Because I learned so much about myself and about relationships, I’d like to share my first experience of training a horse with you. One evening I was at the fair with my family. Walking past one of the areas, I saw a sign for a horse to be given away in a drawing. I already had horses; but, figured if it were free, I could add one more to the herd! Well, the drawing was over 15 minutes before I got there. The lady kindly told me there were 25 other non-broke, untouched mustangs that were being auctioned off. That got my curiosity up. My husband decided the whole family would come see these mustangs. Well, they were gorgeous! Untamed, free-spirited, beautiful, and afraid! What a sight! The longer we stayed, the more we were entertaining the idea of bidding on one. After all, they were beautiful (and the price was right). Three minutes before the bidding ended our name was the only one on the sheet for a red dun, 2 year old mare. At that point my heart was pounding. I realized we just bought a horse! Not just any horse; this one was afraid of humans. We named this pretty, scared, young red dun after a pretty, scared, young red-headed orphan girl we had met that summer, Ruby. So Ruby came to live with us. (The horse, not the human.)
What do you do when you have a 20 acre pasture and a horse that won’t come near you? Well, my husband went to work building a pen and I spent lots of time in the pasture hoping Ruby would decide to come close. After about a week, I wasn’t getting very far. So I began to put food and water in the pen and read any natural horsemanship training book I could get my hands on. There was some success in the pen; but, there was still a chance of getting stuck in a corner with a horse that was still very much afraid. So I picked up a step-by-step John Lyons book and watched horse trainers on TV. I decided my best bet was to put feed in a round pen, let Ruby wander in to eat, and then lock her up. After she had time to eat, I’d go out and work on each step until it was accomplished. Sometimes that would take one session, other times we’d be on one step for a week. Having never trained a horse before, many times I was just a nervous as Ruby was. It was a couple of months before I finally touched her. During those months of building that relationship, I learned many things. To build a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you takes patience and risk. I put my heart on the line as I sat out there asking Ruby day after day to trust me enough to touch her. With each step closer to one another, it took being willing to allow the other one to get comfortable in the other’s space. For me it also meant learning how to communicate in a different language. I had to learn to speak like a horse to ask her to move closer or move away. The first touch was brief; but, made it all worth it. That first touch also allowed Ruby to see that I wasn’t going to hurt her.
The next step was to get Ruby to stand still long enough to be petted. Apparently, the time I’d spent with Ruby before that first touch paid off because getting her to stand still was a quicker process. It was exhilarating and rewarding to see a wild animal put its trust in the hands of a human. It reminds me of a victim of domestic violence that has to learn to trust again after someone has caused them so much pain. The wild had caused Ruby to have many fears, especially of death, anger, and physical harm. These fears are very similar to someone who has been a victim of violence or sexual abuse. Once that trust was established between Ruby and I though, it was like an unbreakable bond. Her eyes softened, her body language softened, and she was quicker to approach me. This is the healing that takes place in humans as they re-establish trust in positive relationships.
After this stage, I began introducing strange objects: brushes, blankets, plastic bags, etc. This required a greater degree of trust on Ruby’s part. This also required that I have patience once again. I could not assume that just because she accepted my hand, that she would accept other objects without investigation. As I would show Ruby an object first from say, 4 feet, we both had to learn to overcome fear. If at anytime she felt that that object was a threat, Ruby would turn quickly to run. I would suddenly see a very large animal’s hindquarters which were strong enough to send me flying across the arena if she kicked out as she ran away. When you are able to be kicked by an 800 pound animal, you must have focus, know your boundaries, have some faith, and be willing to move quickly to put yourself in safety. There are many times in life we need to use these same skills. Some psychological issues that these skills need to be strengthened or established to overcome are: ADD, OCD, abuse, addictions, self-mutilation, learning and processing disorders, and general problem-solving skills for productivity. I was made much more aware of these during the training process with Ruby. These skills help bring emotional healing and self-acceptance.
After Ruby had accepted all the foreign objects and allowed herself to be touched everywhere by human hands, we had to begin the process of getting her to accept a rider. To begin that process, I started asking her to stand still while I threw a blanket on her back. Because mustangs are attacked in the wild from above by mountain lions and wolves, this took a lot of trust and willingness on Ruby’s part. On my part, once again, I was learning. As I threw the blanket up again and again and Ruby would keep running away from it, I had to learn perseverance. In life sometimes things don’t go the way you planned the first time. You must fail again and again. But, failure is part of success. Each failure takes you one step closer to success. This process also strengthened my communication skills with Ruby because as a mustang her fear of something on her back was larger than a domesticated horse. Our mutual trust increased. My patience increased. My ability to work on a relationship and think of someone else above myself increased. But, day by day, Ruby allowed me to go a bit farther and put blanket and saddle on her back a bit longer. She became comfortable with the weight of the saddle on her back and allowing me to run her around with the saddle.
Another area where a horse is very concerned is allowing their feet to be picked up. Horses are flight animals; therefore, their first instinct is to run if they sense danger. Therefore, if you take their foot, they can’t run and become very nervous. Ruby’s feet were beginning to grow and need attention from the farrier; but, I was unable to get her to hold her feet up long enough to have a farrier come out to trim her. This is another area of trust and patience. This time, we invited a third party in to help us. One person would hold the lead rope to keep Ruby somewhat still, and another person would keep asking her to hold her foot up for longer periods of time. When someone is unable to run from a problem or a relationship, they must learn effective, productive coping skills. This is another one of life’s lessons.
Now for the final task! It’s time to get on Ruby’s back! For months now I have asked Ruby to trust me, telling her I would take care of her. Now it’s my turn to trust her, allowing her to take care of me. Well, because of the long process of relationship building, I got on and nothing happened. Ruby just stood there. If you’ve ever heard a horse story, you’ve heard of people who have ridden a horse until it quit bucking. Well, my experience was very uneventful. So the first session, I got on and off several times without asking Ruby to move. This showed her that it was OK, and not something to fear. Someone who has experienced deep trauma needs you to be like this, taking time and asking for baby steps as they learn to trust again.
I have to share the ending of this story with you. Through the process of training Ruby, which you’ll recall was a totally new experience for me, I learned about myself, others, and relationships. Ruby learned much, too. So today, she is with me and soon turning 6 years old. She is my favorite horse. Even though many horses will come and go in my life, Ruby and I will always have a special bond. And when Ruby is gone, I’ll always be able to use the lessons she taught me to be a better person, heal as life brings me new challenges, and draw on the character qualities that I learned as I trained my
beautiful, scared, free-spirited red head! Ruby wants you to know she is still beautiful and free-spirited.

Written by Royce Gomez, owner of Pillar Ranch, who resides with her family and herd in beautiful Colorado.
Royce Gomez can be reached at

Author's Bio: 

Royce Gomez has worked full-time in the equine field for the last 7 years. Royce has a husband and 2 children, as well as numerous pets. Professionally, Royce conducts personal and professional development workshops using horses to facilitate experiential learning sessions.