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August 16, 2022 8 Comments
I'm certain most horse people have had at least one horse that just didn't fit the mold. One that causes problems. One that is perhaps dangerous, or unsound, leading to lots of time and money and emotion trying to help them. And then comes the question of all questions... Should I get rid of them or open up and learn something valuable?
By the way, before we go further, I want you to know I have gotten rid of horses in the past for reasons that seemed important then but now I regret. So you need to know I hold no judgements against anyone who is trying to figure it all out and find their space in the wide world of horse experiences. Sometimes horses come and go and you don't have to spend all this energy trying to analyze it all holistically. But sometimes, taking a moment to understand what a horse can do for you and what you can do for them, even when you don't know if it's right yet, is worth the time.
Now that we're open to the truth that I will not judge you for your decisions to hold or let go of a horse, let's dive into the pool together and list what benefits there are in hanging on rather than letting go. In the end of course, you'll have to decide the best course of action but take what you can from this and let time do its work on you.
Why is this horse in my life?
So, you can't do what you'd hoped to do when you bought this horse for whatever reason... now what?
Well, as it turns out there are many things you can do. You can learn to be masterful at liberty! Guide your horse with no ropes to be connected, playful, controlled, elegant, artistic. Teach your horse to stay calm and lay down, or spin, or walk, trot, and canter on cue in a wide open field, trusting he or she won't leave you. It takes practice, it's a new discipline, but it's a noble pursuit for a horse that can't be or shouldn't be ridden just yet.
You could pour your attention to health care, and master the art of trimming, wrapping, supplements, you name it. Dive into what it takes to really help a horse thrive in our human world. Perhaps you can't trail ride, but you can support your horse and be an example to others to keep their horses around and make a good life for them.
Look, I'm practical. If you can't afford a horse, you probably shouldn't have one. But if you can't justify having a horse because you can't do what you thought you wanted, or its gonna take longer than you expected to get there, double check your motives. Why did you get a horse in the first place. Was it all about you? Are you willing to explore your options? Are you going to jump into a different horse relationship because this one just doesn't fit the mold? I don't judge you. I've been there as I'll describe below. But just know, you're not alone and you do have options. The main option is making what you have meaningful and fruitful, rather than resenting what you don't have and moving on.
My journey in short form...
My journey started with Solare. An eleven-year-old Arabian chesnut gelding. Actually, it started one horse earlier, but Solare stands out in my memory because it was the first and last time, I let a horse go to the auction. At eighteen years old myself, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to win an endurance race. And it became apparent very quickly that he wouldn't help me achieve that goal because he was dangerous to ride. Coldly, not heartlessly, but ignorantly, after many months of attempted sales through the local newspaper, I decided to send him to the auction. In hindsight, I could have dove headfirst into horse psychology and tried to help him, but I didn't. Not yet anyway.
At the time, I could sense a pull on my heartstrings when he unloaded at the auction yard but didn't respond to it. I turned my eyes back to the prize and moved onto another horse, and another, never sending a horse to the auction again but rehoming many. Because I still didn't really see a horse for what it was and my eyes, well they just kept getting bigger, I wanted to win even more.
And finally, a horse named Prince came into my life. Another Arabian gelding made in the perfect mold, inspired by the God's. My dream horse. Prince was a true athlete. White as snow from head to toe, and unbelievably balanced and powerful, and strong in every way. But he was HOT! He loved to run. And then... one Saturday evening ride changed my life forever. That ride inspired a whole new outlook on horses, healing, and growth. That day my horse literally, and metaphorically, ran away with me. He took me on a journey I never imagined. One that has brought me full circle now to understanding that choice I made with Solare all those years ago.
Imagine running at nearly thirty miles an hour on a twisted mountain road, with no brakes, very little steering, and a heart beating so fast, you're not sure if you're going to live or die. After more than a mile I finally gained control, pulled Prince up to a walking gait and gathered my shit together (not literally). As my heartbeat slowed, my mind and body began to feel something new, something inside the horse. I bonded with him at that point in way I didn't even know there was a word for. I now know it's called "trauma bonding." I felt him breathe. I felt his heart racing. I felt his thoughts, his fears, his desires. I saw the spirit in the horse, and not in that old standard way we talk about spirited horses. I saw through flesh and bone into his emotions, hopes, electric energy, and fatigue, physically, and mentally. I felt him looking for oxygen, and like me, finding it scarce. And I knew, I wasn't just riding a horse. I was riding, a thinking, breathing, feeling entity, not unlike... me!
I decided then and there I needed to learn more about the horses I loved. And I began my journey as a natural horse trainer, diving deep into horse psychology. Each year I learned more, and over the course of decades the reality of that day sank in deeper and deeper. In the beginning, I wanted a horse for me. In the end. I wanted to be something for my horse.
Many years later now and many horses later, I see the true value of a horse and I see the commitment required to truly be a steward of such a magnificent animal. Commitment means dedication to the cause. But what cause? Your cause to enjoy life, or the cause of ensuring your animals enjoy life too?
What we most often fail to realize in that choice to move onto another horse, is what we are missing. There is an opportunity with every challenging horse to grow as a leader. To become more natural, kinder, firmer, healthier, more balanced, more empathetic. To heal our hearts and minds. To give, rather than to take. It requires changing what we value. But perhaps it's worth it to you. It certainly took me a while, but I know the truth now. It's worth it to me to be the best steward I can.
If you'd asked me with Solare, all those years ago, to hang on to him because he'd help me grow as a leader, I'd say, "No thank you!" I get it. I remember focusing on my goals to win and not my new goals to truly care for and lead my horse to a new sense of freedom in our human world. I saw him as a vehicle. And he didn't fit the mold for what I wanted. I remember the labels I used for him too. "A pain in the butt. Dangerous. Horrible. Uncomfortable. Not as pretty as I want." All those labels helped me ship him off. But I know the truth. Those were excuses used to validate my desire to play my own game and not look at the animal's soul. To use the animal. It's harsh, but true. It's what many of us do until we see, truly see, the animal staring at us with questioning eyes.
In a perfect world, before you even purchase a horse, you should take a deeper look at the meaning of the word "commitment." I was committed to winning but not committed to the horse. I believe, before you acquire a horse, you need to commit to the horse. Be his primary caretaker for as long as you can, and when it's time to move on, remember your commitment and find him a home that is as good or better than the one you offer. Don't just sell him or her. Don't just give them away. Ensure they have their friends, freedom (space to move), shelter, and food before you make arrangements to move on. Don't get a horse not knowing what you'd do if it doesn't work out as planned.
Prince changed my life, my experience, and my perspective. I'm deeply grateful for him and every horse before and after. I know why my horses are in my life. What about you? Why is your horse in your life now? Dig deep and answer below.
Also, I want to hear your horse story. What horse have you decided to not let go, and as a result, you've been impacted on a deep change level?
Please comment below.
August 24, 2022
I have a horse, Chase, that I have had for 22 years. I have ridden him for one year of his life. He came at a time when I was terrified to ride, broken in spirit by a previous horse and trainer. My mom bought him for me as a college graduation present, sight unseen. That was a bad idea! We were told he was green. He didn’t know how to lead, and would try to bite and kick if he got nervous. I spent hours working with him to load, lead, put blankets on, fly spray, etc. He made some serious gains mostly because he started to trust me. I took him to get trained under saddle and the trainer said that he was so attached to me that I would have to ride him and she would give me lessons. It almost worked. I brought him home, rode him for the rest of that summer and then brought him back for a lesson that next spring. He stepped away from the mounting block and she took him from me, chased him with the mounting block until he stood, and had me get on. He shifted just a bit, touched his hoof to the mounting block and panicked. Needless to say I fell off. I was scared and scarred again. I never rode him again. Others have ridden him and it hasn’t gone well, so he is retired. But I still have him and he is such a good boy for everything else. And I believe he loves me more than any horse I have ever had. I am lucky that I could keep him at home and love him every day. When I got a different horse a few years ago, she ended up being way too much for me on the ground. None of the type of work I had done with Chase seemed to make a difference with her and I was really scared I was going to get hurt. I ended up selling her back to her previous owner. She was the only horse I have ever owned that I haven’t kept. She, unlike Chase, had no bond with me, and I didn’t know enough (even with hours of training with a local natural horsemanship person) to make it work. I don’t regret keeping Chase (only not being brave enough to try again) and I don’t regret selling the mare.
August 18, 2022
Thank-you! This is a wonderful essay. I operate a non-profit rescue and sanctuary, Horse Play, in Saunderstown RI. We take in many unwanted horses. Some are adopted and others live out their lives here. We have been an alternative to the auction for 23 years. We have been having a great time with Liberty. especially with the horses who were deemed “no longer useful”. Thank-you again!
August 18, 2022
I loved your article. I too have a horse that due to no fault of her own, has had chronic lameness issues. First off, she has crappy feet and second, she is my accident-prone child. But I love her. I could never rehome her as I know it would not be a good outcome for her. I adopted her when she was two from a rescue situation. She wasn’t much to look at, but I fell in love with her mind. Little did I know that she would grow up into a 16 hand, drop dead gorgeous bay mare. We still do a little riding when able, but mostly she joins us on rides being ponied. She loves doing liberty and just loves being loved. So, she is a part of my “fur family” and will stay that way.
August 18, 2022
Thanks, i think lots of horse owners including myself where once in that situaation. I hope they follow you the way you where looking for a great solution. I also learned my lesson and went deep into horsenality and humanality pschology. This is again to send to some friends
August 17, 2022
Sammy came into my life fresh off the race track and just a few days after my beloved mare died (I’d had her for 15 years). I was not looking for a new horse, I was not ready, but all the angels lined up and Sammy came to be mine. I later discovered they shared bloodlines and he was my mare’s nephew. Sammy bonded to me in a big way immediately but he was a packed powder keg and for the first time I was intimidated by a horse. Because of his kissing spines he was unpredictable and became dangerous for me to ride. After eight years I retired him (still as a young horse) but he will be mine forever. We play, practice some liberty and just hang out together daily. I recently bought a new horse that I can ride (another OTTB) but he also can get energetic and hot. So Sammy is my Go To Guy when I need to ground myself and remember what connection feels like. I have never felt as bonded to any other animal but will hopefully connect in this way with my new guy.
August 17, 2022
I have kept all of my horses except 1, which I re-homed with a Parelli instructor. With each horse I’ve gotten (or raised), my goals have changed. I’ve always had the goal to become a good horseman, but the path to get there changed. My first horse died at the ripe old age of 5, so my second horse is the horse I really learned a lot on. She was the only horse I had, so she did everything. We showed western events, did patterned horse racing, and rode trails. When I was in college I worked at a stallion station, so we bred her, and the colt she produced was my next horse. He grew to be BIG. He was over 1400 lbs. and wore a size 3 shoe in the front. He couldn’t race, and he didn’t have a pretty head, but he could walk, and he wasn’t afraid of anything, so we rode the mountain trails. I even packed him. During his younger years, I began my relationship based horsemanship journey by watching Ray Hunt, and eventually riding with Buck Brannaman some. I had another foal out of the same mare, but I also had gotten married and started a family, so this filly didn’t get a chance to shine much, and died at 9 from colic. I also had bought my first registered QH during that time, and she was ridden on trails, but turned out to be chronically lame, so I had her as a pasture ornament for 27 yrs., and put her down at age 38. I bought another QH mare in the midst of that time and began to really get into Parelli. I entered Level 2 purgatory with her, because we couldn’t get those pesky flying lead changes. I bred her, continued my Parelli journey with her son, and got Level 2 with him when they took flying lead changes out of that level. I still have him, he’s 24 and quite crippled, although he still enjoys life with his 3 mares. I got my Level 3 with a mare I bought 16 yrs. ago as a weanling. She was built downhill then, and didn’t grow out of it. Six years ago, I discovered Cowboy Dressage, and heard that dressage could help the posture of my horse, so I dived in. The little downhill QH, who was nearly impossible to saddle fit, now has withers even with her croup, and holds a saddle on quite nicely. She can do many of the lateral moves that the big dressage horses do, and she is light and smooth as butter. In between the horses I’ve told you about, I had the one I sold, a Welsh pony, for my son, and another couple of old horses which were given to me. The pony would pull a wagon, so we learned about harnesses and driving with him, and even went on a wagon train. So you can see, my journey has had twists and turns, but every horse I owned taught me something I needed to learn at the time. The one even taught me that I can recognize when it’s just not working and find someone the horse is more suited for. No, much to my husband’s dismay, when a horse comes to my house, it comes to stay, and we learn many things together.
August 17, 2022
Thanks for sharing this. I have a challenging young mare and have often wondered why am I dealing with this crap at this point in my life. Your writing pretty much sums up why I’m dealing with it. I decided to make the commitment and help her to be the best horse she can be sometime back. While she hasn’t done any of what we all consider bad behaviors such as bucking or rearing (at least not with me on her), she balks big time. She’s very strong minded and when she decides she does not want to do something, the battle is on. I have changed my approach and am trying to find ways to get her to cooperate and make her think it’s her idea. Still struggle, but decided to give up the fight since I came to realize I’m not going to win those battles, because she is NOT going to give it up. Balking isn’t the worst thing to deal with but we trail ride a lot in our older years and having a horse that balks and jets backwards with no stop definitely falls into the dangerous category. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement and inspiration you put out there. It’s very helpful.
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Calming Supplement for Horse
March 22, 2023
Thank you for sharing your experience with horses and the decision to keep or let go of them. I appreciate your openness and understanding towards those who may be struggling with the same decision. I believe that every horse can bring value to our lives, even if they don’t fit the mold we had in mind when we first acquired them. In some cases, we may need to explore alternative activities, such as mastering liberty or focusing on their health care. I also think it’s important to consider our motivations for having a horse and whether we’re willing to explore different options before giving up. One option that comes to mind for a horse that can’t be ridden is using a calming supplement for horse to help them relax and be comfortable. Thank you for sharing your journey and inspiring others to see the value in every horse.