“When we own a horse, we have a commitment to that animal — but we also have a commitment to ourselves. That means, at times, that we need to step back from a relationship and take a long, hard look, being honest with ourselves about how we feel.”
We’re all familiar with the fairy tale underdog story: rider meets horse in unlikely place, horse may be talented but comes in an unlikely package, or has other issues that have caused it to be labeled “difficult,” rider persists against the advice of everyone, never gives up on horse, and eventually they win the Olympics or the big race.
If this sounds like the plot of a movie, you’d be right, but there are plenty of real-life stories that followed the same story arc — both high-profile (think Harry de Leyer and Snowman, or maybe Hugh Wiley and Nautical, or Marion Coakes Mould and Stroller) and the more “everyday” tales that fly way under the international radar. We love these stories; they remind us to look past the outward appearance of a horse and see his true potential, his heart; they remind us that love for a horse can overcome all, that the struggle we all experience on bad days is totally worth it.
These stories also sometimes give us the false hope that every horse and rider relationship is destined for that fairy-tale ending, if only we love enough, we believe enough and we are patient enough. While these are all important qualities in every horse relationship, it’s a cold truth that sometimes these things simply are not enough.
This is not an easy truth to learn and to accept. I just need to persist a little harder, we tell ourselves. I love this horse. We modify our goals; we rewrite our dreams. We ignore fear; we ignore doubt. We believe this is admirable. And sometimes it is — sometimes we just need to push through those moments of fear and doubt. These are normal sensations that every horseperson experiences at some point.
But there is a time when fear and trepidation become crippling, when the prospect of a missed riding opportunity feels not like a loss but a relief. Still we may persist with a horse that simply doesn’t suit us, a horse who might intimidate us or downright scare us, a horse that remains an enigma despite all the love and time and patience in the world, denying that there’s anything wrong at all.
When we own a horse, we have a commitment to that animal — but we also have a commitment to ourselves. That means, at times, that we need to step back from a relationship and take a long, hard look, being honest with ourselves about how we feel. We need to remember to treat ourselves as well as we treat our horses.
For some owners, commitment to a horse means being responsible for that horse for life, no matter what. For others, commitment to a horse might mean doing everything in the owner’s power to foster another relationship for that horse with a different human, a partnership that’s more harmonious than the original. Both of these are admirable.
There is no shame in stepping away from a horse when a relationship has run its course. There are times in our horse lives in which it’s okay to say goodbye. The trick is recognizing when.