Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Different, and Yet the Same - or, What Car is Your Horse?

I've only just started riding Maisie again after almost a month's layoff to let her (fairly minor) rear suspensory strain heal. We did 15 minutes of good walk work this morning, and her softening is just lovely. As usual, I iced her hind legs after our work session. The swollen area from the strain is still there, but it's hard, cold and not sensitive. It may dissolve over time, or it may stay there. Once we're up to 30 minutes of walk work, we'll start our trot work and also start doing some more physically challenging work at the walk. It feels very odd to ride Maisie after working so consistently with Dawn (Dawn and I are back to doing some lateral work at the trot now that our softening and transitions are so much better - we're having fun!).

Maisie is much bigger than Dawn, at least 4 and maybe 5 inches taller, and much longer in the neck and body - her neck seems to go out in front almost endlessly in contrast to Dawn. But Maisie is much more delicately built than Dawn, and somewhat narrower. Dawn's head and girth size are only slightly smaller than Maisie's. Maisie has smooth, gliding gaits and a lovely round smooth rocking horse canter, in part due to to those long sloping pasterns that are the cause of many of her soundness issues. Dawn is very short-coupled and athletic, with somewhat springy gaits with more motion in all planes than Maisie's. Maisie is elegant, Dawn is powerful.

Maisie and Dawn also have very different personalities. Dawn is naturally a very dominant horse, and never hesitates to express her opinions - she really wants to get things right. Maisie is submissive and pretty willing to please. Maisie finds it easier to trust and will give you the benefit of the doubt, while Dawn has to be persuaded that you're worth trusting. When she doesn't understand, Maisie gets fussy and Dawn gets worried. Maisie is responsive, but almost never as hair-trigger sensitive as Dawn - there's more margin for error with Maisie. Dawn is also very, very smart, and can try to anticipate and can be a perfectionist, which requires sensitive handling to avoid her worrying. The risk with Dawn is that she'll learn the wrong thing, or not be convinced that what you want to do is right. Maisie sometimes has trouble learning and gets easily frustrated - with her the risk is that she hasn't understood so the challenge is to give her a chance to figure things out so she doesn't feel too pressured - but once she learns something, she's got it forever.

Now, despite the differences between my horses, I try to approach them with the same care and consideration for their feelings about the work, and try to get a solid conversation back and forth established. I also really try, every day, to bring softness and consistency, as much as I am able, to my interactions with both of them. Since they are different individuals - all horses are individuals and any groupings of types ultimately give way to the specifics of the individual horse - my work with them plays out in different ways and follows somewhat different paths - there is no one size fits all program, although many of the principles are the same. I think that's what makes the work so interesting - it isn't abstract, it's how it relates to the individual horse. When I was changing how I worked with horses, I found this question of how to apply common ways of working and mindset to individual horses very challenging and difficult - it was hard that there was no set program that could be applied to all horses. (See the sidebar section "Steps on the Journey" for more about this - the whole thing still amazes me.) But the more I've worked in this way, the more I'm beginning to understand the underlying commonalities and how it plays out for each horse - I'm still very much on the road with this, still learning, and expect I always will be.

As I was thinking about how different each of my horses has been to ride, somehow the comparison to different types of cars came into my mind. Now this is not to say that horses should ever be analogized to mechanical things - too many people treat their horses like pieces of disposable sports equipment without feelings in my opinion. So just for fun, here are my horses as the cars they remind me of.

Promise was like a really fine mid-range BMW - say 500 series. Fairly big, firm ride and handling and plenty of acceleration when needed, and somewhat luxurious. Noble was like a good-quality sedan - say a Toyota Camry - easy to drive, very low maintenance, and plenty nimble and pleasant to drive, but more than anything else, reliable. Lily was like a Hummer - very large and square, could go over or through anything, do-or-die competitive but a somewhat rough ride. (Norman is, well, just Norman - I've never ridden him (but I have driven him) and he's not a car, he's an opera diva!) Maisie is like a very comfortable and well-appointed luxury car with sensitive handling, but one that's high maintenance and sometimes prone to mechanical problems, but really, really beautiful - say a Jaguar. Dawn is a fine sports car - small, very handy, very zippy, very sensitive steering and handling, all function and not just form - maybe a Porsche. (I was telling my husband about this, and he says Maisie is a Buick and Dawn is a Jeep Wrangler!)

What cars are your horses like?


  1. Ha! I've always said that my (now retired) thoroughbred was a Ferrari. Rear wheel drive, all torque, and enough power steering to get the job done.

    My little Arab is a tricked out civic, or maybe an Evo. Small engine that puts out big power, amazing handling, and tight in the turns.

    Too funny, thought I was the only one to think like that!

  2. Mmmm?I would say that Gracie is a rather rusty old 4x4. Slow to start, takes a lot of fuel, but once fired up! That big V8, kicks in nicely, and covers the ground without any effort!

  3. Great idea! I would say my Erik was a Lincoln, big, roomy, lots of power under the hood and just a very luxurious ride. Dusty would probably qualify as a pretty little high end sports car, lots of get up and go, yet comfortable too, maybe a Shelby Cobra, and Blue dependable,rugged but uncomfortable I have to say a good looking camouflaged Jeep Wrangler because of his spots.

  4. Well Classy was a Caddilac, Johnnie is my favorite kind , good sturdy (kinda sporty )SUV. Getting to old for speedsters and muscle cars

  5. Other people get on my horse and say he's a Cadillac. I'd say he's more a Jaguar, though - gorgeous, some mechanical problems (though his are his own doing for playing too hard rather than flaws in how he's built), sensitive steering and go both easily accessible. With a fabulous sport suspension.

  6. I love comparing my horses to cars, my husband is a gearhead... so it makes more sense to him! My horses are sports cars: rear wheel drive, light in the front and sensitive handling. Spider is something light and modern, a Mitsubishi Spyder perhaps? Vinny is pure muscle car: beefy and powerful but also tempermental and difficult to handle! Definitely a Dodge Charger.

    I'm looking forward to reading about Maisie's reconditioning. I need your good ideas to keep Spider's reconditioning interesting and fun!

  7. Bonnie would be the souped up Mercedes that everyone is jealous of: it has the sleek looks, to die for handling, and an engine that is powerful yet smooth. Of course fancy cars tend to have their quirks sometimes and Bonnie does as well.

    Sky would be something like a Volvo, a nice, well made car that is reliable and drives nicely. Has enough power to get the job done but isn't going to impress anyone in that department. You can be somewhat slack in the maintenance sometimes but things are still reliable. Sky is a very fancy mover but is definitely not a powerhouse, and has a very forgiving personality.

  8. Poco is an old International Scout or Ford Bronco that some kid has bought and put up on big tires. He's rough, powerful, with loosey-goosey steering, nothing to look at, but a whole lotta fun.

    Jaz is a Mazda Miata. He's cute, fairly dependable, and will move on down the road.

  9. H-m-m-m...Toby is like my '73 Chevelle. V8, power steering, power brakes, plenty of muscle, but really comfortable to drive.

    Tucker is one of those high performance sports cars that can turn on a dime but takes a lot of skill to drive. Sharp handling, but spends a bit too much time in the shop. Someone I knew had a Jaguar like that.

    Chance is a good solid SUV 4X4. All terrain tires, goes almost anywhere. Solid to drive--no power steering yet, but it will be there eventually. And a standard transmission for now as well.

    This was fun. Thanks.

  10. Ooops. I forgot. Toby also has an automatic transmission--one of the best every made.

  11. Hmm. Lily is a Chevy Avalanche - strong and a utility vehicle, with a pretty big engine to haul.

    Smokey, he's a lot like a less expensive mercedes - the c series. Smooth ride, but responsive and comfortable. And a looker. :)

  12. Great post. I'm interested in how you are reconditioning Maisie.
    My appaloosa Dan is a Volkswagon Jetta, Rogo is becoming a Harley (can I use motor bikes too?) and Savanah is a 4WD.

  13. My gelding is an all American muscle car, built sturdy with a lot of engine under the hood. The ride is more powerful than comfortable.

    My mare is a souped-up Honda Civic with a nitrous injection system. That compact frame looks mild mannered and unassuming, but push a button and that baby can go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds flat!

  14. Love this! My Selle Francais mare, Panache (rehabbing for a suspensory strain too) is like a fancy Lotus Elise, when well tuned she's amazingly powerful and responsive... but definintely high maintenance to get and keep her at peak condition.

    A WB I'm riding, Rex, is like a Lincoln Town Car, big bodied and luxuriously well appointed with a rather larger turning radius than expected. A little TB I ride is kind of like a '76 MG midget, kind of cute and little but when he gets going he's a thing of beauty!

  15. Fun! Just the other day, we were discussing this about our horses! Barrett the Paint gelding would be a Chevy Silverado 2500. Attractive, big, powerful, versatile and a well-appointed, comfy ride. Mosco, I'm not so sure about! He's a BIG (17hh, built like a WB) TB, mostly lazy with spurts of athletic energy & you've got to know how to handle him, or things will get explosive. High maintenance to keep running properly. Probably some sort of bigger sports car?

    I love reading everyone's descriptions of their horses! It's amazing how different they can all be. The part about Norman made me laugh!!

  16. How fun! Hmm..I think Laz would be a fast race car, but one with a lot of miles on it so it's a bit worn. And currently, we have one flat tire. ;)
    I am trying to slowly replace the race car parts with tougher parts to encourage a nice sunday strolling sedan.


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