Horses have taught me a lot in the past 50 years. In particular, I have learned that there are three things to keep in mind when it comes to horses:
Never say never.
Never say always.
Always plan for the worst case scenario.
Horses will always make a liar out of you. If you say that a particular horse is perfect and well-behaved, chances are he will embarrass you momentarily. If you take great pains to describe how bad your horse can be, he suddenly turns into a perfect angel. Have you ever had this experience with horses? I have a bunch. Enough that I do not believe it is coincidence. Somehow horses know when you are bragging on them and they know when you’re not and they have an uncanny ability to make a liar out of you. One of these days, I am going to figure out how they do that.
For example: recently, when showing a buyer a horse I had for sale—a mature and experienced trail horse, the buyer asked, “What does he do when he spooks?” My answer, in a moment of stupidity, was, “He never spooks.” Of course, you can imagine what happened less than 15 minutes later. Note to self: NEVER say a horse never spooks. He was a good horse and I did sell him to that buyer regardless, but you’d think by now I would know better than to say something like that.
Another example: for the TV show, time and time again, the subject horse becomes instantly trained as soon as we turn the camera on. We have learned to always shoot the “Before” footage first because unless we can capture the “problem” on tape, we cannot really make an episode out of it. Twice now, we have had horses lined up that have supposedly had a “problem” crossing water. The owners have emphatically stated that, “He always balks and refuses at water.” And twice now, our unused “Before” footage shows the horses walking straight into the water obstacle without hesitation and we subsequently ended up taping an episode on totally different subjects. Interestingly, the secondary topics have ended up making very popular episodes—one was about saddle fit, the other about training a horse to side pass.
And one thing my father taught me about horses, was to always keep the worst-case-scenario in mind when you are doing things with horses. For instance, I remember being on a pack trip with my father and we stopped for lunch at a high mountain lake. He tied one of the horses to a huge dead tree trunk laying on the ground—this thing was two feet around, thinking it was surely an unmovable object and therefore safe to tie to, having not kept in mind the worst-case-scenario factor. Naturally, something startled the horse and he pulled back, moving the entire tree trunk and causing a much bigger spook in the horse. The wreck ended when something finally broke. If you keep in mind the worst that can happen and readjust your actions, you and your horse will be much safer.
I think about this every time I see someone leading a horse wearing sandals or opening the horse trailer door before the horse is untied. The more experience with horses you get, the more you come to understand how easily things can go wrong. Do you ever see someone doing something that you know can cause a major wreck and wonder how they get away with it? What’s the biggest bonehead thing you’ve seen someone do? I can tell you, from my life time of experience with horses, that it pays to have an abundance of caution. What have horses taught you?
Enjoy the ride,
I remember once a bunch of people brought their horses out to my great-grandpa’s ranch to ride. I was watching one person struggling with their horse and even muttered “I’m glad my horse isn’t that crazy”. Of course as soon as we got MY horse saddled up he started acting up, and I mean really acting up. Luckily someone had brought two horses and I got to ride one of them (he was an EXCELLENT horse and I’m very lucky to get to ride him). Now I try to never say “My horse is ALWAYS better than that”.
Huge bonehead thing: long story short: loaned a 2 horse straight load trailer to someone, person loaded by running a lead line through the escape door, horse eventually jumped in and out the door-front feet on ground, hips too big to fit through, stuck at a huge sloping angle. Picture calling 911, flashing lights at night, a vet, them wanting to cut up the trailer, horse in shock….finally got her out. Stupid me though, I told her I NEVER use the escape door but didn’t forbid her from doing it.
A special thank you for this post – I heartily agree & having someone of your caliber say this may make more riders take note! Thanks & Happy Trails!
Horses have taught me to not be so hard on myself…we are in this together. My horses have taught me to appreciate every day I have with them…you never know when it may be the last day.My horse has taught me that in order for my horse to trust me, I have to first trust myself…My horse has taught me to remember to have fun…and the benefits of just spending time together.
The Pikes Peak Region Humane Society was making a short movie near our barn and had asked a friend of mine to ride in it to showcase horses. Since her horse was young and still unsure on the trails, she asked me to ride my mare, Gisela, with her because Gisela “never” spooks on the trail. The morning went great and Gisela was a good buddy to the young horse as we rode all over while the crew shot footage.
For their final bit, the director asked us to ride across an open field toward the crew.”It’ll look like the opening shot in Bonanza!” they said. I thought about the cameras on tripods and wondered if that would be a problem since tripods look like legs, but decided we’d be fine. I was partially right. We were fine until we were about 20 feet away and the director yelled, “Cut!” The guy holding the light reflector umbrella swooshed it down and Gisela, the horse that “never” spooks decided, quick as a wink, that we would be much safer at the barn and that she could get us there lickety- split. Oh, and the other horse? The other younger, insecure horse? He just stood there and watched us spin and gallop away. He may have even yawned…
I brought her back and after profusely thanking the umbrella guy, : ) we continued riding. We didn’t know it but the crew continued filming and that is the footage that made it into the movie – a whole morning edited down to 7 seconds! If you blink, you’ll miss us. It was a fun day, though!
I too keep my pastures pristine however when a horse got out from an unlatched gate, she promptly ended up in mud up to her chest & her hips lodged between a telephone pole & a building! With a bunch of firemen standing around wondering what to do, my “female” vet & I tranqualized her and dug her out with our bare hands. All she had was a 1″ scrape on her hip! How lucky is that? Now my property get a good going over too! PS.. it only takes 2 women to do what 5 burley men standing around talking about what to do next! 🙂
I am one of those people who had to struggle to get and keep a horse (grew up always having to ride other peoples horses).So when I had my own I was the most carefull/responsable person. Mending every fence,checking every bale of hay carefully etc..I knew soo many people with horses who lived in pastures with broken down fences old machinery laying around, moldy hay dirty water etc..Somehow those horses survived. Tradgically I lost my first horse in the most pristine pasture, she was chased by a cougar jumped a fence and broke a leg ( what are the chances right ?). It took me a few years to get back into horses again after that.- I almost thought I couldn’t. Now, I am still carefull but know I can not prevent “everything” bad from happening. I have had to make the choice to do that. I learned I had to have horses in my life – they meant soo much to me, But I had to lose some of the fear I had in order to do that. Be carefull but not afraid and love them in a big way !
My rule of thumb with every scenario is “How would this read as a newspaper headline”. So using one of your examples, “Famous Horsewoman Opens Trailer Gate While Horse Still Hitched”….Details at 11:00”.
It serves me well in all aspects of decision making in life – hiking, kayaking, riding and many everyday things.
Had a mare that was in your hip pocket and we ended up putting her up for sale.. and I told the lady that she was easy to catch.. Hmmm spent 20 mins trying to catch her.. even tried feed NOPE she wasnt gunna be caught
My horse has taught me patience, caution and how to be amazingly proactive! She’s a rescue. Still working through times when she’s skittish and unpredictable. When we’re trotting down the trail, I’m always on the lookout for new things that might freak her out. Sometimes that’s a pain but it has made me a better horse person. (First time commenter. I really enjoy your blog.)
A word fitly spoken for sure! Thanks for an excellent article.
Boy,this would be a very, very long list. My favorite was when I put a kids saddle on my mare for her to carry back to the barn. I cinched it very loosely and after three steps it ended up under her belly.
Luckily she’s very tolerant of her bone head owners. Poor girl.