(last edited 3/05)

THE ROPE AND FLAG

Once you have the horse in the round corral, the tools you begin with are the rope, the flag, and your own physical presence. The rope is a lass rope, with which you can form a loop. The flag is some sort of stick, three or four feet long, with something attached to the end of it that moves and makes noise, such as a plastic bag or piece of tarp.

If the horse is not gentle, the first thing he must accept when he enters the round corral is the human's presence.

Just standing in the center of the corral may cause him mental discomfort; the horse may run around quite a bit before he begins to calm down.

When he relaxes and appears to be accepting the human, it is time to introduce new pressures. The coiled rope can be used as an extension of the arm, and shaken at the horse to keep him moving or to turn him. Shaking it will make a little noise.

Then the rope can be swung overhead without being thrown, so the horse sees and hears it. This creates mental pressure. It is not for the purpose of frightening the horse, although he may be frightened at first. The purpose is to get him to accept new situations, and the rope is a tool in accomplishing that purpose.

When he can accept the swinging rope, the loop can be thrown over his head, so that he works at accepting the physical discomfort of it around his neck, and works at yielding to that pressure. Each of his feet can also be caught, so that he begins learning to yield his feet to pressure. Every time he makes the smallest try in the direction of yielding to the rope, he is given slack and the pressure stops immediately. The loop can be used over any part of his body.

If the horseman is not a roper, the loop can be draped over the horse's head or body while he is standing still. Or he can be rubbed all over with the coils of the rope until he is accepting of it.

When the horse is no longer bothered about the rope, introduce the flag. Show it to him, shake it noisily, use it to turn him. Each time he responds to the flag, for example by turning when you want him to, immediately release the pressure, by removing the pressure of the flag, maybe by hiding it behind your back.

These exercises are to get the horse to respond to pressure-not just any way, but in the way you want him to respond. At first you just ask him to move; then you ask him to move calmly. At first you just ask him to turn, but then you ask him to turn in a particular direction, either toward the fence or away from it. When he is stopped, you at first just ask him to move forward, but later you ask him to move forward at a particular gait, or with more softness.

The use of the rope and flag accomplishes several things. The horse learns to give to both mental and physical discomfort, to yield his body and mind, to make decisions. At the same time, he is learning that the human is OK and is not going to hurt him. And the human has begun the process of what he will continue to do in the saddle-getting the horse's attention, moving his feet, making and carrying out a plan, using discipline, and moving the horse's front and hind quarters.

The rope and flag are initially uncomfortable, things the horse will try to move away from. But the human will use them in such a way that the horse no longer finds them as threatening.

The horse's first reaction to them both is to flee or fight. A fearful horse will flee; a disrespectful horse will fight. He may kick or strike at them, or try to duck them. From fear or anger, he may try to bail out, to escape. But after he learns that he cannot escape from them, and that they will not harm him, he will eventually learn to accept them, and even to let them be rubbed on his body in a way that he will not find unpleasant.

What does God use as a rope or flag? Once He has you in the round corral (a situation from which you are unable to escape), what does He use to get your attention and get you to give to Him?

He is very resourceful; He can use almost anything. But mostly He uses things that we do not like, things that we try to get away from, such as being mistreated by others, financial problems, illness, danger, any type of problem or crisis, or just the threat of any of these, whether or not they actually happen.

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Like the horse, we may try "flight or fight." Some situations seem to have us trapped, but others, such as a difficult marriage or job, can be escaped. If we bail out, God has another situation waiting in which we can work at the lesson He is trying to teach. In the round corral, we can run all we want, but there is no place to hide.

Or we may decide to feel sorry for ourselves, pout, and refuse to try. Sometimes a horse does this. Like a burro, he just sulls up, refuses to move his feet, no matter how much pressure you apply.

Whether we fight against our situation, try to bail out, or quit trying, God, like the horseman, has a unique approach for each individual. He will work with us until we quit struggling and complaining about the situation He has put us in, even to the point where we can learn to see it as something good from His hand. Many find it hard to grasp this last stage, but if we refuse, the pressure never really does ease up. It is our choice.

When we quit running or fighting, God, like the horseman, will still be standing in the center of the round corral, offering us a better deal.

Copyright 1998 Jan Young

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