"Playing the Hero" -- when to 'stick with it' & when to realize it's time to move on.
We've all seen it happen, and I'm sure most of us have been there one time or another. Perhaps some of us are there right now: buying the horse that's, well.. too much horse for us. I'm not talking needs a bit of training/settling... I'm talking that horse that makes us look like fools... the horse that has problems, the horse that bucks/bolts/spins/rears/kicks.. you name it... and it's beyond our knowledge level.
It's a frightening spot to be in, and it is one that tests our very mettle.
What it really comes down to are two decisions: do we keep the horse, and work through the problems, or do we sell the horse, and get one that's more level-appropriate?
There are major problems arise with this question:
1) the human ego. We don't like to admit we're wrong, or don't know enough, or aren't strong enough, or ... well, we just don't like to admit that we aren't enough, period.
2) we feel that we've somehow let the horse down. We humans (most of us anyways) get attached to the animals in our lives, however briefly. By the time we realize that the horse is too much, we've already gotten attached. Thus, the thought of selling said horse becomes more difficult.
3) we have been bombarded with so many stories of the underdog (read: inexperienced horseman) taming the wild horse that a lot of people have started to think this is the norm... it is not.
...right along with this point is...
4) the romantic idea of "taming the wild horse" is very, very over-played. Believe me, there is nothing romantic about taking a problem horse and trying to fix it. There is a lot of blood (so to speak), sweat and tears. The end result is worth it... if you know what you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing... well sometimes it doesn't end well at all.
Sticking with it
This is the option that most of us at least flirt with for a while. The biggest problem with this option is that when we buy a horse that's too much of us, obviously we don't have the experience to deal with the problems the horse has, or to bring the horse along correctly. This is a catch-22. We try our darndest, but we cannot see what we're doing wrong, as we just don't have the experience to see what we're doing wrong. So we keep doing things wrong, thinking we're right -- um, the problem with this is apparent.
So how do we deal with this?
The most obvious answer to most of us is get a trainer/instructor. That would be fantastic... if only we could point at any name in the Yellowpages under "Horse Trainer" and get exactly what we need. Oh, and there's also the slight hiccup of money - trainers cost money.
Not all trainers are created equal... in fact, I'd be so bold to say that there are more bad trainers out there than good... so the odds are stacked against you from day 1. Well, that's kind of crummy, to say the least.
Nonetheless, finding a decent trainer will likely take care of our problems. The horse can either get sent away for training (and come back to us with more wet saddle blankets and miles under its girth) or we can opt to take lessons and learn with the horse, and how to handle its problems and quirks.
With a good trainer, either of these options can be very beneficial, and you can end up with the horse of your dreams... or at least one you can ride and handle.
So, how do we go about finding that special trainer? Your best bet is word of mouth. People like to talk. A lot. They especially like to talk when they can complain - so go hang out at your local tack store, go to shows.... and keep your ears open.
Anyways, that isn't really the point of this post, more of a side-tip. The bottom line is that if you are in over your head with your horse, finding someone reputable that can help you is one of the best steps you can take.
Unfortunately, due to many circumstances, a lot or people that are in over their heads to not get help.... or get the wrong kind of help - though I'm not quite sure which is worse. A lot of horse owners keep a horse that is too much for them. They think they can work through it, but either can't or won't spend the money on a decent trainer, or they don't have any decent trainers around them to help.
With that intro, let's move on to the main point of this post: When to quit playing the hero.
Like I said earlier, it's human nature to either not want to admit we have a problem, or not admit we need help when we do realize that we might just have a big problem on our hands. Couple that with our human need to care for living things, and you can see how easily this becomes very dangerous.
We want things to end up like they do in the movies; we want so badly to be that main character that is able to tame the wild horse that we don't really see the big picture, nor the lack of romance that real life really offers us.
Horses are big animals. They can throw their weight around, and they can hurt us. They can kill us. It's not in their nature to do so, no, but if we're in the wrong place at the wrong time, or react wrongly, well.. we can end up dead.
I don't think enough people appreciate this sentiment.. especially not when we're young and invincible.
Training horses takes a lot of instinct, or 'horse sense' as some call it. The nice thing about this instinct and horse sense is that it can be learned. The problem is, it takes a darn long time to learn it... it's not an easy lesson, nor is it readily acquired.
When a horse is untrained beyond our abilities, and we have no trainer or mentor, we are very liable to ruin said horse, at least for a while. A trainer once told me that we ruin the first 10 horses we touch. We don't have the know-how, we don't have the instinct, we don't have the experience to truly to any real favors to the first horses we touch.
How do we acquire such talents? We learn from experience. We learn from talking to people who know more than us. We learn from paying people who know more than us to teach us how to react in various situations. We attend clinics from people who know more than us. We read books written by people who know more than us..... see the pattern?
As a disclaimer of sorts, I must say that there are some very rare people that can learn by trial and error, and fix a problem horse that they originally had no idea how to fix and do it on their own.... but, let me say this very clearly.... this is not the norm, and it is very very rare.
How does it usually end, if you don't seek help?
More often than not, there's an event or two that lead the owner to realize that they cannot do this alone. Usually this realization results from injury, either to the horse or to the owner.
Sometimes it takes a serious, life-threatening injury to make the owner realize that something has to change.
When you realize it's time to move on.
Right off the bat, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with selling a horse that is too much for you, and getting something more your level. Nothing. In fact, I commend people who realize that they are in over their heads, want to find a good home for the horse, and find a horse that is more suited to their abilities.
This usually comes after flirting with the idea of fixing the horse yourself, or even after having someone try to fix the horse for you. Sometimes it happens when the person sustains the injury I mentioned a few paragraphs above.
If you cannot afford to hire someone to teach you how to deal with the problem horse, or send the horse away for training, or there is no decent trainer around you, I usually suggest selling the horse.
If you try and "play the hero" and fix the horse yourself without any know-how or guidance, it usually doesn't end well. You either don't know how to react in a situation, or react poorly in a situation, and make it worse. For example, I saw one lady that simply jumped off her horse when it started to hunch up or buck; she didn't know how to deal with the bucking horse, so she taught the horse that if it hunched up or bucked, it would be rewarded by being allowed to relax. The owner had no clue what she was doing wrong, and grew more and more terrified of the horse, and kept teaching the horse bad habits.
If you don't know how to fix it, can't send the horse away to get fixed, and can't get the help to learn how to fix it, sell or give it to someone who DOES know.
A horse is not worth your life. If you can't get the help, it is not worth risking your life to fix. It is also not worth ruining the horse more for the sake of your pride.
Sometimes, a horse is just too much for us. There is nothing wrong with admitting this. Even if you've worked with a dozen trainers, and you're still in over your head.... well.... it's time to move on.
It will be best for you and the horse to part ways. You can take necessary precautions to make sure the horse ends up in a good home - usually, a problem horse won't fetch a lot of money, but they also won't take up more of your money in feed and upkeep costs. This way, the horse can be ridden and trained by someone that has the knowledge to work through the problems.
You, in turn, can either spend money on lessons, or buy a horse that's more appropriate for your level of riding, and learn on it.
Of course, another option, if you have the time and money, and if the horse is safe to handle on the ground, is to retire the horse to a pasture ornament. This works for some horses, and not for others... some horses need to work to be happy, and others are perfectly content being a pasture puff, but it is another option to consider.
Amen, sister. Won't write a while lot because I'm on my phone, but I agree wholeheartedly. I hate seeing people overhorsed - we were recently able to convince the parents of a begginer rider at our club that his horse was way too much for him - and thank god because that was a case were he would have definately gotten hurt. I also think the biggest factor is ego, as you mentioned.
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WS, I was hoping you'd see this thread and reply -- I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say when you're on a real computer :)
I'm afraid we were in a situation like that a few years ago, where I knew deep down the horse was way too much for me, so I slowly started to let go- after the inevitable injury happened. It wasn't big, she bit me -hard-, hard enough to leave a bruise that didn't fade away for over six months, and make it difficult to ride. Not to mention the fact that she nearly (thank god for that NEARLY) kicked me in the head, totally un provoked. It wounded my pride, wounded my confidence, but I'm so glad now that we realised it in time, before she hurt me or anybody else who decided to go near her, it just wasn't worth it.
Turns out, in the end, it was a pain issue (that previous owners didn't tell us about, but that's beside the story) and we gave her away to people who could RECOGNIZE and TREAT the issue. I've yet to meet her again, but I want to, because get this- she's doing beginner trail rides and has gone back to her previous 'bombproof' status, so not only was it safer for us it was so much better for her and now she's living the life she deserves with people who know how to handle her issues.
There is a very old saying: "Pride goes before the fall". Taken literally and in this context, it means get out of that horse before you get hurt.
I've bought and sold many horses in my life and some should have been keepers but I wasn't ready for them at the time. I love horses and I have my entire life but I have no problem admitting that, for whatever reason, I bought the wrong horse. Horses are for my enjoyment and if that particular horse is not giving that to me, then out he goes.
This is really aimed at the younger members but I find it ridiculous that some will whine about owning a horse that is trying to kill them yet can't part with him because he is their life or their best friend or their soulmate. It's horse and if you are over your head with that horse, it is better off (for both you and the horse) to be in the hands of someone who is at the same level with him. You are not going to make it better but only make it worse if you keep a horse that is too far above your expertise.
If you own a horse that is still bolting, rearing, biting, bucking, after a year ... you don't need that horse. I'm also tired of hearing "he's come a long way" but he is still bolting etc. The longer you keep a horse like that the longer it takes to break the habit you fostered. Misguided youthful ego.
OK, rant over .... back to the thread.
Thank you for this. I'm facing the reality of this, slowly but surely.
One of the best posts I have even seen!
This should be copied and posted to every horse forum on the Internet and be mandatory reading before owning a horse.
VERY good job writing this piece JustDressageIt.
"Playing the hero" and 'sticking with it' longer than one should usually goes hand-in-hand with the invincibility of youth. Even by the time we're in our 20's, our bodies stop bouncing like they should, injuries seem to hurt more, or we've got families, and significant others that make us realize that life is much, much bigger than one horse. Suddenly, dealing with a bronc doesn't seem like such a good time, or worth injury or death.
I'm not saying adults aren't sometimes the ones that hang on longer than they should, I've seen it happen, but it's generally the younger ones that feel that "I can't sell him! S/He's my soulmate! S/He's my everything!"
Intersetingly i come from the other perspective i obtained a "problem" horse 3 years ago.A girl in my yard with 3years experience on "bomb-proof" riding school ponies decided between herself and parents she was ready to own a horse. The horse they bought was a beautiful 16.2hh 5year old anglo-arab mare who are difficult to handle at the best of times this mare however was incredibly mareish so come season time she was a handful. They kept the mare for 3 years after this length of time Magi no longer jumped despite clearing 4" courses on arrival due to being held back coming into jumps then getting flung at them and chucked on landing the result was that this mare ran backwards,reared stopped dead and wouldnt move or if forced over the jump she wouldnt lift her legs she ran through it. Through inexperience she destroyrd the horse who no longer did anything she bolted in canter stopped dead in trot couldnt go on the road or fields due to rearing bucking napping you name it she did it. The reason she finally decided to sell her "bestfrien in the world"..... Maggie reared up fell over backwards the girl ended up with a broken pelvis and severe concussion. I had always gotten along with the mare so for a couple of hundred i bought her and my god it was a journey to try go through her problems one by one she was schooled and lunged solidly for a year not a jump or hack in site i took her out of a stable the first year and she lived in a field this burnt off all boredom habits and energy the second sumer i had her i introduced light jumping three years on and my girl is a champion eventer and dressage horse. it just goes to show people who are clinging on to these horses that have the potential to kill you that your not only destroying your own confidence but your horses in the long run its better and safer to even lease the horse out for a year whilst experience is gained. jus thought id share that getting a problem horse is ALOT of work and dedication on the new owner to try and achieve a rideable horse. everyone has been in a situation of being over horsed the safest option is to get out as quickly as possible as once the horse realises he can get one up on you its a very very very slippery slope from then on!
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