what I had asked for. And until now, I didn’t realize that was exactly what the universe was showing me. But in order to truly understand and achieve balance, I had to experience it’s opposite, first: imbalance.