What I do isn't really about ranch work. Ranch work is just the path I choose to go with it, because it seems fun to me. What it's about is making a horse that will stay with you through the thunder and lightning. Most of these horses can only handle fair weather, and even that just barely. This is for the true welfare and sanity of the horse. As much as we might not like to admit it, the horse is genetically hard-wired to be happy and content when he knows his place. We kill these horses with sympathy through trying to treat them as something they're not, and that something is whatever we happen to want them to be or wish they were. I understand where people are coming from. I once had romantic notions about horses too. There was a time, as I learned more about them, that I was depressed about my shattered illusions. I think that's where most people quit horses. Leslie Desmond calls it "a crossroads where most turn back, and others move ahead". I think what it means is that on the other side of those abandoned romantic and other pre-conceived notions lies a true appreciation for horses as they are. With all of their good sides and bad sides. Putting aside your feelings to act in the horse's true best interest. I believe that the horse's best chance for living the best possible quality of life in this world is to be genuinely useful and dependable, versatile, and to be able to handle any conceivable kind of situation WITHOUT ENDANGERING THE RIDER. I'm not talking about training a 'high-performance' horse. We're not talking about reiners or dressage or jumping. I'm talking about the police horse. The bridle horse. The Long Rider's horse.
The war horse.
Knowing that this level of dependability is within their capability, it makes no sense other than to do everything possible to encourage and develop those aspects of his nature by any reasonable means necessary. So that he will have true value to himself and to anyone fortunate enough to own him. He won't need to find a sympathy home because he will be in-demand. We all know that it's those kinds of horses that everyone loves and sings the praises of, and for good reason. To feel sympathy for the horse and simultaneously to have enough resolve to continue on when things are falling apart, knowing what lies on the other side, is a very difficult challenge and not many are up for it. Most have difficulty even witnessing it. It's too rough; too dirty. There's too much sweat involved. Horses are crashing into fences and stepping in gopher holes and bumping into each other and getting rope burned from the halter and running around at 150mph. These horses are also 8, 10, 15 years old and are apt to paw your head off whenever they feel pressured. Here's the tell: When their head is 10' in the air and they're looking PAST you and their chest is coming toward your face, you're about to die. This also shows itself in a slightly less dangerous version when they're charging around the round pen looking outside of it and turning away from the handler and hitting top speed every time you move your hand 6 inches.
I feel sorry for these horses. They're mature so it's hard for them to change, and their expectations of people coupled with the cramped conditions in which they often live creates an attitude in them which works in direct opposition to the intended purpose, which in the horse rescue is to improve their quality of life now and for the future. I don't blame people. We do the best we can, with what we have to work with. It's hard to be a horse in the year 2012, and owning them unless you're independently wealthy is a continuous challenge filled with compromises. Nevertheless, the horse remains the horse and all of these ways in which he's kept and handled have a powerful effect on him. Not to mention, that time is generally not on their side. Much as we'd like it to be, the feed bills come every month regardless of whether he progresses or not. To change these horses sometimes requires an enormous amount of energy, and it gets messy. It's elbows in the mud, blood sweat and tears. Injuries happen. If you're using reasonable judgement, they're usually minor. As you get more advanced as a horseman they occur less frequently and less severely as you refine your skills, but that process of getting there is not always smooth. It's a full range of experience. Some of the mistakes you may make can be quite the tremendous disasters. Others, only seem to be so until you begin to realize how resilient the horse really is. As many mistakes as I've made in learning this stuff I still haven't managed to kill one. Make no mistake though. To take a 10-year old horse and teach him NOT to look at taking you out as a possible avenue of escaping pressure is a necessary but very risky and dirty business. That's because you are to an extent re-instilling his natural fear of humans through your actions. That is not the goal, the goal is to move his feet accurately so that you can be safe and he can be sane, but it's an aspect of the whole experience nonetheless. It's unfortunate but true. I've spent years ruminating on the meaning of it, and so far I haven't found the perfect answer. The best I can tell you right now is, it's for their own good. The short-term discomfort is unfortunate but it is more than eclipsed by the long-term gain. What I do is not for everyone and never will be for everyone, but it's the right thing to do. /RANT