In recent weeks I’ve had several emails from folks who have purchased a new horse and quickly became saddened, frustrated or disenchanted. All had statements along the lines of, “He wasn’t this way when I rode him there,” or “This is not the horse I bought.” In every case the horse had been tried at the seller’s location and had been “perfect.”
We’ll not talk here of the many topics of what might have been done to better understand the horse, or seller, or situation before deciding to purchase the horse—that as they say is like closing the gate after the horse has galloped away. And perhaps a topic for another discussion.
Rather let’s examine the new situation the horse finds himself in at his new home. With his new people—from the horse’s perspective. Perhaps it would be helpful to read my post, “There’s more to our story,” CLICK HERE.
Whatever was the series of events that brought the horse into a new owner or caregiver’s world, he is here now ... Seen from the horse’s point of view, this is a huge upheaval. Magnificently upsetting. Remember horses are very much creatures of habit, as am I. I even wrote several times about the value in being “routine.” Horses love routine, let’s not debate or spend time on that, but trust me they do.
Suddenly the horse is torn from known habitat, friends, animal and human, perhaps family, and finds himself in a completely new world.
Consider you are loaded into a cargo truck, driven for some period of time, then unloaded, deposited in a room you’ve never seen, find yourself surrounded by people you don’t know, and who speak a language of which you understand only a few words.
Then you’re asked to perform the task they think you know how to do, as if nothing in your life has changed—even though they make all the requests in a language you cannot comprehend. When you fail, they get frustrated, eventually angry—they blame you and the connection you seek becomes distant. You begin to stress; you realize quickly you had better not trust these new people. Perhaps it would be best to not try. Perhaps you should rebel?
Add to this many horses have had a cascade of “new people,” or “new homes.” Perhaps the horse had been purchased by a dealer who had only days or weeks with the horse. Constant breakage of the horse’s routine has left him uncertain, sometimes frustrated. Sometimes rebellious in an effort at self preservation. And through it all, his trust in humans is challenged, weakened, perhaps broken.
We should remember that horses remember everything. All their people, homes and friends—animal and human. They miss their routines, their friends, their old life, just as we do. When we bring a horse into our lives it is our job to help them cope. It can be wholly unfair to make demands of them at this time.
Some horses adjust in a few weeks; others may take a year or more. Sometimes when a new horse is purchased it is not kept at the owner’s home, it is boarded. Boarded horses must often adjust to new and strange activities, sometimes many different handlers, and often only see their “owner” a time or two a week. Think of the upheaval for the horse then. Just imagine you find yourself in a totally different world and are expected to know, understand and comply with all the rules, standards and laws ... while you struggle to grasp the new language.
I believe it is imperative to ask nothing of the horse until you create the beginnings of a bond, partnership or relationship. Start with the exercises I so often write about, they give to the horse while asking nothing in return, except they enjoy them. You can find them in my book, “It’s for the Horses,” CLICK HERE. Sit with the horse at least an hour a day, do nothing but enjoy each other’s company. Reading to them during this alone-time can be remarkably healing and rewarding.
The first order of business, I believe, is to help the horse understand his new surroundings, his new people, his new job and routine. Welcome him into his new world with all the compassion, love and care you might a brand new baby just coming home from the hospital.
Or a foster child about whom you know little of their past and is terrified or disenchanted.
To make demands of a new horse too soon can be so damaging to the horse’s ego and self esteem, and trust, as to far too often prove irreparable, and the horse may once again “go down the road.” I once had a horse who at the age of 9 had had 11 owners on the registration paper! He took over a full year to begin to gain his footing.
Buying a new horse is possibly the most exciting thing we horse lovers can do, it is our responsibility to make it just as exciting for the horse. Take it slow, is my advice, shower them with love, kindness and support—forget the training, competition and demands until they tell you, they are ready. Patience will always be rewarded with trust, I promise.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry
View the book trailer for "It's for the Horses" HERE