W orking with horses is all about pressure and release. If you want the horse to move left, you apply pressure to the right. The horse moves left to escape the pressure. When he does so, you release the pressure. This way, the horse learns to get what he wants — release – by giving the rider what he wants. Once you understand the concept, the rest is a matter of learning techniques how to apply it.

I wanted to master those techniques. I wanted to have a horse at the ready so whenever the mood struck me, I could ride if not into the sunset then at least toward the orchard, the mountaintop, the pond…. So I’d enrolled in Retorno’s Western Riding Course to become an instructor. Then I could ride when I wanted, bring my kids along for the ride, and work with people both in and out of Retorno.

The course was tough. I was spending hours every week engaging muscles I didn’t know I had and using them in opposing ways — simultaneously. My brain was working overtime, processing detailed instructions in Hebrew at a rapid clip while the beast beneath me had ideas of its own.

At the same time, my trail rides continued, and one day I joined a group of teenagers. They’d been riding for a few months, so I knew we’d be jogging. A jog is basically a slow trot; if you sit correctly, you don’t bounce, but if you tense up, you’ll know it then, and your body will remind you the next day. At Yoram’s instruction, we jogged for most of the 45-minute trail ride.

I sat astride Moshiko, a regal mahogany bay horse with a black mane and tail. Moshiko is very disciplined — if you can give him exact instructions. If not, his jog is sharp and bouncy and rather uncomfortable.

As soon as the jogging began, I wished I’d chosen a different horse. I’d slow Moshiko down, and after a few steps he’d speed up again. After 10, 20, perhaps 30 attempts to control his pace, I gave up. I told myself that this was the nature of the beast, and he wasn’t going to change for me. I let him jog too close to the horse in front of me, then pulled him to a walk. When there was enough distance between us, I’d start all over again.

After we dismounted, I spoke to Yoram, explaining how I’d tried to slow the horse down.

“You slowed him down for a step or two,” Yoram replied, “but you didn’t keep him there. When he started to run too fast again, you let him.”

“Well, yes, but—”

“When you give an instruction,” Yoram said, “no is not an option. The horse has to listen to you. Period. You have to be very persistent. You have to make sure he knows that the only way he’s going to get the release he wants is by listening to you. When you paused too long between each effort, you were essentially letting him have his way, every single time.

“In other words, you engaged in a power struggle. Moshiko figured out that if he ignored you long enough, you’d give up. You need to be the one who doesn’t let up. Eventually, he’ll realize that the way to achieve the release he wants is by being obedient, not by waiting you out.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 551)