A horse is so much more than a dumb animal - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 3 Old 06-16-2013, 09:43 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: UK
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A horse is so much more than a dumb animal

It is my belief that how an owner/rider comes to treat their horse reflects significantly the role that the human perceives a horse to have in his life.
The role which all three horses which had come to share my life, occupied was that of a companion in retirement. I was never competitively minded when it came to animals. My business life gave enough competition for me. Horses were to be a switch off activity at week ends. For me fast and super athletic thorobreds or warmbloods had little appeal. The breeds which interested me were working cobs, either Welsh or Irish, and fancy Andalucians, These three breeds are not necessarily tall in stature but they can make capable work horse fit for mixing in with the trappings of modern life. My aim has always been to ride the horse out on trails, either long or short, and to treat the animal as my trusty steed. I did not seek from them instant obedience rather did I look for a positive response to my instructions and compliance with my objectives.

My favourite mount of all time was a horse which I never owned named William - a Welsh cob cross Hannoverian. He brought me back into riding after I had retired but I always doubted if he would ever take kindly to being removed from the herd of trekking horses into which he had been born.. Over a period of a couple of years we had got to known each other well. Disappointingly he was not an affectionate horse.
Joe, a fuzzy haired heavy cob of indeterminate breeding, was a different horse all together. Deep down in him was a cussed wayward streak which resisted all attempts by man to tame his lawless ways. At first we got on well but later as I tried to master his cussedness, so his resistance to me increased until finally one day he whirled and bolted down a steep tarmacced lane. In doing so he made himself lame by tearing a check ligament. I nearly broke my back when I came off and hit the tarmac at speed. He had to go - as much as to heal his lameness let alone allow me time to heal my much bruised lumbar spine.
DiDi was to bring my riding career to an end. She was a sensitive Irish Cob who had been schooled for the modern “on the bit” and “in a rounded outline” way of riding. An alpha mare, she was forward going and sharp. A light and sensitive touch was mandatory to keep atop of this horse. She would not suffer fools gladly and within the first few rides by a newcomer upon her, she would test her rider out. But the young woman in whose livery yard DiDi was kept, quickly discovered that my mare had a flair for modern dressage. I had become an owner of a ‘diva’ rather than a rider. It would have been counter productive for me to introduce her to the hazards of the modern humanised world. It took four falls off my Irish Huzzy within a short span of time for me to learn that retired old men don’t bounce well off hard surfaces. But my Girlie was fun in other ways. It was great fun to watch her succeed in competition in the hands of a capable dressage rider. She picked up the techniques so easily.

Once I stopped riding her my relationship with DiDi started to change. I was her owner and I directed our protégée in competition. As tension was removed from our relationship, so we began to understand each other better. I would stroke her, I would groom her, I would whisper in her ear, I would cuddle her neck. I would lunge her and work her from the ground in hand Man and mare enjoyed each other’s company, merely for the sake of spending time together. And it was me who later sensed that DiDi had a health issue which may have been responsible for her occasional skittishness. Level 4 ulcers are painful and the virus EHV5 gives cause for an occasional dry rasping cough. which affects negatively the breathing. It was discovered that DiDI had both ailments
and it was only a question of time before the symptoms made her life uncomfortable.

That final episode of life with DiDi changed the way I looked at all horses. Steadily I became a fervent disciple of Natural Horsemanship. The relevance of the teachings of Tom Dorrance and Monty Roberts came home to me. The relationship between (wo)man and horse can be a very sensitive experience and is based on the fundamental principle that horses are intelligent and that whilst they cannot speak they can communicate - if only the human learns the ‘language of the horse.

The inevitable early death of DiDi left its mark on my psyche and I lost my lifestyle of living with a horse. Joe had irretrievably damaged my pelvis and lumbar spine. The euthanasia of DiDi left an indelible mark on my subconscious brain. These days I do not care to watch horse racing or show jumping. I still have full use of my eyes, my fingers and my memory. A horse and rider riding by will always attract my attention and the horses grazing in the fields behind my house are a constant source of interest to me.

What I now accept is that a horse will communicate with a human. That is if only that human will open his/her eyes and seek communication with a four legged creature which is far from being labeled “dumb“. The rider does not have to make all horses obey - most unspoilt horses can be asked to comply - if only the rider knows how.

Barry G
xxBarry Godden is offline  
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post #2 of 3 Old 06-16-2013, 10:45 AM
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
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Barry, for a long time, my wife and family have laughed about Mia the Talking Horse. They think it is funny when I tell them about a conversation I had with Mia. They joke about her being "Miss Ed":

However, my wife lost her job a few weeks ago. After years of very limited riding, she took Mia for a walk on a lead rope thru the desert. When she got back, she admitted that Mia "sure has opinions" and that she tries to communicate.

She then started riding little Cowboy, our 13 hand BLM mustang. She has now probably ridden him 8-10 times in the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, she told me how she could feel his tension when we walked past homes with horses, or how he was concerned but a bit confused when Mia acted fearful over...asphalt patches in the road pavement.

She had the chance to ride Trooper yesterday instead of Cowboy, and chose Cowboy. In the evening, I cleaned the corral while she fed the horses, and she laughed at the way Cowboy pranced behind her as she took him his feed. (Cowboy is the littlest, so he ends up watching the other two take the first 2 piles of hay in the corral). He wasn't being pushy about it, but he pranced as much as his thick body and thick legs allowed. When allowed to approach, he buried his face in the hay.

She always knew that horses communicate thru body language, but I think she viewed it as a very rudimentary thing. As she rides Cowboy more, and becomes more in tune with his moods and way of expressing himself, I think she is starting to understand why I talk about Mia & I going for a ride instead of 'I'm riding Mia'.

This is a part of horsemanship that was understood by many long before anyone talked about natural horsemanship - even in the middle of World War One:

Some people learn to listen to their horse, and others use their horse without listening. Mia was a terrible horse for a beginner, yet in some ways she was the perfect horse for me. I wanted to approach horses as if they were biological ATVs, but Mia wouldn't accept it. And once you understand the pleasure of riding WITH a horse, instead of ON a horse, there is no turning back.
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post #3 of 3 Old 06-16-2013, 11:48 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: UK
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BSMS - in your post you illustrate exactly why I feel that Natural Horsemanship is a 'creed' rather that a 'method'. The owner/rider has to practise the techniques involved and thereby come to appreciate the horse which he/she is working with.

I must admit that it took time for me to become a disciple of NH and it was only in my years of retirement that I had the time to be patient and to understand what the horse was trying to communicate to me.

It greaves me still to think of the million or so horses which were shipped to Flanders in World War 1, only to end up in 1918, after four or more years of faithful service, as food for prisoners of war or meat for the starving civilians of Northern Europe. Nowadays horses are mostly playthings but there is still a need to teach the ignorant as to how the game should be played humanely.

I recently suggested to a nearby livery yard owner that before any budding rider be taught to ride that first the novice had to catch the horse.

xxBarry Godden is offline  

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