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In Defense of the Horse: Please Stop Blaming Your Equine Partner

From one rider of a difficult horse to another.

Finding the right horse for you is a lot like dating — sometimes you have to kiss some frogs before you find your Prince Charming. Does that mean the frogs are always icky, gross, mean, and horrible- no. They just aren’t for you.

This weekend, I witnessed a discussion on social media regarding the sale of a young rider’s horse due to the fact that the two didn’t get along and I won’t lie — originally it brought out the worst in me. I was furious at this rider, blaming the horse for their “lack of success.” After a few days of constructive thought, however, I wanted to offer some alternative points of view for those of us who aren’t exactly getting along with their horse at this point in time.

Hello: Language Barrier!

I shouldn’t have to explain this one, but there have been times where even I have forgotten this rule of thumb. Horses do not speak English (or Spanish or French or whatever). In our sport we have to fight through a massive communication barrier and even the most well-schooled horse will have their moments of confusion.

Take my Joey for example — when we first started together I got so frustrated when he would run through the bit rather than soften after a few half halts. It got to the point where I convinced myself that my very green horse was being impossible (let me just ruin the ending of this story by saying I was wrong). After some exercises with poles on the ground, lots of flatwork for strengthening, and many many lessons we found that he often just ran through from one fence to another because of his lack of balance and my horribly forward position.

From being unable to use leg without zooming away, to conquering new tasks each lesson, we have finally found the language that we both understand. Photo by Jacy LeGrand

Now I have a horse that sometimes requires spurs… we went from the Hot Mess Express to consistent, steady, and educated. Notice I said WE… not HE. We both had to learn to better the other in this relationship. It is easy for horses to get confused, especially green horses, when they don’t understand what we are asking of them. Rather than blame them for their lack of understanding and refined education, help walk them to the right path and always make sure you have a second set of eyes to ensure you are doing everything you need to do to set you both up for success.

It’s A Team Effort

One thing I learned riding in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association is that this sport is just as much of a team sport as any other “traditional” athletic activity. It is you and the horse working towards one common goal and even if you aren’t best friends, you still need to find a way to work past those difference while in the ring so that you can make that goal happen. There were COUNTLESS times that I drew a horse for an IHSA show and there was not a love connection. I can recall telling one horse in particular during a crazy swapping of leads in dressage-y fashion, “hey buddy, if you work with me here we can get out of here faster and you never have to see me again — okay?”

With one of my favorite IHSA draws of all time, Beauty. Photo by Monie Brehmer.

Going back to my dating reference, sometimes you have to spend some time with a horse to realize that the forever feeling just isn’t there. And that is okay. I am in no way saying that you HAVE to love every horse you ride and that you HAVE to keep them despite your differences. My point is, when you wake up and realize it might be best for you and the horse to part ways — don’t go online or to your barn and bash them to whoever will listen. Don’t give up. Make it as peaceful of a break as possible. Continue to work with the horse for as long as you have them; don’t resent them for the struggles you must endure together.

Think of this as a learning process. Every up and down we go through grows our skills as riders. Many of my thanks go to the most difficult horses I have worked with. Our memories may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but they made me tougher, better, stronger.

The moment you give up on your horse and go into grumpy mode, your horse will know it. And I promise that negative attitude isn’t going to make your time together any better.

The Horse of Your Nightmares is Someone’s Horse of their Dreams

I don’t think I am alone in saying that my biggest pet peeve is horse bashing. I get absolutely fired up when people post on social media that their horse is stupid, impossible, horrible, the list goes on and on. Yes, sometimes I call my horse a jerkface (lovingly) and joke about OUR mistakes together — but you will NEVER see me online singling Joey out for his lack of knowledge.

Someone carefully picked a mare and a stallion to make Joey. Someone loved him so much that they retired him from the racetrack when he wasn’t loving that sport anymore and helped rehome him to a new life. Tons of kids at my barn fell in love with him prior to me purchasing him. People besides me love this horse. Now imagine if I gut-punched all of those people by going online and calling my horse names and listing him for sale just because he made me mad.

If you and the horse aren’t meant to be, I am totally okay with that. In fact, I encourage you to find a partner that you click better with so that your horse can do the same. But how easy do you think it might be to find a home for this horse when you go online and fault them for something they don’t understand/for reacting negatively to new experiences/for having a personality that doesn’t mesh well with yours? Others are going to pick up on your negative feelings and think your horse is a bad investment and move on.

While this horse may not be the horse for you, someone will cherish that horse. That horse will make someone else’s dreams come true. Just like with dating, not every relationship is going to work but you and your ex move on to bigger and better things. Help that horse find the home of a lifetime so you can give another horse the same.

It’s not always easy and we both definitely get frustrated with one another, but Joey is my horse of a lifetime and I am so thankful for everyone who has loved him up unto this point. Photo by Jacy LeGrand

So please, stop blaming your horse. There are so many reasons why partnerships in the equine industry do not work out, but as humans we are sometimes so quick to say it was the horse’s fault. Sometimes, there is more than meets the eye and that horse deserves love and respect.

Go riding!

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