It’s been said that we don’t find the horses in our lives; rather, they find us. Breanne Long describes five equine archetypes equestrians are likely to encounter during their riding careers.
As Christmas approaches it got me thinking about how lucky we are to have horses in our lives and as much as we train them, we’re usually the ones who learn the most.
Every horse is different, of course, but for the most part they can all be categorized into one of these five types of horses we meet in life.
1. The Intro Horse
We each came into horses in our own way, but it was always with a horse leading us. This might have been a friend’s first pony, or perhaps it was a draft horse on a farm you once visited. It might have been a real-life meeting, or an imaginary one in a book.
Mine was Carmen. Sure, I had met horses at petting zoos and trail rides, but Carmen was the first horse I actually interacted with. He was a 30-something appaloosa gelding that was used for occasional beginner lessons. I rode him in lessons for a few months and was eventually allowed to lease him and ride more often. We never did much beyond walk/trot in the arena and the infrequent trail ride, but he was gentle and despite his outwardly cranky demeanor I think he enjoyed the attention 8-year-old me lavished upon him.
Yes, I know, the overalls and hiking boots were a good look in 1998. (And aside from this picture, I always wore a helmet!)
2. The Experimental Horse
Once you had crossed the line between “Darn, they’re big!” and “Wow! Can I try that?” you found yourself face-to-face with the horse that would suffer through your early attempts at figuring out the whole horse experience. Wherever this horse came from, he or she probably didn’t benefit from the encounter as much as you did.
My experimental horse was Sweetie, a vaguely sound Anglo-Arab mare who had been rescued from a horse trader. She was skin and bones when she arrived and the barn had a contest to name her. She was such an affectionate horse and put up with everything I did with her including sitting on her back as she stood up in her stall, learning to pull a mane, learning a flying change, “timed trail rides” around the pastures, and the millions of other things the girls at the barn and I could come up with to entertain ourselves. Sweetie was also the first horse I rode bareback and bridleless; she was voice-trained fairly well and would hack out with just a rope around her neck.
Sweetie relaxing at a show. And yes, that is a red and white halter with hearts along the noseband and cheek pieces–it fit her personality perfectly.
3. The Connected Horse
The first horses we meet don’t really connect with us, nor do we with them. Those are experiences in survival and tests of endurance. The Connected Horse is the first horse you truly bond with. This is the horse that sounds a chord that lives so deep in you that you might never have heard it otherwise.
Libby was the most lady-like horse I have ever met; if she could talk she would have had a British accent. She was a ladies foxhunter in a former life and was a perfect hunter mare. Her favorite trick was to “kiss” your face–this was easy to teach but also a good way to get a split lip when she figured out all she had to do was stick her nose in your face to get a treat. Regardless of the ride you gave her she knew her job and worked best if you stayed out of her way and let her figure things out on her own. She was a perfect example of the heart of a Thoroughbred and would try as hard as she could for you.
Libby was also the bossiest horse I’ve ever known. When we brought her home she wasted no time in telling the other mares who was the new alpha, and if you ever tried to keep her in the back of a group trail ride you might very well end up with a face-full of tree branch as she charged her way back to the lead. I trusted Libby implicitly and she never let me down.
Libby and I at a schooling show many years ago…
I haven’t found these next two horses yet, but my long-term goal is to re-train an OTTB so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
4. The Challenger
Into each horseperson’s life a little challenge must fall. You’ll have read that one final training book, bought yourself a clicker and heading rope, and there you’ll stand, arms crossed, assessing the situation as if you actually knew what the situation was. It might be difficult to believe, as you are flying down the aisleway on the losing end of a braided cotton line, but you actually need this horse in your life.
5. Your Deepest Heart
There will come a time when you will look at yourself with a cold, appraising eye, and you’ll have to be honest about your continued ability or willingness to deal with The Challenger and other difficult horses. At that point, you’ll seek out the horse that will be your soul mate forever. You’ll have bought him the most comfortable, best fitting equipment… Maybe you’ll still go to shows and ride – brilliantly or barely – in the Alzheimer’s class. Maybe you’ll just stay home. Whatever you do, one day you’ll realize that after all the money you spent on animal communicators and trainers, you only had to stop and listen and you would have clearly heard your horse’s thoughts and desires.
Do you have five horses that fit this list?
Take the time this Christmas to give them an extra carrot (if they’re a current member of your horsey family) and remember how much they taught you.