The Horse's Choice

The Horse’s Choice


So somewhere along my horsey journey I read about the importance of choice for our horses. That is, as horse owners it is easy for us to control almost every aspect of our horse’s lives, such as when they come in to be stabled, (if they do come in), when they go out again, what they eat, what they wear in terms of shoes, rugs, and tack, and of course, when they are ridden or worked.

I read about the importance of offering the horse a choice and of respecting whatever decision was made. I thought about this and while it is perhaps easier to offer a choice about whether or not the horse wishes to be ridden at a particular moment in time, it is not always possible to allow the horse to make decisions on a daily basis.

Or is it?

Where Harry is, we have to bring the horses in at night over the winter months. I have no choice in this and so therefore, neither does Harry. That’s simply what we have to do. So, off I would toddle down to the gate to where Harry would greet me and then I would spend several minutes attempting to put on his head collar in order to bring him in. Sometimes, he would stand nicely, other times, he was not so keen. But, he had to come in, it was A Rule, so I battled on. But one enlightened day I decided to offer Harry a choice.

Feeling just so slightly foolish, (you’d think I would be used to that by now), I approached the gate and said to Harry, “So, would you like your head collar on now, or through the gate?” It should be pointed out here, that there is a secure field on ‘my’ side of the gate, I was just accustomed to putting on his head collar before letting him through as people do. On this occasion he most definitely ‘told’ me that he did not want his head collar on yet thank you very much. He turned his head away. So, where before I would have persisted, with my ‘you must come in and so you must have your head collar on now’ mentality, I opened the gate and let him come through.

As I was shutting the gate behind him, Harry turned back to face me and stood still. As I approached him with the head collar, he lowered his head and allowed me to put it on. No struggle, no fuss.

Now call me bonkers, (and people do), but I honestly believe that Harry appreciated being given the choice that day. Yes, he had to come in, but there did exist the possibility of compromise. After that, I would always ask him what he preferred. Sometimes, he would walk beside me all the way up to the top of that second field and then I would put his head collar on.

I started to see how it is possible, even with the confines of a traditional yard, to begin to offer choices on a daily basis. Harry will let me know now when he is ready to leave his hay to go down to his field in the morning, or even if he wants his hay at all or would simply prefer to go straight to his field. Yes, there are times when something must happen, but there is usually a compromise in there somewhere and if I can offer as much choice as I can when I can, then hopefully Harry will be more willing to understand on those occasions where I perhaps can’t.

I received a lovely comment on a previous post stating that Harry and I were having a conversation and I see now that it really is possible.

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About the author

Stacey Chamberlain

Stacey Chamberlain is the proud owner of Harry, a 14.2hh Cob x Dales pony. Stacey has always been a lover of horses and indeed all animals, but only experienced the privilege of horse ownership at the age of forty. From riding at a young age and viewing horses in the traditional equestrian sense, Stacey has learnt that her previous views are flawed. Stacey and Harry are now embarking on a new and growing friendship. A journey Stacey shares through her personal narrative. Stacey works as a dog walker and home boarder at her home in Leicestershire where she lives with her family and her own two dogs.


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