“Become dust - & they will throw thee in the air; Become stone - & they will throw thee on glass." Muhammad Iqbal *Beyond the bushes, boiling with dust, is 4Shoes West boundary road.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Magic is WORK

To preface this post I'll say that, for me, it's always been about horses. I grew up riding anything that I could catch, often with nothing but a couple lengths of binder twine tied to the halter ring as make-shift reins. Bareback & leaning low over necks with clumps of mane weaved through my fingers, hurdling over square bales in fields of stubble at speeds that only the bravery of youth could ever think wise. 
As a young woman, I found the racetrack... as soon as my boots crossed into the backstretch, I knew I was home. It was a long & deeply rewarding career & I was sad to retire, but life moves ever forward & now my husband & I have a small farm in a whole different part of the country. Outside my windows I gaze, still with wonder & exhilaration, out on the 3 gorgeous horses that will likely be my last in this lifetime... & I am so grateful for it all!! 

Over the years I have been fortunate to have had a few horses who made life easy; they were well trained & experienced enough in their respective disciplines that they knew their jobs & did them well. Qualities those particular horses shared were no-drama personalities & honest try that made them admirable on all fronts. Make no mistake though, horses such as those commanded appropriately high dollar price tags!

Conversely, I've also felt lucky to have had a few horses who did not leap to bond with me, took a ton more work than I imagined they would, made me question myself & seek new ways to communicate, tested me sorely before trusting, & made me work harder than ever to be a better rider/leader/partner to them.

You will not be surprised to learn that each one of those hard cayuses eventually proved worth more than their weights in gold. 
Connecting on the deepest level with those really talented but tough horses who required that I prove myself to them has been my absolutely most rewarding human/animal experience. I forged such solid partnerships with those horse precisely because they refused to dumb down their performances, because the required me to up my game on all levels, & because - once the understanding was reached - they leaned into the traces with me & we became fearless, together.
If you just want a dependable, sweet-natured packer that will do every possible thing to keep his rider safe (even at his own expense), there's not a thing wrong with that, so long as you keep in mind that all credit is due the horse who makes you look good. Write up your shopping list, do your homework, ride lots of prospects, & be prepared to pay for all the work that someone else put into making that horse your agreeable dream unicorn. 

But if you want a true partner up under your butt, that's a different kind of commitment to the cause. I'm talking about the kind of partner who always meets the challenge, who never lets you down, who you have 110% faith in, who will ford a raging river without hesitation, or face off with a snorty bull without backing down an inch, a horse who uses his brain, his body, & his heart, a horse who would leap through a wall of fire for YOU... That relationship cannot be bought, my friend. 
That kind of partnership is the result of clear communication between you & your horse, hard work, long days, & wet saddle pads. It cannot be paid for in cash, it takes time to build, it must be nourished & validated, & it must survive being tested before it can truly flourish. 
This article was originally, & still is, intended as encouragement & support for anyone who may find their journey to partnership with a new horse is less than 'easy'. Sometimes the higher the fruit, the sweeter the juice.

Thank you for reading.
Getting a new horse is like starting a new romantic relationship; you have to go in with an open heart, but you cannot be foolish or you are in for a big hurt. An open heart holds hands gently & starts out with a kiss on the cheek; a foolish heart gives out his passwords, his bank card, & the keys to his home before you know his middle name. 

Horses are not fools. Horses are hardwired, first & foremost, to protect themselves. A
"I want to understand you. You are safe with me."
new human is an unknown; understandably some of the horse's defenses are going to go up!

In a new relationship, the rider cannot afford to be a fool either; taking it too far, too fast is rude & it can get you hurt. Not talking about a broken heart here either.
You must take the time to learn ABOUT your new horse FROM your new horse. You need to make the sincere effort to learn about your new horse through observation, slow progression, & application of gentle pressure to first find the sensitive spots (both physically & emotionally) of your horse. Once you've really taken the time to get to know him, then you can begin to mold your relationship, gently, as a artist molds clay into pottery on a wheel.

"Let's start out Slow & steady. Cool & Calm."
There is no rushing this process! As soon as you are too rough or move too fast, the clay may refuse your touch & collapse on the wheel. Similarly, as soon as your approach becomes rough or impatient, the horse may refuse your leadership & collapse in his own way - it might be balking, or bucking, or simply a mental shut down. 
If you have caused your horse to collapse away from you in any way, how you handle yourself in the moment & how you address the problem is critical. If you blame the horse, any significant progress is blocked & the relationship is jeopardized entirely due to your temper & lack of commitment to your goal. Make no mistake, horses cannot be fooled by a false smile or sweet words; they can read your underlying body language & know your heart better than you do - FACT. Foolish attempts to trick your horse will not inspire trust & respect.
It's not always easy, because sometimes your horse is going to act like a butthead in spite of  himself; do him & you a favour & always look first for a legitimate cause of the attitude (pain, confusion, fatigue). You'll likely find that most problems start & end with you. 
If you cannot calm yourself & re-engage properly, you are better off to give him one thing that you know he can do, let him do that thing one time, then appreciate it, reward him for the try, & turn him out to pasture until tomorrow. Positive energy is an invaluable tool in working with horses; don't ever make the mistake of forgetting that your mindset is the biggest factor in the results you are getting on any given day. That said, when you have developed a real partnership with the horse, he is likely to forgive you the odd shouted curse so long as you can take a breath & get right back to the same level of performance that you are asking of him.

Sometimes you might find yourself in a little over your head - that's not a bad thing because it affords you the opportunity to learn more than you already know. The fact is, there is always more to learn, there are always ways to grow & improve. Consult with other horse people whose judgement you trust & who you respect; sometimes what you really need is someone to shake up your perspective & help you get back into a positive frame of mind & moving in a productive direction. 
A word to the wise, when it comes to 1000lbs of horseflesh, if you ARE in over your head - get good, experienced professional help SOONER rather than later. Recognizing that you are out of your depth can save you a lot of trouble & heartbreak. More importantly, for your horse, YOU getting that help that you need could mean the difference between a harmonious riding partnership in the future, or that poor horse someday riding in a packed, stuffy cattle-liner on the way to slaughter.
If you find yourself discouraged & feeling as though the horse is deliberately trying your patience, remind yourself that horses don't really have the capacity to plan out being a giant pain in the ass. It is far more likely that he either does not understand what you want from him, he is in pain or fatigued, or that you have not inspired enough trust for him to freely give what you are asking.  

From the viewpoint of the horse - how can he surrender his perfectly natural fearful instincts until you have repeatedly demonstrated that you will calmly & consistently work to earn that from him? You cannot expect your horse to substitute your judgement for his own in moments of doubt until he believes deep down in his heart that you are a capable, wise, & fair leader!

Honest interaction, clarity of understanding, patience & fairness, in addition to real dedication & persistence in achieving the lofty goal of true partnership all play equal parts in your success on any given day & also in the long run.
If you can just enjoy the initial honeymoon period, engage fully in the mutual getting-to-know-you phase, & stick out the inevitable testing the boundaries period with a positive, consistent, & committed attitude, THEN

  • You begin to understand the individual thinking process of your new horse
  • You feel the tenuous trust beginning to form 
  • You strengthen the bond by consistent, fair, & reasonable leadership
It's a wonderful thing to come to that point with your horse when you truly appreciate him as a unique, & possibly quirky, but absolute individual who gives freely what you ask of him because he has placed his trust in you at last. Never doubt that there may be moments of backsliding; even my most trusted partner occasionally has opinions that differ from mine. He is allowed to call me on my shit because I'm not perfect either & may need some transgression or another called to my attention for correction, & I know that we've put in the work that ensures we always end up on the same page. 
In the face of all that work, from the outside looking at us, we are MAGIC. 

~Joining up with AIM link party today~

Cool Beans ~ Many Thanks!


  1. What a wise reflection. In my experience it needs at least a year. In between sometimes you feel cloose, but you aren't. Also it depends how many other people are around. But also if you made friends it needs a lot to break this. Horses are mirrows, not for our beauty, but for our behaviour. A challenging chance, which in my experience not many horse'wo'men take. What I like at the photo is the matching colour of fur and skin!

  2. Yes Sabine, a year is what I think is average even when you have bought a 'finished' horse it takes a lot of time to unlock all the secrets that no seller can tell you all at once (or maybe they do, but you can't keep them all in your head).
    It is a matter of managing your expectations - you cannot take a green horse & expect that within 2 months you will be safely flying down the trails on him. The time investment is SO much more to develop a proper bond & partnership. Too often people are not up to the challenge - those people ought to recognize their shortcomings and HIRE A GOOD EXPERIENCED TRAINER for at least 3 months before they decide it is the HORSE that has the issues, because it is usually the OWNER who has the issues & not the poor horse.

  3. Now that's some good horse sense right there! Great post!

  4. Hi Sup,
    Perspective helps - that's all I can say at the moment.

  5. I've never had a horse or been around horses but sounds very rewarding. Thank you Mrs Shoes for sharing this post at the #WednesdayAIM #LinkUp #BlogParty. I shared it on social media.

    1. There's nothing else like it. Thanks for coming by Grammy Dee.

  6. So much information and so interesting. Horse people always fascinate me because they bond so strongly with their animals. I'll confess here and now that I've never ridden a horse - the smell and horse hair put me off - but they are lovely to pat :)

    1. Secret? I'm put off by the hair too... especially in springtime when they shed those winter yak suits.
      But the smell? That smell is like heaven to a horsewoman.

  7. My cousin used to have horses and unfortunately the only time I've ridden one I fell off! However, horses and their owners have a deep connection and understanding. To me horses have 'knowing' eyes and I love watching a horse and rider who have that special bond. Thanks for all the information which I enjoyed reading. Have a lovely week. Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond.

    1. You hit it on the head with that comment - one of the things a horseman always looks for as a good quality is what we call 'a soft eye' in a horse.

  8. Magic is work and your prescription for getting a fine partner in a horse works just as well for any relationship.

    1. That never even occurred to me until you said it Beth! Thank you.

  9. What a lovely post. I grow up with horses and remember that connection - so awesome. As I got older, no horses in my future until my daughter decided she wanted to ride. It is surprising how it all comes back, but your right about the connection. My son has horses too and when I visit, I am always right there working with them.
    My husband has never ridden and is afraid of them. He stays away.
    Love your connection with your horses.
    Stopping by from the AIM party. Wanted to let you know that you stopped by my Cherry Hand Pies.

    1. Thanks for coming by Bev; Mr Shoes LOVED those cherry handpies!


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