Try to think back to your earliest memory of horses, when you were a kid. If you could have any type of horse picture you liked on your wall back then, what would it be? The Black Stallion? A horse race? Eventing? Wild horses? Good chance it wouldn’t be an overweight horse traveling with his nose close to knee level at a slow, methodical pace as mesmerizing as a metronome. Words like “push button” or “bomb proof” probably weren’t in your vocabulary.
It’s difficult to describe what the essence of a horse is, but what captivates us all is the beauty, power and spirit of the horse. There’s something about a horse that epitomizes what it means to be alive. Few people set out interacting with horses with the goal of dominating that essence, but too many end up trying to do just that in one way or another.
Horses have as wide a range of temperaments and personalities as people do, but they all look the same when they are enjoying their work.
© Denny Emerson/Tamarack Hill Farm
Head is up, ears pricked, eyes wide open. It can be a race, cross country course or a weekend trail ride. The happy horses, the ones enjoying themselves, have the same look. Every horse deserves to feel that way about the life they are living.
The horse is a large, powerful animal that has to learn boundaries. They also have to be taught how to perform whatever it is we need them to do. That’s OK. We humans have rules binding us too. What’s not OK is control and domination to the point the horse loses that zest for life.
There’s a horse suitable for every job – at least every job that has reasonable expectations. Trying to force a job on a horse whose personality is unsuitable, whose natural gaits aren’t flashy enough, or to turn a horse into an automaton that even a monkey could ride is abuse. Abuse may be chemical/pharmacological, physical or a combination of physical and mental. Some is recognized as abuse, some masquerades as training.
It also happens every day on a lesser scale. There’s a difference between disobedience or hostile intent and a horse that is just expressing excitement or enthusiasm. It isn’t always necessary to punish a horse for vocalizing, jigging or even throwing in a little buck. Tiger mom’ing an energetic horse is exhausting, stressful and ultimately may have a very bad outcome.
If a horse makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, do both of you a favor. Simply recognize there is an incompatibility and get another horse. There’s another place out there where the horse can be happy and be himself, and another horse out there that’s a better fit for what you want. You’ll know when you find him – he’ll look happy when you work with him.