Ask Not What Your Horse Can Do For You


…How my horses have saved the NHS a fortune

I hear a lot of people talk about their horse being a tonic, the thing in their life which gives them some relaxation time. I also hear a lot of people complaining because they just want to ‘go for a nice hack’ or how upset they are that they can’t do the things they want to do with their horses. After all, we spend a lot of money on our horses. We buy them rugs, new headcollars, we put them in nice stables or turn them out in lovely fields. Why wouldn’t they just give us one hour a day of their time to do what we want to do? However, I don’t think it works like that. Although I know my horses like their field, and seem to enjoy the copra I feed them, and two of them appreciate the rugs I put on them in bad weather, they don’t actually owe me anything in return.

I used to have a horse who was a ‘tonic’. Megan was a confident, independent minded mare, who was happy to take me around the countryside. She would bravely jump whatever was put in front of her and apart from occasionally not stopping, pretty much did what was asked of her. She didn’t need me to be a particular way as she could take care of both us of, thank you very much. Then I had dear Texas Rose, who was a sweet, easy horse, who would pretty much ignore my state of mind as long as I didn’t ask for too much high speed. Then Gou. There isn’t enough space in this blog for Gou.

So, this brings me to Tycoon. Tycoon ‘should’ have been my straightforward horse. He appeared to have no major physical issues, and no glaring behavioural ones. When I tried him out for half an hour in a small sand pit, his ability to deal with loud noises, or things coming from the right hand side, or people doing unexpected things, wasn’t really put to the test.

What I wanted in Tycoon was a horse to ‘do stuff with’. I wanted to hack over Dartmoor, and further my horsemanship (without too much hassle, ta) and do some snazzy stuff in the school. What, it turned out, Tycoon wanted, was for me to raise my game and learn how to handle myself better.

For a long time I thought that spending time with my horse would make me feel better by default. What I have now realised is that practicing the way I NEED TO BE when I am with them, is actually the best thing I can do for my mental wellbeing .

I once watched Tom Widdicombe standing with a large anxious TB on the end of a line. The horse was darting about all over the place and couldn’t find a place to relax. Tom sent a very small flip down the rope, so small it was almost imperceptible, which immediately relaxed the horse. Tom wasn’t actually publically working with the horse at this stage, he was just holding it for someone while Sarah talked (and talked, and talked…). Watching it happen pulled me up short. He hadn’t said ‘No, stop that’ to the horse, but it seemed he had said something like ‘Hey, You’re ok. Let’s just hang out’. Whatever Tom offered that horse was something the horse understood. I wanted to find the thing in me which would help horses to relax like that.

I cannot expect working with horses to make me feel relaxed, but I can practice the things I need to do which might help them feel relaxed. I cannot expect working with horses to make me feel valued, but I can work with them in a way which tells them we are both ok. I cannot force the horse to breathe (BREATHE you B!), but I can learn to manage my own breathing. I can’t expect my horse to be the same every day, but I can learn to be as consistent as possible.

Tycoon will not tolerate a tightness in me. If he feels it, he’s out of there. But interestingly he can handle me being honest. He can handle my grief if I am open with him about it. He can handle my frustration if I explain to him that is what is going on. He can handle me getting muddled up as long as I claim it as my mistake not his. He just can’t handle me wanting to get something done for the sake of my ego, or because I want to prove something, or because I have a particular end goal in mind.

What working with this little brown horse has helped me to do is well, well beyond the ‘tonic’ of riding around the block looking at the countryside. Or winning a rosette. Or showing off in front of your mates. He has taught me some things about how to manage my emotional wellbeing in a way which meant I survived at a time in my life when everything in my head told me I couldn’t go on. He personally couldn’t give monkeys about what has happened in my day, he just needs me to meet him in a place which isn’t going to give him any hassle, thank you very much. What I had to practice in order to make sense to this horse also helped me enormously along the way.

So, rather than turning up and thinking that your horse ‘owes you a good time’ imagine what it would be like if you could learn how to ‘be’ in way which is most useful to him. Who knows, maybe it might help you out too.