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About a month ago I took my three oldest sons and my dad hunting mule deer in the high Uintah Mountains of Northeastern Utah.  On opening morning of the hunt we loaded our horses in the trailer and made our way to a place called Pigeon Water, about a 30 minute drive from m\"agoodhorse.jpg\"y boy hood home of Talmage, Utah.

After unloading and saddling the horses, I did a last minute check to make sure the saddles were on securely and that that we had all of our gear.  Just before heading up the mountain I asked my son Mitchell (16) to tighten his cinch (the strap that wraps around the horse\’s chest and holds the saddle on) to be sure his saddle wouldn\’t slip…then we were off!

Mitch was riding a four year old named Joe.  Despite his young age, Joe is an exceptionally well behaved and trustworthy horse and all \”seemed\” to be going well…at least for a while.

We traversed some difficult terrain, with some steep climbs and lots of rock, when Joe started acting out, doing things that were out of character for him.  He pawed the ground violently, and then, without warning, he laid down on the ground while Mitch was astride his back!  Stunned at his belligerence, we tried pulling Joe to his feet!

After a few seconds struggling with him we could see that Joe\’s problem was not laziness or a bad attitude.  He was laboring to breath!  We had tightened the cinch too tight and unfortunately we now couldn\’t loosen it with Joe laying on his side.   My Dad, seeing what was happening and knowing that it required a firm hand, or Joe might have a heart attack, kicked him and forced him to his feet.  We were then able to quickly loosen the saddle and give Joe relief.  Within seconds, Joe began to calm down and breath easy again and we had no further problems from him the rest of the day!

So what does this story about Mitchell, Joe, and the saddle teach us about parenting?  Here are a few thoughts:

* My concern over slippage shows us that it\’s natural to make rules overly restrictive when we think that if things slip a little, they will slip all the way.

* Instead of fearing slips, acknowledge that they will happen and just position yourself to quickly correct things.

* Seasoned cowboys know, it\’s easier to straighten a saddle while riding when it\’s snug, but not too tight.  You can put your weight in one stirrup and pull the saddle horn quickly to the side and easily straighten the saddle without ever stopping.

* If our saddle is so tight, or if we ride our horse (teen) so hard that we have a partnership break down, where he refuses to work for us (or listen to us), getting the relationship back on track and moving again requires much more time and emotional energy, than if we have the right balance between expectations and nurturance.

* Saddles, like rules are helpful, until they are cinched on our kids too tightly.  There is a happy medium where there is something to hang onto and horses become a willing partner, and when it\’s so tight that the horse bucks or lays down.

* When our teens \”act up\”, consider that there might be other reasons besides the common negative and quick conclusions we may be in the habit of jumping to.

* Listen to our kids and make sure we\’ve given them room to breathe.

Do you see other parallels from this story to parenting and family life?  I\’d love to hear your thoughts.  Post your comments on my blog at because I read every post.  How does this apply to parenting?  Let\’s count the ways!

To Family Success and Happiness!

Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.


Homeward Bound/Family Front

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