You may not know it by reading articles, but I’m actually a quiet, peace keeping individual. The further I move from the equestrian competition spheres of the horse world, the more “radical” and “out there” my beliefs about horse care and horsemanship become. I still feel a fair amount of anxiety every time I hit send to Mark Mottershead to submit an article stating my firm and un-traditional opinion. However, I strongly believe that the only way to better horses’ lives and horse peoples’ lives is to educate. That being said, I highly suggest not continuing to read this article UNLESS you are in a place where you are willing to challenge and question your beliefs.
As I’ve stated in previous articles, I “grew up” in the hunter/jumper world. Though I did get a small break for about a year in which we had my first pony at our house. That was a valuable time for me. At 10 years old or so, I took full care of my pony. I could go out and see her for visits other than riding. I could just go out and relax with her. We could do a 10 minute bareback walk around her paddock. Our relationship became a sum of many short visits every day over that year. That was the best our relationship ever was. The only thing that could have made it better, we’ll discuss in a moment.
That early experience, the decade or so that followed where my horses were boarded with a trainer, and now, the past five years or so that I’ve had horses on my own property, have made what I believe dictates my relationship with horses and, therefore, what horsemanship truly is, clear to me. The quality of your horsemanship is not about your riding time. The quality of your horsemanship is determined mostly by non-riding time and substantially by the quality of life you provide for your horse when you are not around.
Quality of life is the piece I was missing with my first pony at my parent’s house when I was young. When I think about quality of life, I like to consider the 3Fs. Forage, friends and freedom of movement. M
y pony did not have free choice forage, she did not have friends that were in the same paddock or at least shared a fence. She did have freedom of movement in a good-sized paddock. By not providing two of the 3Fs, our relationship was limited. If you are the sole or majority share of your horse’s mental, emotional and physical enrichment, then that is not a relationship, that’s holding your horse hostage. A true relationship is your horse having options so that when you are there, they can CHOOSE you. When you’re the only option, there is no choi
ce for your horse. The only choice is survival and you are survival.
Quality of life, what I call natural horse care, is a core pillar of my work with horses and people. Any challenge that a horse or horse person is having, the first thing I suggest is improving the horse’s quality of life by providing as much as possible of the 3Fs. Is there an F or more that your horse’s life is lacking? What are some creative ideas for how you could improve that F within the confines of your current situation?
We have a herd of eight horses on our property. They have free choice hay. They have friends to play with, bond with, nap with, etc. They have an incredible 6 acres of hillside to frolic about as they please (and they do!). I have never met happier horses. They are happy because their lives are complete. And our relationships are all the better for it. I cannot explain to someone who has not experienced it, the breath-taking moment of beginning to approach a horse and they leave a box full of hay and their friend to come up to you and spend time with you. When horses have the resources available to them to live a well-rounded equine life and the CHOICE to choose how and with whom to spend their time, human-equine relationships blossom.
Once quality of life is improved, quality time is the next step. For most of us, the clock drives our life. We only have so many hours in the day to get everything done that we want to get done. Horses are often squeezed into an hour or so a couple of times a week. That is the reality for most people and that’s fine. My suggestion is to change up what activities you enjoy with your horse. Learn what your horse enjoys when they’re just being a horse. Instead of saddling right up and riding, maybe just hang out with your horse in their area for the time you have. Read some books, watch some videos or attend a clinic about ground work and obstacles to build your trust and confidence in each other and try out other methods of training (I highly suggest Connection Training, an online community and university for positive reinforcement training). Research (I suggest TTouch or Masterson Method for their online education and simplicity), go to a clinic or speak with an equine body worker in your area to learn some simple massage techniques so that you can help your horse to release mental, emotional and/or physical tension that is being held in his or her body. Use that body work on your horse to vicariously release your own mental, emotional and physical tensions. Sometimes, take that hour to just sit in your horse’s area and work on yourself. Meditate. Contemplate. What challenges are you facing as a human being? What beliefs are limiting you and holding you back? What beliefs and/or thoughts are causing stress? Hire a coach or research methods to begin dissolving your unproductive and/or limiting beliefs (I highly suggest The Work by Byron Katie).
If you want to improve your relationship with your horse, improve your relationship with yourself. Working with horses is not working on them, it is working on yourself and your relationship together to attain a more and more harmonious and mutual partnership.