In the U.K especially we have this belief that a ‘home for life’ for a horse is important. Like – REALLY important. And that people who don’t give horses a home for life are bad, and should be shamed. I wish I was saying that tongue in cheek, but I am not. There is a lot of shaming in the horse world, and this is a big one. When you buy a horse/get given a horse/find a horse and secrete it home in your pocket, it should stay with you forever and ever.
People get all secretive when they tell you they sold a horse, or moved him on, as they know that the likelihood of judgement is high. It could mean one of 2 things; You don’t care enough about that horse, or you failed and couldn’t look after that horse well enough.
This is what I believe. Not all horses, humans, situations, settings, times in life, places, herds etc etc. are going to gel. And that doesn’t make anyone a failure and should not result in feelings of shame. Moving that horse on might actually be the very best thing you could do for them. Maybe that horse could end up waayyyyyy happier somewhere else, and some other human might have a connection with that horse that improves their life immeasurably.
When you buy a horse you usually get one first date to make your decision. Maybe a second one if you’re lucky. Then you have to get married straight away. As someone who has been on a lot of first dates, I am very aware that they do not always reveal the full story. Maybe that one hour of looking at the horse in their home setting, riding a few circles in the school and possibly up and down the lane, is not ‘quite’ enough information to let you know if that horse is going to love living where you Iive, in the set up that you have, with your other horses. It’s a pretty small window to assess whether they’re going to enjoy doing the things you enjoy doing, and whether you are well matched in terms of temperament – which is important to many horse and rider combinations, even if we feel like we should be so Zen that it would never matter. So, we can end up in these marriages where neither the human or the horse is happy, but for the sake of ‘Doing the right thing’ according to the ‘Big Book of What People Who Care About Their Horses Should Do’ – we’re chained together for life.
Here is a small example. Last summer, I went for a flying visit to look for a young horse. I met the one I was going to see and on that day, he just didn’t do it for me. He was nice, but as first dates go, there wasn’t that spark. Then I met this little brother and fell hopelessly in love. What I did was get both – really just as companionship for each other, not having any great expectations that the ‘Spark-less date’ would be much more than that. However, on having them here it turns out the horse I was not blown away by might just be one of the best horses I have ever spent time with. So far, we are turning out to be a perfect match – I did not see that coming when we were sitting awkwardly over coffee.
The same has happened to me in reverse. I had a horse from 8 months and kept him until he was 6 years old before finally conceding that he just didn’t fit in, and he and I were not happy bed fellows. He was a great horse to work with, I mean like really great. However, for some reason he was just not my partner in crime and certainly in terms of getting along with the other horses he caused too many ripples. Finding him another home was the best thing for him, for my others horses, and for me.
When I was tearing myself apart about this decision, my friend Sarah said to me, ‘It’s a bit of an ego driven belief that we are the only person who can give this horse a good life’, and she was right! There are many, many people out there who might be much better placed to give your horse a life that you can’t. That doesn’t make you a failure and you should not in anyway feel ashamed – in fact it’s the complete opposite. We have one short life to live, so do our horses. It might not be that we walk that path with every single horse who comes our way and that’s O.K.