I have a “difficult horse” in my hands, whom I recently took up as my own charge. At 10 years old, he was previously labeled as ‘crazy,’ by whom could not figure him out about 1 year ago. I started taking care of the horse because nobody else wanted to. He came right for a few months when I was the only one riding him. Since then, a few others begun riding this horse, because he was kind enough and appeared easy enough to handle, and the horse declined again. I stood back and watched the horse travel his own journey. I held myself from saying a few words earlier on, because everyone has their own style and that they were not necessarily wrong just because I disagreed with their approach in riding. But when I saw the horse come back distressed from his last ride, not for the first time, I decided to put my foot down. Horse was asking for help, and I could not leave him be.
It took a week since for me to conjure up courage. But I did lay out a rule and put it out. “I will take ownership of the horse’s rehabilitation and I ask that nobody else but myself to ride this horse.” I heard rustles in the trees, but I did not allow negotiation. Just this once, I will make decision of my own and everyone else will have to work around that. Hate me if you will, I thought. Because some human’s hate would be much easier than having to continue seeing a horse in that utter confusion and distress.
I listened enough to people who blamed the riding equipment and the rest of the world- uh the saddle does not fit the horse; the horse needs a new bridle; we must use a different bit for better control; he is too sensitive; another horse wound him up; he is broken; he is always going to be like this; horse not suitable for this purpose; this is what an ex-racehorse is like; once raced, the horse is never the same. But all I saw was a horse, standing in his stall with eyes wide, trying to make sense of his most recent experience, again. Whatever he was asked of during the last hour or so by his rider did not fit well with what he knew that he was supposed to be doing. The rider, because the horse was kind enough, never bothered to take that extra step to prepare the horse for the occasion. So the rider took the horse out for a fast ride, lost control and returned upset; and announced that the horse now had a sore back due to ill fitted saddle. No reasonable explanation came out of her mouth, but at least she wasn’t blaming the horse. The thing was though, we did not have a ill fitted saddle or the horse did not have sore back. He was just confused. He did not understand why and what he was asked of. He also did not understand why the rider panicked and pulled and yanked his mouth so hard, when he was doing what he thought she had asked him to do. That is one method to ruin a good horse. You don’t need to be nasty. All you need is a rider who is so certain with her self that she cannot accept her own error. But then, don’t we all learn from mistakes?
I am grateful for all my earlier teachers who did not let me get away with all those fundamental mistakes I had made; horses and human teachers. They could have told me I was a perfect rider and all my mistakes stemmed from somebody else’s errors. But they didn’t. They told me that horsemanship wasn’t about me feeling great about myself. They told me that they were not interested if I was feeling wonderful or not. They told me to fill up horse’s water bucket before retreating to the shade to have my lunch. Some taught me to get what I needed from the horse regardless. Another told me that horsemanship was like a dance; that we are, as humans, supposed to do things together with a horse and not do things with horses as if they are our tools. I make mistakes and I will continue to error for as long as I live. But boy, I am grateful that I have mostly grown out of making those fundamental mistakes. My world changed the day I begun to realise that we had no rights to order and cohere a horse into submission; that although we tend to make decisions while living in a human centred world, our experience becomes a whole lot different if we do things together with horses. My world is a nicer place because I learned to work in a kinder and corporative direction, that realisation that ‘making’ a horse do things and requesting for their corporation leads to very different outcomes over time.