Wednesday, January 6, 2010

" Love The One You're With"

“Love the One You’re With”

Are you guilty, as I am, of always looking for the “perfect” horse: that fancier, better-trained, more stunning horse in the classifieds, at the horseshow, in the magazine...?  Sure, there may be no such thing as the “perfect horse.”  Still, should that stop us from looking for the horse of our dreams?  Of course not, if that’s your heart’s desire. 

But I know how easy it is for those dreams to get in the way of reality, and you can get so hung up on what you wish you had, that you don’t realize what you’ve got.  A lot of us don’t consider that the horse we have now might be more perfect for us than we realize.  I have to hit the confessional on this one because I’ve been guilty in the past of thinking this way. After I lost my best horse ever, Erik, two years ago, I’ll admit I didn’t even feel like riding for a very long time.  Then I had the recovery from the knee replacement surgery, which was longer than I thought it would last.  So, what did I do to amuse myself during all this time off from riding?  I did what a lot of horse people do; I fired up the computer and went to lots of sites looking for the perfect horse.  After finding quite a few that I immediately fell in love with from their pictures, descriptions, bloodlines and my own fantasies of having another fancy Dutch Warmblood, I took a moment to sit down and assess my needs at this stage of the game. 

It’s not easy to realize that you’re no longer young and athletic and can no longer hop on any horse and just ride.  But even if I could, did I really need such a young, athletic, fancy horse again?  I had to ask myself the tough questions about what motivates me to ride and what kind of horseman I want to be.  What did I want to get from riding, and what kind of horse did I need for that?  The truth surprised me.

Reality reared its very ugly head and I had to talk myself off the ledge and admit that what I wanted and what I needed for my future riding endeavors might not be one and the same. I loved Erik, but he was not always a fun horse to ride and could sometimes be intimidating.  I wanted to continue to learn and improve my riding and have fun in the process.  And what I needed to do that, more than looks and athleticism, was a completely safe, trustworthy horse, if such a horse could every truly exist.

The next question was where I was going to find this paragon of virtue.  Most of the horses for sale were younger and needed training. By my brutally honest calculations, I was going to need an older horse with more sense and training than what was offered. The catch here is, unfortunately, sometimes their training doesn’t quite match up to what I expect from a horse. There was no way I was going to attempt to retrain a horse with behavioral issues and, on the flip side, I didn’t want a horse that had been ridden into the ground for years and came with a lot of physical baggage.  There were just too many scenarios swirling around my addled brain and I couldn’t make a decision on what I wanted as opposed to what I needed.

Enter my daughter who is an excellent trainer of horses and riders and specializes in horses with behavior problems.  I could have gotten any horse I wanted if she was willing to help train, but she works full time and barely has time for her own horses. It wouldn’t be fair of me to burden her with another untrained horse.  We had a talk, she put her hands on her hips and looked at me in the exasperated way only a child of mine can and, rolling her eyes, commented that we had a barn full of horses and why didn’t I ride Blue or Dusty? 

Light bulb moment?  Well maybe, but I had only ridden Blue once or twice due to the fact that he is my older daughter’s horse and Dusty was an untrained little brat the last time I rode her many years ago. I had my doubts.  We talked a little more about each horse's good points:

Blue is well trained but hasn’t been ridden consistently since my two grandchildren came along and my eldest really had no time or interest at this point in riding. Blue certainly has a mind of his own but is steady, unflappable and rarely spooks. This was a plus for me because Erik was the fastest spook this side of hell. Not just my opinion, by the way; every “professional” he ever dumped snidely commented on the same thing. So here we have a sweet, talented horse that is steady, yet stubborn sometimes to the point of completely disregarding any cue you give him.  We think he zones out, tunes out and just does his own thing when the mood strikes. While he’ll never act flighty, gallop off with you or have a bucking fit, he is the only horse I’ve ever ridden who will “run away” with you at the walk if he gets distracted and forgets to halt, no matter how hard you try to stop him!  So he’s far from “pushbutton,” but he’s never scary.  His only physical problem is he doesn’t have the best hocks, probably due to his near-chronic Lyme Disease. He’s also just as lazy - or maybe even lazier - than Erik was, and his trot is at best uncomfortable and at worst bone-jarring.  Blue’s overall total in his plus column was impressive when added to his very cool dude personality. 

Dusty’s column on the other hand could possibly rack up more debits.  Other than the fact that I’ve always liked her - don’t ask me why, because I always got the feeling she only tolerated me - I was willing to add up her good points.. She is also steady, brave and loves trail rides and new adventures. Dusty is very willing and likes to work, even though she thinks she knows everything, and is willing to put up a fight to get her point across.  She is a forward horse and very enthusiastic about everything. She also had the most comfortable trot I’ve ever sat.  Dusty however, needed a lot of training; at 13, she is still green, mostly because we never really had the time to train her on a consistent basis. I suppose the good spot in all this would be she has a lot less wear and tear under saddle than most teenagers do. Her worst problem was that she doesn’t like to be mounted and will fidget or run away from the mounting block. Flipping herself over at the mounting block years ago was what got her sent back to her previous owner in the first place. She’s also very opinionated, but so am I, so we understand each other.  Another reason I’ve never ridden her is I thought she was too small for me; at 15’1 hands she seemed like a pony compared to the horses I rode for 15 years that were 17’2 and 16’2.  However - and don’t tell her I said this - she has quite a large barrel and it takes up my whole leg.  It’s also easier for me to mount and dismount, and let’s face it, if I do hit the ground it won’t be from such a lofty height as I’m used to - and  fingers crossed it won’t do as much damage.

Here were my two choices and I decided to ride both and see where it would lead us.  So far, I’ve been having a good time with both of these horses. When I am able to ride again, if the weather ever clears, I’m secure in the knowledge that I made some good choices and that both horses will have a lot to teach me, we’ll have fun, and we’ll be safe.

Part of my little story is to show that you may not need that fancy horse and, if you’re lucky you may even have the “almost” perfect horse right in your own barn or backyard and not even realize it.  I gave my horses a second look and realized that, maybe they weren’t the horses I’d always dreamed about, they were right for me right now. 

Sure, if all you care about is competition or keeping up with the Joneses, then maybe the horse you have now isn’t fancy enough or young enough or talented enough to live up to your fantasies.  But the world is full of throw-away horses people got tired of or tossed aside for an upgrade, and most of the time there is probably nothing wrong with them.  Every horse has something to offer if the rider is willing to stick it out or look at riding from new perspective.  For most of us, that horse out in the barn, unless he’s injured or retired, probably still has a lot to offer and to teach us, starting with: setting honest, realistic goals; working through problems with patience and compassion; accepting what we can’t change; being responsible to those animals in our charge and; in general, being better horsemen. 

Maybe it is better if we look at what we have than what we do not have. Working with those available horses instead of looking for the perfect horse somewhere else would save a lot of time and anguish because we already know them and what they are capable of doing. And maybe best of all, they are the ones who appreciate it the most.

I’ve come to realize that these two horses seem to appreciate all the extra attention they have been getting lately.  Dusty is at the point where if we don’t work for a few days, or it’s too cold to groom her properly, she won’t even look at me. I’m afraid she gets insulted pretty easily. That is one thing she may just have to get over herself about, until it’s a lot warmer out there.

Until next time

Quote for Today

Riding is a partnership. The horse lends you his strength, speed and grace, which are greater than yours. For your part you give him your guidance, intelligence and understanding, which are greater than his. Together you can achieve a richness that alone neither can.
    - Lucy Rees

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