Over the course of my work, I’ve met many horse owners entrenched in the grip of horsemanship fail patterns. None of them intend to create situations that set their horses up for failure. But because they are unaware of their actions, they simply don’t see the habits they perpetuate with their horses and riding routines.
The best way to illustrate this principle is to create ridiculously exaggerated parodies of horse owner types who do this. So we can safely mock them while surreptitiously assessing if we’ve made similar mistakes with our horses.
That way, everyone wins.
So, without further ado, here are the Horse Wise Top Eight #HorsemanshipFail Owner Categories.
(Footnote: We’ve described all of the owners as female, just to keep things simple. But we’ve seen plenty of male horse owners who also fit into these categories).
Dazed and Distracted Syndrome
She loves her horse and can’t wait to start riding regularly, working with a trainer and attending clinics. After all, her horse needs to be ridden more than once a month. Each week, she vows to get serious and get on a plan. But her kids just started summer vacation (or about to start school in the fall). Her job is demanding and she has to take emergency corporate meeting calls at the barn. Her husband surprised her with a fabulous trip to Rome or Milwaukee. The in-laws are visiting unexpectedly and her SUV caught fire again. Her kitchen renovation (or custom shed construction) just started and needs constant supervision. Her dog is in detox and her cat is under arrest. She can’t remember to return messages but likes to text her instructor/trainer/vet at midnight or 6 am. She is pretty sure her horse is either bay or brown or possibly a really dark roan. Once she remembers which barn he is at, she is going to visit him and hire that new instructor, vet and farrier. Unless she already has. Either way, she’s definitely going to commit to big changes — as soon as tomorrow! Or 2020.
The Impulse Buyer
She avidly follows FB horse sales and kill pen groups, checking and rechecking for new posts daily. Each new horse photo sends her into a tizzy of excitement: is this THE one? Should she buy him now before someone else does? Or bail him before he is shipped to slaughter (even though his post has a bazillion shares, a 4 figure “bail” price and possibly the entire horse lady population of Texas commenting on how cute he is)? If a novice rider, she is drawn to green, spirited, traumatized and/or ginormous horses (the less suitable, the better). If an experienced rider, she especially sighs over the horses that are as far away as possible (prompting her into Ebay mode in which she bids first and asks questions later). If she is sensible enough to avoid online horse sale sites, then she is susceptible to buying horses recommended by trainers she’s never met or fellow boarders who just acquired orphan horses in need of new homes.
The Quick Gimmick Addict
She and her horse have shared many adventures together. But there is always something that won’t quite get better, no matter what she tries. He doesn’t want to stand still for mounting. He hates to transition from the trot to the lope (or vice versa). He kicks out when jumping or cross-canters when in the dressage ring. He keeps his head up giraffe style or lurches along on the forehand ready to face plant at any moment. Whatever it is, he’s been doing it forever (months, years, since Friday). But the good news is that there is always a solution just around the corner. And she has tried them all. The amazing bit with the cute name. The draw rein/fly bonnet combo tool that is beyond revolutionary. The ordinary martingale combined with wind chimes and a buzzer. The special supplement that magically balances his metabolism while helping him learn German. The incredibly expensive saddle that can read his thoughts and correct her leg position. She can’t wait to try them all, one at a time (and in every possible combination).
Learned Helplessness Disease
She blames herself for her horse’s unhappiness, lack of training, poor math aptitude and aversion to the color purple. Berating herself daily, she clearly is doing all she can to help improve her horse’s life. She’d like to do more, but she just doesn’t know what to do. She could take lessons with that trainer in the next town — but she doesn’t have a trailer and has no idea how to ask her fellow horse friends for a ride. Or maybe she just needs to get a good vet work-up done — maybe it’s pain that causes her horse’s ennui with life. But what vet to use? So many out there — what if she picks the wrong one? Or picks the right one, but can’t afford the treatment? She reads lots of horsemanship advice on FB and Instagram (both stellar sources of refined information). But how do you even find a rope halter? And those DVDs to watch — there are so many of them and who even has a DVD player anymore? It’s all so hard and overwhelming — how can she possibly even know where to begin? Her plan is to wait and hope for an answer to find its way to her. Preferably an obvious one that is easy to execute.
Let It Be and Let It Build Clan
Her horse has some issues with anxiety, performance, spooking, pushiness, straightness and/or general inattention to detail. She is wise enough to see this and wants to help him get better. He loves to trail ride and so does she. They do it regularly, in fact pretty much on every ride. Each time, he has an incident of tension, stage fright, flightiness, sidestepping, kicking and/or treat aggression. She has read about all the techniques to help him: lots of circles, short serpentines, teardrop exercises, transition work and (most of all) a structured set of progressions to build consistency. But she knows her horse better. He needs to be spontaneous and free. To fence him in with lots of routinized exercises and figures wouldn’t be fair to him. Plus everyone hates circles, right? So boring. No, her plan is better — to let things roll and unfold naturally. She will know what to do when he needs something from her. One day it will all work out. Possibly when he is in his thirties and wants to nap most of the time.
Team All of a Sudden
A close relative of the Let It Be family, she is plagued by a recurring phenomena. On a regular basis, her horse has a meltdown right out of the blue. No warning. No hint of something going awry. Just her and her horse, innocently riding along together. She never notices what happened first. He starts flying off the handle so fast! What was up with THAT spook, buck, bolt, sidestep, spin and/or speaking in tongues moment? If only she could figure why he does that thing (or all of them). It must be something is wrong with him. Maybe EPM or epilepsy or bipolar syndrome? Perhaps a magnesium, probiotic or dopamine deficiency? The point is who really can know, anyway. Horses are complicated and sometimes they do weird, crazy things once in awhile. Or in her horse’s case, on a weekly, daily or hourly basis. There might be a pattern in there somewhere. Maybe one day she’ll figure it out. Until then, she’s just going to keep riding. She loves her horse for sure. Someday she will understand him. Just not today.
Fix It For Me Club
Now here is an owner who knows what to do. Hire somebody to take care of whatever the problem is with her horse. Immediately. She’s not even really interested in the problem. Just take care of it and get the horse back on track. Isn’t that really the best, most efficient way to help her horse? Delegation always is the answer, whether with horses or corporate affairs. The trick is to simply to find the right person for the job, one who can deliver the fastest, most effective results. She knows that “most effective” is of course synonymous with “fastest.” After all, this isn’t her first rodeo. Plus it’s really not her job to understand the problem or solve it. Her role is to enjoy riding in whatever discipline she chooses (pleasure, dressage, roping, barrels, jumping) for that particular day. She pays for the horse, his upkeep and meticulous care. In exchange, he is supposed to uphold his part of contract and be a fun, reliable ride all the time. He of course doesn’t expect her to be a fun, reliable rider all the time. Because that would be unreasonable on his part.
Blame Game Posse
She is understandably frustrated. Her horse has had problems with consistency for a long time now. If it hadn’t been for that first trainer doing such a bad job, he would have had a much better start. Unfortunately when she got him to that ultra fancy facility afterward, the barn manager picked the worst time ever to quit. Her horse had to adapt to an entirely new staff and different brand of shavings/feed/hay/wine than he was used to. Poor thing! Thank goodness she found that European/West Texas instructor to teach her the latest riding techniques. But then he had to go off to culinary school, leaving her and her horse right back where they started. She is pretty sure her horse wouldn’t be biting trucks now if that instructor was still around. He also isn’t doing well under saddle. Truth be told, she often has less than ideal rides. Really it’s her HORSE that has less than ideal rides. She’s beginning to see the pattern now. He’s a TB, warmblood, mustang, Irish sport horse, Shetland pony cross. And you know how THEY are (crazy, high-strung, stubborn, mischievous, hot, lazy, psychic)! No wonder things aren’t working out.