Here’s an ugly little secret. Horse ownership is tough! It’s kinda comparable to getting a flat tyre.. If you don’t change it, you’ll never get anywhere. And call me strange, but I enjoy the fact that it’s tough! (Not to mention, also very rewarding).
I still remember one piece of advice my instructor, Christine Johnson gave me when I was looking for a horse. I had just been to see Nigel, who had retired from racing and was sitting in a paddock for 18 months. I almost instantly made up my mind! Chrissie told me “you need to know that some horses change temperament once you put them back into work”. And she couldn’t of been more right!
Now for me, this wasn’t a bad thing. I love the fact that Nigel changed from a completely blasé horse to an energetic and alert horse! He might give me a little grief here and there, but he is INTERESTED in life. Now I guess with all that extra energy comes a lot of good, but not everything is always so perfect! Our latest test is riding on the arena with other horses. Yes that’s right, my horse who has travelled the world and ran more than 40 races with hundreds of other horses has trouble riding in an arena with said other horses. It can be rather embarrassing being THAT rider with the squealing, hopping horse who thinks he’s back in a race!
good GREAT thing I was introduced to, is using positive reinforcement via clicker training. And this is a perfect example of where you can work on some of the bad and turn it into good! Yes, I look like a bit of a dork carrying around a bumbag and clicker, but that little dorky bag is full of delicious treats so I doubt Nigel really cares. In fact, when he sees me (or my instructor) wearing or even holding that bag, he knows how to get a click and treats! The horse learns that the behaviour clicked, is the behaviour being reinforced. And that is the behaviour he will repeat. Clicker training is such a great tool!
Now, if I had to say what was the absolute most ‘ugly’ thing about horse ownership, it would definitely be that annoying little voice that sits in the back of your mind dribbling bad thoughts like, “what if Nigel gets colic” or “what if he injures himself and is permanently lame” or my biggest fear, “what if he dies from some kind of illness”. I can only speak from personal experience from when I was 15 years old and owned a grey Thoroughbred gelding. It was a stormy, windy night and my horse spooked, slipping over in his paddock and permanently injuring his back. It was devastating. I was heart broken. People say you shouldn’t have regrets , but it took me 15 years to get back into my passion after that. And I regret that so much.
Life is short. So despite the good, the bad and the ugly, if there is ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now. Don’t wait!
Cover photo credit; Christine Johnson
Photo below; My first dressage competition in 2001 with Brigadier.
This blog is the personal opinion and experience of the author. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor or trainer for your own specific situation or circumstance.