Sometimes it's said: Show me your horse, and show me who you are. I think there's some truth to this, at least when it comes to how our horses behave and the emotional aura they project. A nervous worried, rider often will have a nervous, worried horse - their worries reinforce one another. A calm, confident rider will often (ultimately) have a calm, confident horse. A horse that's been handled by someone who is aggressive, impatient or angry will often show those same characteristics. And it's also true that almost all the behaviors our horses display when we're handling them or under saddle are what we've taught them (often without intending to) or behaviors they display because we've failed to provide them the leadership they need, leaving them to fill the gap with their own decisions.
And I think sometimes in an odd way we get the horses we need at certain points in our riding lives. This is the corollary of the principle that people sometimes come into our lives for a reason. And often the horses and people this is true of are difficult to deal with, challenge our assumptions in an upsetting way or require us to develop and change in ways that may be hard for us or that may require us to rise to the occasion.
Sometimes we choose our horses and sometimes they choose us. Sometimes we may choose horses that have traits that we wish we had - aspirational horses, I guess they would be called. I've been thinking about my horses and how they have reflected my personality or not over time, and what effect that's had on our relationship.
I got Noble in 1997. He was already 17 by that time. I think the thing that attracted me to him - I was just getting back into riding after a 20-year layoff - was how responsive and willing he was. He always tried to get the job done, even if he were worried about something. He was reliable, although he was also often nervous and even emotional, and he wasn't the bravest horse. He had a good work ethic and would always try his best for you. I had an immediate affinity with him - in hind sight he was a lot like who I was at that time.
Norman came along in 1998. When we got him, he was mean, mean, mean - we believe he'd been abused. But he was also extremely smart and was a star - he loved to show off and he loved being looked at and admired - he was a performer. He and my younger daughter developed a close and strong relationship - she was 8 when we got him and competed on him until she was 12 - although he was never sweet he grew to trust her. My daughter enjoys performing music and acting, so maybe some of his outgoing, performing traits rubbed off on her?
I found Promise in the spring of 2000, just as I was getting ready to retire. She was a strong, confident horse who was reliable and never worried, knew her job and did it well, and she was also affectionate in a self-possessed, not fawning, way. I'd say she was an aspirational horse for me - she's just who I wanted to be at the time. She gave me confidence, rather than the other way around, and was with me for far too short a time.
Lily and Dawn came along at the same time in 2001. Lily was originally my horse, and I selected her because she was very interactive - the first thing she did when I met her was to come up to me and breathe in my face. She also would reliably jump anything you pointed her at. But the more I rode her, the less good the fit was for me - she was a very dominant, ultra-competitive horse with an aggressive jumping style, and extremely hot and reactive - hard to ride and not well suited for the hunters. In an odd way, Lily's personality mirrored who I'd become as a person at the point of my retirement - actually not who I wanted to be which was one of the reasons I retired. But my older daughter, who was 13 at the time, wanted to do jumpers, so that worked out well for them as Lily excelled at that. They became great partners when doing that job, but Lily was always a difficult horse to ride and handle.
Dawn was originally my older daughter's horse, but my younger daughter took her over soon after we got her. When we got Dawn, she was very young - only 4 - and recently off the race track. She was gangly and awkward at that point. My younger daughter was 12 at the time she started riding Dawn. As their relationship developed and they grew up together, they came to show a number of common traits - athleticism, fearlessness in taking risks, sweetness combined with fierceness, great intelligence and a love of speed on the trail. They are very close and have great confidence in one another - my daughter says that Dawn is her "soul horse".
I've been working with Dawn since my daughter is away from college and only home on occasional breaks. Dawn is, I think, not an ideal match for me personality-wise, and at points I've doubted my abilities to work with her, but we've learned to work together. I think Dawn is one of those horses that comes along at a certain point to help you refine and develop how you work with horses. She's been a real challenge for me and I've had to rise to the occasion in a number of ways by developing my thinking and ways of working with horses. I've also had to step up and provide her with confident, consistent leadership, which I haven't always found easy. She's made a real difference, I think, to my horsemanship - she's stretched me in ways that weren't and aren't always comfortable - and I am grateful to her for that. I also just plain admire her - she's completely herself: dominant, bold, an athlete and extremely intelligent. She's also become increasingly affectionate with me as we've worked together, which is a compliment - she's not a horse who bestows her affections lightly.
Maisie came along in 2002. In hindsight, she was a complete personality mismatch for me. She can be fussy, impatient, and easily frustrated, and she is a slow learner. It took us a long time to develop a working relationship, and her frequent physical problems really limited what we could do together. But she was also very sweet - I got her primarily for her looks and sweetness. She taught me a lot - she came along at a critical point where I was just starting to change how I thought about my work with horses. The fact that she could be frustrating to work with helped me learn to be more patient and to break tasks down more effectively into smaller pieces.
You know the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, where the porridge was either too hot, too cold or just right? Well Pie is both an aspirational horse for me and one that's in many ways already just right. I knew the moment I set eyes on him and handled him that he was going to be the one - it was much like the immediate good feeling I had about Noble and Promise. He is very smart, willing to work hard, has a lot of try, is basically calm and sensible and already has real presence for such a young horse - he's friendly and outgoing but almost noble in his bearing. These are all traits I'd like to have more of - I hope he can teach me some of that. It also doesn't hurt that every time I see him in the pasture, I love his overall solid, balanced look and his beautiful color, and his rugged, handsome face!
Is your horse like you (or are you like your horse), or have you got (or had) horses that either were challenges you had to rise to or even horses that were or are "aspirational" horses that you'd like to be more like? (If you decide to do a post on this subject, feel free to put a link in the comments so we can find it.)