Years ago a woman came to a clinic with her thoroughbred crossbred gelding. She had owned him for about 5 years and had been battling all those years with teaching him to slow down. He ran manically whenever she asked for anything more than a walk. She held the reins tight like a handbrake through all her rides, but still the horse wanted to run fast.
She told me that if I couldn’t fix her horse, she was going to sell him for one that was quieter and more sensible.
On the second day of the clinic we swapped horses. I rode her horse and she rode one of mine. It only took a few moments to convince her horse to trot and canter without rushing. Meanwhile, she couldn’t get my horse to go. She kicked and kicked, but my mare just ignored her and wandered around like it had nowhere to go that day. I rode the mare and she immediately woke up and was working like she had been taught.
I told the lady I couldn’t fix her horse, but if she was willing I would try to help her horse by fixing her.
One day I got a phone call from a mother asking if I made house calls to assess horses for purchase. She was shopping for a horse to suit her teenage daughter whom she said was ready to graduate from pony club to open competition. She was looking for a horse that would take her daughter all the way to be nationally competitive. The girl had been riding for six years and mum made it sound like she was ready to go to the Olympics if they could only find her the right horse. They had an open cheque book and wanted to find the horse that would make the daughter a success.
I lied and told the lady I didn’t offer a pre-purchase service, but wished her luck.
A fellow asked me to help him with his horse that had begun to buck. The bloke had been thrown a few times and decided being buried in the sand had lost its glamour. If I couldn’t fix the horse, it was going to get a bullet.
When the horse arrived the first thing I did was check its back. It was very reactive to the touch. I then asked to look at his saddle. From the back of his truck he pulled out a medieval torture device that looked a little like an Australian stock saddle in very bad shape. There was no way this saddle could not be hurting the horse. I asked how long he had been riding in the saddle and said he used it on all his horses for the last 20 years. He told me he had owned the bucking horse for 18 months. Then I asked when did the horse start to buck and the answer was about 6 weeks ago.
I told him that the horse deserved a medal and not a bullet. If he had been tolerating that saddle for 18 months and only began to complain 6 weeks ago he was a special horse. I told him I couldn’t fix his horse. But maybe a few weeks rest, plus a good bodywork therapist and a decent saddle maker could.
In all three of these examples, people put the onus of getting along with their horse on the horse. In the first example, paying enough money for a horse was going to guarantee a novice horsewoman became a successful competitor. In the second, training was going to stop the horse from expressing how badly it felt about the rider. And in the third, training was supposed to make the horse ignore its pain.
I don’t know how to make a horse that feels bad, behave well. I don’t know how to make a horse feel okay about bad riding. I don’t know how to make a horse in physical pain, pretend it’s not.
I just don’t know enough to fix everything.
How can I help a horse feel okay about John Wayne's riding?