The day is a glorious one and I have set it aside – to spend with my horses and go for a ride.
Comet had just been at my farm for a few days. He actually didn’t have a name before then. He was a result of one of those mares that somebody just didn’t bother to keep away from the stallion. He was about two years old, white, and had never been handled. As a rule, he was very laid back, almost to a fault -very slow moving and almost lethargic. At least that was how he had appeared in the short time I knew him. One particular summer day, I went to the pasture to get my horse out for a ride and as I was leading Blaze out of the gate, Comet darted through the opening past us. I had no idea he could move that fast but I had named him appropriately as all I saw as he flew up the driveway and down the road was his tail flying behind him.
Off on a mission
I had no choice but to pursue him on foot as I didn’t want to lose sight of him. He ran to the corner and took a left down the first dirt road with me trying to keep him in my sights. We were in Michigan where the roads are laid out in square country miles so I could see him about a quarter of a mile ahead. Suddenly, still at a dead gallop, he took a sharp right into a yard. Way before I could get close enough to see where he went, I heard the screams. As I approached, I saw people running in every direction, grabbing the small children, knocking over the food tables and shouting that a wild horse was running loose. There was Comet right smack in the middle of about forty or fifty people having a family reunion picnic in the yard. He didn’t realize they were running and screaming because of him. When they panicked he did also and tried to stay close to them for security. Of course, the more they ran and yelled, the more he charged around. I can’t think of many moments in my life that were more embarrassing than when I had to go get him from the middle of that chaotic mess. To make matters even worse, he didn’t hardly know me yet and didn’t even know his name. It took me about 15 minutes – excruciatingly long minutes – to get a halter on him and walk him the long road back home while my audience glared at me. You have no idea how much I wanted to just deny knowing or owning that horse at that moment. I honestly considering it. I know they thought I was some kind of a lunatic who probably abused my horses and had caused him to run away from home. When he didn’t respond to me calling his name and didn’t want me catch him, it appeared that he was running for his life. I think that the worst part of the whole ordeal was knowing how bad a horsewoman they thought I must be. I don’t know what he was looking for that day when he went on his escapade. I can only guess that he had been attached to another horse – possibly his mother – and got homesick for her. Typical human that I am, at the time, I was more worried about how it made me look and not about how he felt. Although I really didn’t blame him for trying, once again, I learned how humbling horses can be.
But for all of the trouble and all of the pain, If I had to do it over, I would do it again.
I guess it is kind of like being a parent when you own and love a horse. It means you are willing to do what is best for the horse and put your own feelings aside when you know deep in your heart that it is the right thing to do. – even when it means letting them go. Don’t worry, this story has a happily ever after ending even though somewhat painful to me. You see, when I have a horse, it is family. He is going to have a wonderful, stress-free and know-he-is-wanted life. I can do that – easily – because I love horses passionately. I have been extremely lucky to have always had incredible horses (at least in my opinion). I am not in the business of horse trading for the sake of selling horses for the money. If a horse leaves my hands, it is only because I feel fairly certain that the horse will have a better life with someone else. Usually, the deciding factor is a matter of time and attention someone else can give it that I can’t. Every horse should be someone’s “special” horse. My problem is that I have too many to be able to give them all that kind of time. Twice now I have done just that with two very different results. The first was sold to a young teen who had taken a couple of years of lessons on this particular horse and decided she had to have him. I knew where he was gong and that he would be well cared for. I made up a contract for the girl to sing stating the importance of caring for her horse and putting him first even when she was not in the mood. Of course, she eagerly signed it. I had visions of her spending endless hours with her horse for many years to come. I sold her that horse even though something told me she was not the one that would give him that. But she promised and her parents insisted it had to be that horse and I had others, so we made the deal. I was really disappointed in the way that has turned out. It is not so much what she does wrong, it is what she doesn’t do. The other day she came out to ride the horse and it took her over half an hour to catch him. That should have told her she was missing something called a relationship with her horse. She was complaining about it and I made the suggestion that possibly he felt used. When she came to see him, she just got him, saddled him, drilled him in the ring and then left. There was nothing in it for him. No fun, no joy, no pleasure. Hopefully, she will start to understand that before he completely tunes her out. The second horse hit the Irish Sweepstakes. This 15 year old girl’s life revolves around that horse. She sits with him while she does her homework, personally tends to his stall even after the crew comes through, rides bitless and works at liberty with the horse. They are learning and experiencing the magic of horses together and she cannot get enough of it. Her horse is the love of her life and he knows it. I am so happy for him because even though I loved him dearly, she can give him that special something that will give him heart.
A horse gives up his instincts – his freedom and will to become what we want – only trust settles the bill.
I have a group of young girls who come out on Saturday mornings to learn about horses. One 9 year old girl came out for her first visit last week. After doing some chores, we were ready to get the horses. As I picked up a halter and headed for the pasture, she piped up and said: “I wanna drag a horse”. I don’t know why that stunned me for a moment. I knew exactly what she meant. It is a shame that is the connotation she gets about leading a horse. When I think of it, it is obviously the only way she has ever seen it done – Get the halter on and pull, dragging a horse behind like a reluctant puppy. She actually didn’t know that a horse will walk easily and effortlessly beside you on a loose lead when trained to walk properly with a person. How sad that she has only witnessed using force and manhandling to get a horse to move from one spot to another. What was worse was the fact that she thought that was going to be great fun – for her, not the horse. I guess it is a chance for a small child to feel powerful. Little did she realize how much more powerful it is to walk beside a willing partner who will adjust to her every step. It never ceases to amaze me how embedded the notion is among humans that the only way to relate to a horse is to bully them and order them around – make them do things. This is a particularly attractive concept to kids who are usually on the other end of that stick. They finally get a chance to be the boss. My reply to her was: “That was exactly what we were going to learn not to do”. Needless to say, we spent the morning learning the correct way to lead a horse with courtesy and dignity to the horse.
It is not just the kids who need to learn about this. I see it all the time in every aspect of horsemanship. It is time that we set better examples that our younger horse enthusiasts can follow using kinder methods. Showing consideration for another living thing should be at the forefront of everything we do. We need to teach our children to respect the horse the same way we expect the horse to respect us – only without using force and pain to get the point across, obviously. I know that most horse people believe the 11th commandment – The horse shall not win. The big news is that the horse doesn’t even know it is a contest until we teach him that.