The Sentimentality of Seeking the Wrong Horse

Why do owners and riders pick unsuitable horses for themselves? This is a Big Problem in the Horse World.  Hempfling states in What Horses Reveal that he notices he picks horses that are either very much like himself or very much opposite. The same happens to your average horse owner but without personal acknowledgement of why, the horse owner puts herself in a dangerous position.

When I was taking graduate classes some of the fellow students were taking the counseling path. Some thought that without a past experience of abuse, molestation, rape, drug addictions, the gang lifestyle etc… you could not counsel those that were in counseling due to the same reason. For example, an alcoholic needs another alcoholic (in recovery) to understand the craving.

Okay, that makes a bit of logical sense because sometimes pain is unique to a certain situation. However, a fellow student who had been molested as a child by her father, and had a drug addiction (in recovery), with a child who had been molested by a foster child (teen) she had brought into the house was going to counsel others on how they could improve their life? Do you just see how crazy that is?

The same dynamic happens with horses and horse ownership. Just like selecting a spouse who is going to beat you til you end up in the hospital, picking the wrong horse can have the same end effect.

KL had amassed over 30 horses in a QH foundation breeding program. Some of them needed to be euthanized due to poor health (that would never improve). Some were racks of bones. Yet she continued to breed in an economic climate where people were not buying horses. The yearlings turned into two year olds and still she bred more. She was a serious animal collector who, because of her own childhood pain, “rescued” horses, cats and dogs. Her house did not have a working toilet and was subject to her hoarding habits.

Let’s talk about another, more common scenario. LB owns four mustangs. She is attracted to the wild, romantic beauty and history of the feral horse. She brings them home, does a bit of Parelli with them, and states she will “get around to their training.” This never happens because in her heart, she fears them. The proud cut gelding attacks a horse and a person, dislocating the person’s shoulder and putting a bite the size of my fist into the horses’ neck.

I’ve mentioned CB before, an adult student who no matter the horse, let them walk all over her like she did her husband and teen/college daughters. Her relationships were the co-dependent, pleaser and her horses, instead of being sympathetic and loving her for self-sacrifice, took advantage. No matter the horse, the situation repeated itself again and again. The horse would run away under saddle, refused to be bridled, or refused to allow mounting.

This is where the sentimentality of seeking the wrong horse produces a relationship that will end in even more suffering, pain, and perhaps injury and death. Due to the horse owners’ romantic idea, personal pain, and need to heal finds a horse that, in their mind, will enable this process to take place. It could stem from a shared empathy of the horses pain (i.e.  horse was abandoned, starving, found in horrible conditions, up for auction, deemed untrainable etc…) or the unsettled issues of their own personal life.

It’s why I strongly suggest three things for these situations:

1.) if you are a newcomer to horses, take at least a year of riding lessons and ride/work several horses before buying a horse. A Beginner should pick an older horse who fills in for the riders’ mistakes. Anything under the age of 10 is almost inevitably a mistake.

2.) if you have a horse that doesn’t seem to be working out for you, take a huge step back. Depending on the relationship and if you have been hurt, you may need to re-home the horse. This solution for 7 out of 10 folks will solve the problem of a mis-match.

To be on the safe side, the second horse you buy should be on a lease/tryout basis for at least a month before you commit. If you see the same problems starting to re-surface IMMEDIATELY seek out a trusted horse professional to give you some outside input to what you need to do to get things back on track.

3.) if you have owned several horses yet the horse-owner relationship keeps becoming troubled, this is a sure sign you are the one that needs help. This is the type of scenario where, despite getting a new horse, the same issues arise. If you have confidence issues, the horse starts to take advantage; if you have anger issues, your horse retreats inside. 

I would estimate that of adult owners, with some but not a lot of horse experience, this scenario plays out 30-50 percent of the time. Only serious and long term guidance, support and perhaps even counseling can help these people achieve their horse dreams. Most will give up rather then put the work in.

Horses shape themselves to what we are – it’s part of the mirroring process and why horses can frighten your psyche as well as have the power to provide redemption

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2 Responses to The Sentimentality of Seeking the Wrong Horse

  1. That’s an interesting observation about counselling. I can see that an alcoholic would benefit from a former alcoholic as a buddy however the counsellor or therapist needs to be very whole and wise indeed.

    I think that too many riders simply view horses as a homogenous kind of creature, each one just a variation on the next? Yes, a TB or an Arabian may be seen as an exception, but still I see people who want “a TB” as if they were as alike as, say, Porsche cars. Whereas, as you have expounded clearly, there are wildly differing personality types just as there are with people.

    Riding schools here seem to teach a really mechanistic method as if horses are machines. Yes there are exceptions, however there is also plenty of snake oil amongst the so-called “natural” practitioners. So most riders learn to behave as if their horse is a kind of living motorcyle, and one which is “naughty” when actually confused, tired, bored or hurting.

    Plus horses adapt. One will learn to exploit a weak owner, another will come to trust the leadership of a wise owner. So, for the troubled or inadequate person, buying a horse is likely to lead to difficulties just as breeding a child would do (but at least the horse can be sold).

    I ride upwards of ten hours a week nowadays, and I’d like to ride more. Some people get out for an hour or two a week. That simply isn’t sufficient explosure to build a relationship upon.

    As well as horses that are temperamentally unsuitable I do see those that conformationally are not much good. A couple of people at the barn have nice-natured horses that nevertheless seem to be lame or unsound much of the time. They were bought with problems that either were missed or not viewed as important. But what is the use in a riding horse that cannot be ridden or can only cope with light work and costs a fortune with the vet?

    I have seen riders make sound choices. A good friend of mine did that year of lessons then sought sound advice to find a sensible older horse. Even so she needed to persvere before the two settled down together. It turned out well though. Now he is retired and she has chosen wisely again.

    • horseideology says:

      On the counseling thing, I think it’s best for someone with say alcoholism to be in a recovery group counseling situation where he/she can work with others who are in recovery. But at the helm of it all needs to be someone balanced, trained, and empathic without being maudlin or co-dependent.

      However, it’s a recognized fact within the field that psychology and counseling that the occupation attracts people who want to cure themselves and then cure others. I recommend counseling but it took me three tries before I found a person who I could trust and who could relate to me. Counselors are not all created equally and that is for sure.

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