Why is this horse in my life? Don Jessop
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, 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 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 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. 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 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 die, or live. After more than a mile I finally gained control, pulled 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 just 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.
I want to hear your horse story. Who have you hung onto and, as a result, you’ve been impacted on a deep change level?
Please comment below.