Loving a Frustrating Horse
by Ambassador Amy Bieber
Whenever we start to get annoyed with our horses during lessons or show days, my trainer takes a deep breath and tells us to “go down to CVS and pick up a big bag of patience” and then try again. It’s a nice sentiment, but at some point the frustration spirals so far that “a big bag of patience” is not going to cut it anymore.
A lot of the time when I am having trouble getting my horse to cooperate, to get the striding or a difficult exercise, or to just plain quit acting up, I start to think things like, “doesn’t think horse love me enough to just HELP ME OUT HERE?” Or “haven’t I been good enough to him that he should just listen to me and do what I want?” I take it extremely personally that this partner, who I love through and through and have sacrificed so much to have, doesn’t want to give me his all every single day. Of course, this is wildly unfair, the horse does not view the situation in this manner, and I am absolutely guilty of not giving HIM my all every day. But I have these thoughts and feelings nonetheless.
One must bear in mind that the horse made no such commitment to me: to love me and give me his all and make sacrifices for me. He is what he is, and doesn’t understand his relationship with me the way I understand mine with him. Everyone wants to believe that their horses love them and want to be the best they can be to make their owners and riders happy, but honestly, they don’t work like that. They generally excel at tasks before them because they personally enjoy the activity or they get a reward out of it like pats, treats, and breaks. They appreciate us for providing for them and treating them kindly, but they do not love us back the way we love them. I understand this on an intellectual level, but when the horse in front of you is your heart horse that you desperately love and want so badly to do well with you, emotion can quickly overcome intellect.
My thoroughbred is my heart horse. He will never be sold, and he will grow old with me and be mine until his very last day, no matter how many times he frustrates me or throws me off (though always accidentally). I am an amateur through and through and maybe could have gotten something a little older, a little easier, and little fancier to carry me through without having to suffer so many setbacks, but I didn’t and now I’m somewhat stuck. I am hopelessly devoted to this creature who has very different life goals than I have, and who requires more effort than I would often choose to have to put into my rides - especially after an 8+ hour workday in the 105-degree Texas heat.
What I always try to remember at this point, when I’m whining and frustrated and wishing I could have fallen for some other horse who wouldn’t push my limits so much of the time, is that the easy horses may give us confidence and win us ribbons and stand for perfect photographs but they do not make great riders when that is the only type of horse to which a rider is exposed. The ones who test you and keep you on your toes teach you the most valuable lessons and leave you a better, more well-equipped rider than you were the day before. Providing you opportunities to get frustrated and then learn to “go down to CVS and pick up a big bag of patience” is what creates great riders.
So in the end, I guess my horse gives back to me in his own way by making me have those bad days with him. It leaves us both better, which is what I personally need as a rider. It may not be the “love” that my heart so badly wishes he would show me, but a very different kind of relationship that is truly what I needed in a horse at the time when he came into my life. I didn’t know it when I met him, but I am certain that was one of the reasons I fell for him in the first place.
After all, if what I wanted was blind love and obedience, I should have just stuck to dogs. Right?
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