You see there is something we humans tend to forget – I find it to be true with most horses I’ve met.
When I first got Guilty, she had a three year old filly at her side who had never been handled much. I called her Shameless and her little hooves were poorly lacking in care. The guy I got her from told me that they did her feet once when she was a yearling and they had to wrestle her to the ground to get it done. It came as no surprise when the task became an act of terror as far as Shameless was concerned. Because I was newly back into horses after a 25 year break, I left the job to the “experts” thinking they would know what to do because they handled horses a lot more than I had. They approached it like it was some kind of contest they were going to win. Without any preparation or desensitizing, the plan of action was to put her up against a fence so she couldn’t move away. One person held her head while the farrier attempted to grab her back leg. When this didn’t work, they put her in the cross ties, restraining her even more so they could both strong arm her. Of course, she was on the defensive and began struggling. When they grabbed her leg this time, she struck out. She didn’t make contact and it was meant as a warning, but it infuriated them. I had been watching these “experts” during this time keeping my mouth shut and staying out of the way as things escalated. When one of them grabbed her head up and the other began kicking her in the belly as hard as she could with her boots, I finally could take it no longer. “Stop it!” I shouted. “She is obviously terrified”. The reply was that she was just being a brat and if she was going to try and kick them, they were going kick her and make it hurt. I stood my ground and told them: “You are going to have to find another way, because we are not going to do this in this way”. Once they realized I was serious, they started over and figured out a more humane and nonthreatening way to get it done – under my watchful eye, I might add.
The way a first farrier’s visit should be handled.
I think that was my first conscious step toward the path of looking for a better way with horses. It didn’t feel right to me and it certainly wasn’t feeling safe for the horse. Up until that time, I just took it for granted that the means that people who were “professionals” used were not to be questioned. After all, they did always get it done, one way or another. As I stood there watching that scene unfold, I was painfully aware of the feeling that “this isn’t right”. I get that feeling a lot when I observe many horse handlers. I certainly am not the expert, but I am trying to figure it out and the path I go down will be one that I can feel good about. I have learned the art of discernment and will never again just turn my horses over to the experts if I don’t agree with their methods. I won’t be shamed, belittled or bullied into doing something that I know in my gut is wrong. You will know too if you listen to your heart.
I know from experience what a fine friend she can be..
I always put my beginner riders on Guilty. She is safe, level headed and takes care of her rider. The problem lies in the fact that she is too careful sometimes, resulting in what some people interpret as difficult. She doesn’t move too fast or too much unless she feels it is necessary, she believes that you should be the one calling the shots, or if she isn’t quite comfortable going into a trot with a rider who can’t even make her turn or stop yet correctly. Then I start hearing the grumbles: “She won’t go. She’s lazy. I can’t make her do anything. She’s stubborn”. etc. These comments coming from a youngster who has no idea how to handle a horse much less make these assumptions. It is always the horse’s fault. Today when I heard these comments coming from a camper who is now on her third day of ever riding a horse, it hit home to me how this mindset affects the horse. If this is the kind of labels you put on her, this is what you will get from here on out. She feels that energy and will live up to those expectations because you have a bad attitude. She knows it. It actually reminded me of an incident that I am not too proud of that happened to me when I was growing up. I overheard my mother telling a neighbor how much help my older sister was around the house -( I was the second child and always thought she favored her which didn’t help matters) – When the neighbor commented that it looked like I was a good helper too (I guess she realized I was listening and that my feelings were getting hurt ) my mother spoke up and said, “Oh no, not Bobby. I can’t get her to anything around here. Her next sentence was when she turned to me and said, “Why don’t you finish doing the dishes?”. Being the rebel I was, I got my snotty attitude on and retorted “Because I don’t want to make a liar out of you!” and stormed out the door. Granted, my claim to fame has never been for my love of housework, but I embarrassed my mother in front of her friend. Her friend probably thought I was some kind of demon child from that moment on. The point is, I was going to live up to her expectation of me – not try harder to prove she was wrong about me. If she thought I was not a good helper, then by god, I wasn’t going to be. I am afraid that Guilty and I have that mindset in common. I tried to explain this concept to the little girl and tell her not to assume Guilty won’t do something for you – because she will, gladly, if you expect her to. She told me later that she apologized to Guilty for getting impatient and frustrated with her and for thinking bad things. She said it was funny but she thought Guilty winked at her. About a half hour later Guilty carried her her first trail ride of her life and performed beautifully for her. She was glowing.
A change in Attitudes
I have always said that Guilty is my best teacher.
The problem lies in the fact that he doesn’t seem to need me at all. He doesn’t seek my attention and is content left alone in his stall.
Breeze and I never connected. A fact that is very uncommon with my animals. I have always been a magnet of sorts for animals and my horses are no exception. I never understood it at the time and even grew to resent him somewhat for his lack of interest in me. Breeze was by far the best horse I have ever owned as far as looks, kindness, work ethic, ability etc. Everyone who met him always oohed and awwed over him. He was everybody’s favorite. A very distinguished looking and fabulous horse who always performed beautifully – but he didn’t like me. He never did anything bad, he just didn’t care if I was around or not.
A Lonely Breeze
I had a friend who fell in love with him the first time she saw him. I ended up selling him to her and she kept him here and boarded with me for awhile so we could ride together. The change was unbelievable. All she had to do was call his name and he literally ran to get to her. He adored her in a way that I never thought he was capable of. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it over and over again with my own eyes. He lived for her visits. So what did she have that I didn’t? I have pondered this many times over the past few years and can’t deny it any longer. I gave him no reason to give me his affection and his heart. I didn’t give him mine – it is as simple as that. From the moment he was given to me as a birthday gift, I had my mind and my sights on another horse. When I bought his tack, I bought it with the other horse in mind. I was forbidden to get the horse I wanted and he was chosen for me even though I protested. Although Breeze was a far superior horse in every obvious way, he was not the one I had my heart set on and he knew it from the start. To top it off, for the first couple of months I had him, every single time I saddled him up for a ride, before I could get on him, I would get a phone call telling me my father had taken a turn for the worst and may not make it through the day. It happened so consistently that I got afraid to even think about riding him. I made the association of bad news with him. It wasn’t his fault- none of it was- and it wasn’t fair to him, so he just tuned me out. I deserved it. I knew he needed more than I could give him, which was the only reason I sold him to someone who adored him. Everybody thought I was crazy to do so because he was such a great horse – a really wonderful horse. But I knew I had to – for his sake. Do I regret it? Yes, sometimes I do. I understand it all now and know what to do that could have changed things between us. On the other hand, I wasn’t ready for him. Things come full circle and this week he is coming back to board with me again. He has his special person and now it will be my turn to be the one on the outside looking in.
The soft nickers and nuzzles, the majestic beauty and speed – The private comical antics are an envious treasure indeed.
It has been at least three years since Dallas resided on my farm. He was a gorgeous retired show horse who didn’t know how to be a horse. He had to learn how to make friends and respect the social order of the herd. He had never been allowed to play with other horses in order to keep him from getting any injuries or marks on his perfect coat during his show days, so he was a little slow making friends at first. He had always been a “hot house flower” and got the best care. This included the best food, hay and treats – and he got them often. This fact is what made him very popular very quickly. It didn’t take long before the others figured out that when we called “Dallas” that it meant something good was coming and no one wanted to mess up a good thing. Although the treats and extra servings of feed were earmarked for Dallas, I always felt guilty about showing favoritism and made sure everyone got a couple of bites of something good every time he got something. The others all wanted to be his best friend and get in on the goodies. In a very short time, when I called “DALLAS”, the entire herd would come thundering over the hill and race down to the gate.
They come running.
Dallas was eventually moved to another state, but the tradition remained. All I had to do to get the entire herd down from the pasture is to call out “Dallas” and they would come running. The funny thing about this is that not only the do the horses who were here and experienced the benefits of responding to that call run to the gate, but the information has been passed along to the new horses who have come to live with us since Dallas has left. Somehow, it has been communicated to them that when we call out that name, it means dinnertime. To this day- and it has been years now – that is how I call my horses.