Are All Horses Meant To Be Rideable?

Moving on from my last post, I read somewhere that if a horse bucks when it is saddled for the first time it’s due to poor preparation. This got me thinking.


As a kid, I was lucky because I was very active and pretty good at most sports I tried. I have always had above average hand-eye coordination. I was quick on my feet and had really good reflexes. I was good a soccer player, runner, body surfer, and rider and I could box a bit. But I had a friend whose parents had emigrated from Iran when the Shah came to power. Bobby’s dad had a dream that Bobby would one day play soccer for Australia. If hopes had the power to make things come true Bobby would have captained Australia at the World Cup – and won! But Bobby was tragically uncoordinated. When he threw a ball it was anyone’s guess which direction it might go – even sometimes behind him. Bobby could do a lot of things really well, but he was never born to play soccer at an elite level. Bobby’s father was heart-broken.


I lost contact with Bobby after high school, but I sometimes think of him. I was thinking of him a few days ago when I wrote the post about horses that buck when they are saddle virgins. Thinking about Bobby has me asking the question, are all things meant to be possible?


If we accept that each every living thing has limitations, then it is not hard to accept that Bobby would never play professional soccer or that I will never discover the mathematical solution to the unifying theory or that my horse will never score 10s in a dressage test. No matter what our dreams may be not everything is possible. Contentment is only thinkable when we keep our ambitions or dreams within our limitations.


Now I come to the question that I’ve been pondering for a very long time.


Is every horse meant to be a riding horse (or carriage horse or companion horse of any kind)?


We train and ride horses because historically they presented a very useful form of transport and work vehicle and war machine. Civilization owes a huge debt to the horse. But this was only possible because of their trainability. We chose horses over almost every other species because they had the most appropriate features of any. But does that mean that every horse fits into that mold?


I come across videos, articles, books, and blogs that preach over and over that how a horse responds to training is the human’s total responsibility. I very much agree with this notion. I think our own limitations as trainers’ projects onto the horses and the outcome is all on us. So given that we all have significant limitations in our understanding of horses and our ability to communicate with them on their level, are there some horses we are never meant to ride?


In the course of the thousands of horses I have crossed paths with in my life I have certainly come across horses that were more difficult than others to work with. Among those I can recall, two horses (bred from the same sire) that I did start, but which I felt should never have been under saddle. They were both unpredictable and went through a few years of hell being passed from trainer to trainer looking for a solution. Eventually, the owner gave up and had them euthanized. With all the soul-searching that I did, the only explanation I concluded was that the horses were never meant to be riding horses. I can never be sure, but it seems to be the closest fit to explain their response to human interaction.


I realize it goes against the grain a little to think not every horse is destined to be a suitable riding mount. It seems unfathomable to think that a horse is not rideable. We grow up believing that surely if a horse had the correct handling they would all make good riding horses.  But when you consider how foreign it is to the nature of a horse to do the things we want to do with them and the practices we use to house, tame and educate them, it does not seem so far-fetched to me that there are some horses that are not born with the “right stuff” to fit into the mould we insist they do. The idea of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole comes to mind.


Bobby’s father put a lot of pressure on him to be a great soccer player. I know that Bobby’s life was made much harder by his dad’s dream. How many horses live in Bobby’s type of hell on a daily basis because our ambitions for them exceed their potential?


Pic: Not every horse is meant to be a riding horse. Some are meant to be beach bums.

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