It seems the ultimate sign of caring, to say that we love our horses. Yet, I watch as people who say they love their horses treat them in ways that do not reflect that sentiment. Even riders who create obvious pain in their horses are defended, by their fans, with the statement that “They love their horses!” – as if that makes the blood in the mouth or on the sides somehow okay. Of course, for those who have either lived through or witnessed abusive human relationships, you will recognize that this is frequently the claim of the abuser toward the abused. And, of course, many people love their possessions – their car, their home, a piece of jewelry – is this the sort of love people have for their horses?
Are you in search of a leader? Have you waited your whole adult life for someone to tell you when to wake up, when to eat, and when to move? Do you long for the ‘security’ of never having to think for yourself again? I will not dismiss the possibility of someone answering “Yes” to those questions – but I’ll wager that the vast majority of people are making faces and thinking “Of course not!” when reading them. Yet, the majority of those people have probably bought into the idea that their horse is looking for a leader, that they even crave leadership. It is that very premise that is at the foundation of so many modern training programs – and it is just as crazy to assume your horse wants that as it is for me to believe that is what you want in your life.
My first horse sport was Eventing. It was a growing sport in our state, and its lack of formality appealed to the university crowd I grew up riding with. Wicki came with miles under his girth, and was a great teacher. When I outgrew him, the plan was to get a younger horse that I could take further. Enter Ben, a perfect candidate for a successful Eventing career – great temperament, very nice movement, and a jump that felt it could clear the moon. But talent is only part of the equation. Ben was a horse with very definite opinions, and my attempt to make him an Event horse left me with a mystery that lingers to this day.
You have an amazing horse who consistently gives you a nice ride. You enjoy working with this horse, and he consistency excels at what you ask of him. Then, rather suddenly, things go bad. Your high performing horse begins to struggle. His great attitude begins to turn sour. You no longer enjoy working with him – or, worse, you get hurt. What caused this change? How do you react?
Riding is a selfish act – there is really no getting around that fact. Horses do not ask to participate in the activity, they are conditioned for it. That said, I have over forty years of experience that horses can, if treated right, come to enjoy the activities they engage in with their rider. With recent news that humans have wiped out over 60% of animal life in my life time, the fact that we utilize horses may be the only thing that will spare them from the same fate. But those of us lucky enough to no longer require the horse for transportation or draft work would do well to consider what we are asking of the horse, and why.
It was three years ago that I first posted this. Recently I was telling a friend about the events related herein; so when a request to re-post this followed a short while later, I decided it must be time.
In honor of Halloween, I’m taking a break from my usual equine subjects to tell a ghost story. Growing up, I had a fascination with the supernatural, particularly those of the “true tales” variety. I waited and hoped, in vain, for my own ghostly encounter. As I became an adult, I continued to look for evidence, but increasingly logic took over. I still heard interesting accounts, and when the subject hit “reality” TV, I was drawn in – but there always seemed to be a logical explanation to all of it. And then, this happened …
If there is one piece of wisdom I would wish to impart to anyone who trains horses, it would be this: appreciate the small gifts. If your goal is to win prizes and make money, then that wisdom may not be for you; you have in mind gifts the horse cannot provide, save for the use of its body in service to your ambition. However, if your goal is to enjoy a healthy working relationship with a large sensitive and social animal who grants you the privilege of sitting upon his back, and will offer friendship if you offer it to him, then perhaps those words will be of assistance to you.