Growing up, I was that horse-obsessed girl in class. Afternoons and nearly every summer were spent at the barn. When I wasn’t riding, I was helping muck stalls, feed the horses, or turn them out to pasture because I just never wanted to leave. I’m sure this is a familiar narrative among us horse-crazy girls who are now grown up.
But there are moments along the way in my equine education that cause me to cringe or at least to pause and think hard about some of the decisions I made. Some are embarrassing. Others I deeply regret. The common theme here is, “if I knew then what I know now”.
A friend and I once grabbed riding crops and chased our ponies around the field with them, trying to snap photos of them galloping frantically across the pasture. It no doubt caused our horses stress. But we were kids and didn’t know better, at least until our trainer caught us and gave us a good reprimand I still remember vividly to this day. We were so scared and horrified that we hid in a stall until our parents came and picked us up.
I probably knew in the back of my head that my actions weren’t kind, but I needed the adult reminder that all animals deserve to be treated with gentleness and respect, especially the ones we consider as equal partners in our sport of choice.
There were times when I jumped my high school mount over and over and over again, frustrated with my own inability to ask him correctly and set him up for success.
It’s a process, to learn and respect, and to become the horseman that the animal deserves.
I would lose my cool more times than I’d like to admit with my warmblood mare when she planted her feet at the end of the trailer ramp, afraid to walk in. My impatience and short temper did nothing to help quell her fears or get her to trust me.
No one walks into a life with horses knowing all the answers. It’s a process, to learn and respect, and to become the horseman that the animal deserves.
In each of the cases listed above, I learned from my mistakes. I learned to be a better a horseman, and to give my pony the space he needs in the pasture. I became a better and more educated rider – and learned to own up to my own mistakes – and not blame the horse. I learned that the only way to help get a horse past its fear is by asking, not demanding, and by being a kind, confident guide.
We ask a lot of these animals – to tote us around, hop over obstacles, to get into a scary, dark box and go places in a moment’s notice. And they inherently trust us. They give us their full hearts, and really don’t ask for much in return.
It’s OK not to know, and to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. So many in this industry are so free with their knowledge. But the learning process is never over. The horses still have so much to teach us.