If you are lucky enough to own a horse, you are lucky enough.
What do you want with a horse? What is your dream or vision? More than likely it involves feelings of harmony and partnership whether your vision is one of speed, power, and sport, or one of slow, relaxing pleasure. What is your day-to-day reality like compared to your vision? You might have found that your horse is less than cooperative with your plan, and this business of owning a horse is more work than anticipated!
Having a horse is very different from having a cat, dog, or other type of pet. The main difference lies in the fact that we expect to ride a horse or have the horse work for us in some capacity. When we add weight (our bodies, a cart, a saddle or a harness), we inherently compromise the horse’s ability to move freely. Since horses evolved through motion and the main form of self-defense is flight, any restrictions to movement not only affect the horse’s body but also the mind. As horse owners, we have to learn what horses need from us on a fundamental level in order to get back what we want or realize our dream with a horse.
Since horses have been domesticated for so long, we can take a lot for granted. We regularly ask horses to go against their natural instincts in the human environment and then often become impatient when we encounter resistance. Trailer loading, riding, driving and living in stalls are all counter to a horse’s natural instincts. And yet, horses work with us despite their instincts each and every day. Remembering just how much horses have already adapted to our human world can help us find a bit more patience when things are not going so well.
What is it that our horses really need from us? As a horse owner we have to weed through a lot of information. Advice is often offered freely by anyone and everyone who has ever owned a horse, but not all advice is actually good for our horses or for us. Ultimately we have to determine what is useful and beneficial for us as individuals and for our individual horse. At the end of the day, we are the real advocates for our horses. How do we even begin to sort through all the information out there about horses? We can look at what all horses have in common, no matter the style of riding or work, rather than what is different. We figure out what our individual horses need from us by looking at the very nature of all horses first and making sure we are meeting the basic needs of a horse living in a human environment.
All horses share the same anatomy, so healthy movement, balance in motion and a healthy body is pretty much the same for all horses and a requirement for all working horses. All horses share the same instincts. Strategies that build trust, encourage bonding and develop calm confidence are necessary for all horses. Good advice or information helps the horse become calmer, more confident, happier and move with more ease. If the result of any advice is making a horse tense, anxious, sour, cranky, or sore, then it is time to seek out new information about training or caring for your horse. The responses we get from our horses is how we decide if information is useful or not. Instead of labeling a horse as having a poor disposition, we can look at a poor response from our horses as feedback – that what we are doing is just not working for them. Time to make a change.
Serving the needs of the horse both in body and mind is what leads us to the dream of partnership, harmony or winning performance. We have to appreciate that horses have already adapted to our human desires in significant ways just by living with us and working with us. As horse owners we also have to be willing to adapt in order to meet our partners half way. The first goal of horse ownership is really to find a mutually beneficial relationship with our horses, even if that means putting our ambitions on the back burner for a time. Taking the opinions shared by our horses seriously, regarding any strategy we are utilizing, is how we let our horses tell us what is beneficial to them and what is not.