lIt 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.