Saturday, September 13, 2008

Re: Forever Homes

Most of you, I'm sure, read Pony Girl's blog about "forever homes." Well, being the college debate club officer that I am, I feel it is my duty to present the other side. I started to leave a comment on her blog, and then realized my comment was blog-length! So I might as well state my case here. Here we go.

Horses are not children, and really shouldn't be considered pets either.

Novice riders should never buy their first horse thinking it will be his/her forever horse.

Horses don't feel, reason, or depend on humans emotionally the way a lot of riders/owners hope they do.

Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?

Okay, so horses are not children. That part is obvious, I'm sure everyone will agree with me there. I joke a lot that I hope horse training and parenting are similar so I'll have a little more luck raising Baby Grace. Well, they are and they aren't. Horse's CANNOT reason. They don't predict the consequences of their actions. They don't say, "If I listen to all my rider's cues today, that will make my rider happy, so I'm going to do that!" Sorry. Not how it works.

Now, the "horses not as pets" statement may be a little more controversial. I know of several horses who have been raised by someone with the mindset, "I will raise this horse from a baby and we will have the most amazing connection." They picture bareback, bridleless gallops through pastures, a horse so intuitive it seems like he/she can read your mind. Immediately, they adopt this horse as a pet. It's cute when the horse rubs on you when she's younger, she must like you! It's okay to let your baby snack on grass during a training session...she must be hungry. Be careful when putting fly spray on her, you don't want to scare your baby!

In other words, when people start seeing their horses as pets, they start spoiling them. This is how horses become dangerous! They are very large animals, and the second they think you are equals is the second they realize, "I don't have to do this. I'm bigger." They don't care that it will make you mad. They just want to see what it takes to go back to the pasture. They are waiting for their RELEASE!

Just an example, everyone and their dog has seen the Stacey Westfall bridleless video. It's fun to think that that horse works so well with her because he loves her and can read her mind. Not so much the case. Stacey rides that horse PERSONALLY 5-6 days a week. That horse is broke. No other explanation.

Moving on, I've already mentioned that horses don't feel or reason. Everything a horse does is based on release. A horse doesn't "like" fly spray, so he starts jumping around when you spray it on him. You stop spraying. His release? Yep, he got it when he started jumping around. Also, I would like to point out, THIS DOES NOT MEAN HE WAS ABUSED WITH A FLY SPRAY BOTTLE!! I will be the first to admit there are legitimate cases of horse abuse. But it is usually not training-related! It's just that bad behavior has been rewarded with a release, so why should a horse straighten up and fly right? All he has to do is jump around a little, and he avoids the issue all together?! Shoot, if I could avoid household chores by jumping around a little, and my fiance finally said, "Just go outside and play with your dogs," I would do it EVERY time. And horses remember the last thing that happened. Not the time before that, where they stood perfectly still and it was no big deal. They remember the last time, where they got YOU freaked out and got away with it!

With all this said, I think it is a huge responsibility for horse owners to only own the horses they are using. Dead-broke horses who have taken 5 kids through 4-H and are being passed on to a new, novice rider are how we get more people in the business! We need that turn-over. We need new riders to be on safe horses, and then when they have outgrown that horse, to pass it on to a new, novice rider! Then they go in search of that junior level horse that will--not just take them to the next level of the show ring--but take them to the next level in their horsemanship skills!

It can be extremely dangerous for a new rider to own a horse that isn't broke. My definition of broke might be different than some people's, but my definition of broke means you can take a horse anywhere and have anyone ride him and he's the same horse. So, you get a novice rider who picks out a pretty horse. The horse isn't broke. The rider has no idea how to handle this horse, and becomes afraid. But she loves the horse because the horse is pretty. She will never sell the horse, but she doesn't want to ride him because she is terrified the horse will kill her. Then you have the gal who has been riding the 22 year old thoroughbred mare who has put 4 kids through 4-h and one through pony club. The gal assumes all horses stand quietly when being saddled, can be taken to a show, a roping, or on a trail ride and behave the same (so why all the fuss with safety guidelines that don't apply to her horse?) and will never sell this horse because she is comfortable and confident. We have two trainwrecks, waiting to happen. Horses that don't match rider capabilities for different reasons. We know that both horses are probably happy. Neither of them is ever challenged. But this is bad news for the industry! And it's just not reasonable.

Been there.

Done that.

How many of us would be competent riders if we were on push-button horses all of our lives? And how many of us would have felt confident riding these more complex horses if we hadn't started out on the push-button horse? This is the way my horse progression worked, and I should really thank my mom every day. It's probably the reason I am so confident on my horse now. I can count on one hand how many times I've been thrown off a horse in 19 years of riding. I have never owned a horse I couldn't handle or that I didn't feel confident on.

Now, I am not saying that no one should ever keep their horse forever. Shoot, I've said plenty of times that I will never sell Yellow. But there is a reason for this: He's earned it. And if you met my horse, you would know why. He is tried and true in every aspect we've exposed him to. And, I take him back to the trainer for tune-ups every so often to make sure I'm not spoiling him. (See my future blog about that!) I just would like to point out that before we start assuming every horse that has ever been sold or passed along has seen a Black Beauty-type life, we need to consider that horses are animals, and most are not needy. They like being in the pasture with other horses, some like going to work, some like human affection, but they lack the mental capability to be sad that the girl who used to ride him never comes to visit.

I love my horse just as much as the next girl (or maybe more!) but I've waited quite a while for a horse like this to come along, and I made damn sure I was a good enough rider for him before I found him!

And my last controversial statement for this blog: Horses don't trust the way people trust. It's based off respect, herd mentality and pecking order. As long as your horse sees you as the herd leader and knows that he is below you in the pecking order, he will work for you and even do things he's uncertain of because he knows you're the boss. He doesn't sit there and think, "Well, she's never lied to me before! Except for that time she said she would feed me alfalfa and gave me grass hay...but I guess I can forgive her for that and trust her one more time!"

Ignore all this if you would like, I sing a completely different tune if we're talking about my dog and many dog trainers have told me I've spoiled her beyond repair! Well, I don't care. She's 9 lbs of spoiled yorkiepoo and I am pretty sure her sun rises and sets on whether or not she gets to be by my side all day long. And no one is going to convince me different!

She likes being dressed up, I swear!


fssunnysd said...

You make some very good points.

I'd agree that buying a horse isn't exactly like having a child. But there is a certain moral/ethical obligation involved in both cases.

I'd say it takes all kinds, and people keep (and sell) for all sorts of reasons. There are those people that thrive on riding the challenging horses, and who, once a horse has reached the "broke" stage, are more than willing to pass that horse on. At that point they're looking for the next challenge.

There are people who show, and who want a horse that's capable of getting them into the ribbons. They're usually ready to trade up, too.

Then there are those riders who want a "forever" horse - it may be one that they don't have to put a lot of effort into, but that they can use for an occasional trail ride, watch in the pasture, and just enjoy. Or maybe they're willing to take on a horse with problems - ring sour, barn sour, special-needs health-wise - and put the effort into making things work out with that horse.

Now maybe those owners aren't contributing to the horse industry by passing that horse that along to someone else, but if they're comfortable and the horse is well-cared for... can't say I'd fault them much. (And I'd absolutely agree that if things don't work out they shouldn't try to continue dealing with a horse that's going to get them hurt.)

Then there are people who hang on to horses suitable only for being companion animals. Old, unsound, or otherwise unsafe, but healthy. Not for riding, but just because.

I suppose it could be argued that they're taking food & homes from horses that are useful - but if there are people who are willing & happy to feed & care for these pasture pets for life, more power to them.

Personally, I bought the horse that I did hoping he'd work out; that I'd end up with one I can still be comfortable riding when I'm fifty - or longer. And I'm content to put the time and effort into getting him (and me) there safely. Maybe things won't work out that way, but I'd like them to. I don't have any great desire to ride a lot of different horses anymore. Been there, done that!

Palomino Girl said...

That's a good point I didn't touch on--the investment horse. But, like with all horses, you have to be willing to look at it objectively and know when to cut your losses. I've seen too many people unwilling to call a spade a spade and realize a horse just isn't for them, because they think the horse likes them or some reasoning I would deem equally ridiculous. ;) But I'm harsh!

Andrea said...

Oh, how we so agree on so many levels. I have this step mother in law who has some horses that are "pretty" and she will never sell them. She put an ad up to sell one of her horses but priced it so dang high that nobody would ever call about the crazy horse. She thinks horses are like pets and she treats them like it. And the even better part of the story is, that she is 53 years old and has never ridden before. If so, it was not for longer than an hour. I took her on a trail ride. She rode my 14 yr. old super broke mare. That mare is ridden at rodeos by my three year old. My mother in law couldn't get the mare to do a thing.

I agree with you. We have lots of horses here. I have my two riding horses. My husband has one broodmare and one stud. He rides the stud, but not often, he works too much. And the broodmare had foundered with her last pregnancy so she is no longer ridden. Even though she will be after her next baby. She doesn't know this yet. But I agree with you. Horses need to be moved around. I have my horses that I ride move from my oldest kid to my youngest. I have also ridden a lot of horses and sold them after they were broke. And I too agree that horses don't miss their old riders. They might miss their pasture mate or they might miss thier barn when they are taken away from it!! I agree too that on the reasoning ability. I might print out this post and give it to my mother in law. She needs it.

Oh, and Stacy Westfall and I went to the same college!! She was a few years a head of me. I agree with her horse just being plain old broke. Did you see Ellan ride that same horse? Ellan got that horse to do some of the same things that Stacy did. Amazing!! LOL!!

Anyway now that I have written a complete novel, just to say that I agree with you.
I do have one mare that has a forever home with me, but that is just because my kids ride her and she is safe, they will move up to other horses as they grow. I have my three year old gelding in training right now so when he is five my oldest kid can ride him. Again, still going on with my novel. I will stop while I am ahead! Great post!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

You go girl!!

I have a few that are forever horses-the old mare because she EARNED her right to be guaranteed the good life and a couple of others that will stay because they are exactly what I want.

I like both kinds-I want a good barrel horse that will win or place for me(check)and a good show horse that I enjoy showing and will hopefully win or place(in progress). It is nice to have solid horses to ride. But I love the training aspect as well, especially problem horses. Since I cannot possibly afford to keep everything I get going or fix, the goal is to get them to a point where someone else can enjoy them and move them along.

Train Wreck said...

Great post!! I agree. I do however likt the thought of a hores loving you back! It stems from all the books I read as a girl! I raised a foal from day one, when he mom died. He was not spoiled. He was loved. I had to sell him when I went through my divorce. If I was able I would have kept that horse forever. He did love me. I will never forget that horse. He taught me so much.What not to do, as well as what needed to be done! He died a few years ago at the young age of 8. I regret selling him, but I had no choice at that time. He was my perfect forever horse.

Train Wreck said...

oh Horses !! loving you back! That does NOT look very nice!! opps!! I didn't proof read that very well!!

Pony Girl said...

OH TW, you crack me up! "Hores loving you back!" Watch it, Palomino Girl is in foal with a baby girl who is very impressionable while in the womb right now! LOL!!!!

Carolynn said...

Excellent post! I've never had the pleasure of owning a horse, so I won't weigh in on the debate, however, you certainly expressed your point of view well and I appreciate your perspective. I tend to anthropomorphize my animals.

Leah Fry said...

I am very lucky. I am an inexperienced rider whose first horse was too much horse. The only reason I'm even here to tell the tale is that I hooked up with super experienced people who have been generous with their time.

I would not have progressed as far as I have if I did not have to constantly rise to the occasion to deal with Poco.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I really like what fssunnysd wrote, but I also was very interested in and agree alot with what you said, too.
I'm currently owning my first horse, bought 8 months ago. I had many of the 'horse love' ideas about horse ownership before I bought this horse but have since changed many of those ideas.

I don't think my horse loves me, but she is learning to respect me and she is teaching me how to act around horses and how to communicate and be a good rider, too.
She is my first horse, my teacher.
Yes, my 15 yr old mare's sure pretty to look at, but I didn't set out to find a pretty horse.
My heart was set on a buckskin colored horse actually.

But I'd read enough books and heard from enough experienced horse people, that when it comes to horses (especially for green riders), experience and a good mind are what is most important.

And I've got that in this horse. Just happened to get lucky in the pretty department. haha!

As for keeping her forever, I'll explain why that is what we plan to do.

I waited to get my first horse until I was 42 yrs old. I'd ridden horses at lesson barns and 'dude ranches' off and on throughout my life, but I consider myself 'green'.

I don't how long it will take me to become an experienced, confidant rider, but when I get to that point, I don't want to change horses and possibly end up with a horse that could destroy all that I've worked on.

At my age, I desire a calm, leisure trail riding horse. I have no interest in competition or challenging myself, except to learn how to handle any situation that comes up with my current horse while riding trails.

I also have 3 children (11, 11 and 5). They all will want to learn to ride a horse...a calm, level headed, trustworthy they get older. My mare should fit that desire and interest and will make a good first horse for them, I think.

In addition, I've discovered that as I get older I don't like surprises. It take me a while to trust and be comfortable in situations, so jumping up on a bunch of new horses and not knowing how they will react, is just not for me.

And finally, I have health issues (hip dysplasia), so my focus is to minimize the riskiness of riding horses as much as I can.

I don't treat my horse like a pet, but I do admit that I love having her around and I do like wrapping my arms around her soft furry neck and breathing in that horsey smell. It's kind of selfish actually, but thankfully my mare tolerates it, and even seems to like having me around most of the time.