There are two things I have been thinking about recently where horses are concerned, (well, there are actually thousands, but these two things I have thought about more than once) and these are they.
The first is that I am pleased I bought myself a good horse, and I am going to stop apologising to everyone for his golden existence. I am not sorry that I have bought myself a workmanlike steed with an easy to train attitude, oh, and who was described recently as the horse version of David Beckham (is that good?). I know some people perceive it as a cheat and that the very act of getting a good horse is an admittance that your horsemanship is poor – but here’s the thing; I don’t care. I know working with difficult horses is an invaluable teaching aid, but as my friend said recently (who has also finally got herself an ‘easy’ horse) it’s really nice that no one says to her anymore, ‘Oh well, at least you’re learning loads’, whilst smiling sympathetically.
There seems to be a badge of honour in the horse world which is only awarded when you acquire some terribly abused, mentally traumatised, physically wrecked horse and turn it into something glorious. I have a huge amount of awe for anyone who has actually managed to do this, and who now has a wonderful functioning horse that they can do anything they want with. My own experience, and that of many people I know, is that getting yourself a horse like this is a massive commitment to a lifetime of slog, and thousands of pounds spent on bodyworkers, vets, and supplements. And this may be something which you have to continue to manage for the rest of that horse’s life.
Now, I am not saying it is not an admirable and lovely thing to do for a horse. Through my own short- sightedness and love of a thick mane and an archey neck, I have a little brown horse who costs me quite a lot to keep. He has seen the vet more times than the rest of my horses put together, and looks to be some way off being a really reliable riding horse. Thankfully, he is the sweetest, mildest horse and a joy to have around, so he can take his time and we can work out some stuff. However, if he were my only horse, and the one with whom I hoped to really learn some things about ‘how to train a riding horse’, then I think I would be being unfair to both of us. And I have thoroughly walked the ‘project horse’ road with my previous horse Gou, and it broke my heart and my bank balance. I put in as much time and effort and love as was possible, into a horse which I really, truly believed had to come good, and he didn’t. Did I learn loads? Yes. Would I willingly do it again? No. I almost had to be sectioned.
I recently overheard someone saying, ‘Why do you think they have such good horses in Spain? Because they eat Salami...’ This made me think of a question I put to Pedro when I first met him and his host of lovely Lusitanos, which was something along the lines of, ‘What would you do if you had a really spooky horse in your stable?’ To which he replied, ‘I would not have him in my stable!’. Whatever any of us might think about attitudes of Spain and Portugal towards animals, and the riding and training of horses – they are pretty clear that they don’t have time to waste training ‘project horses’, when they could be spending it working with something a little easier.
So, as far as I am concerned, if you love working with remedial horses and are prepared for the fact that there may never be a complete ‘solution’ for these animals (despite what some NH gurus might lead you to believe) then please enjoy that for what it is – an amazing and fabulous, and often exhausting and expensive experience. But, please don’t berate me for choosing an easier horse (and, you know, he’s a 5 year old Veiga Lusitano, he isn’t always that easy – he just doesn’t stretch my abilities to the point of breaking and he is also able to fill in for me from time to time, which I appreciate enormously). And this isn’t about money – because one way or another you are going to spend it through owning a horse. You can get yourself a really great horse for not a huge amount of money if you are honest about what you want and need, and set about getting yourself that.
The second thing I have had to come to terms with, and the flip side of the above, is that I might not be the right owner for every horse. Just because I have paid for an animal, and am desperate to be able to deal with all his issues and be his best ever human, I might actually not be experienced enough. Or my practical set up might not work for him. Or I might just have to admit that my goals do not fit the horse, and trying to mould him into something he is not is going to cause us both considerable heartache. A few years ago Sarah said to me, ‘What makes you think you’re the best person for this horse? You could actually sell him to someone who is going to be a better owner than you’. I knew she was a bitch. How could anyone possibly be a better keeper of a horse than me? Well hang on, there are quite a lot of people out there and maybe one of them might actually be better able to meet a horse’s needs. Who would have thought..?
So, in long and rambling conclusion – if you want to buy yourself a good horse, than I will applaud you (you may have to resign yourself to a lifetime of no haircuts and jeans with holes in them). If you want to work with a project horse I will also applaud you – and hope you have a good insurance company. And I have also almost got my head around the fact, that maybe some horses would actually be better off with someone other than me. Just none of mine....