As equestrians, we grow up hearing the phrase, ‘Every horse is for sale…for the right price’.
In this industry, it isn’t uncommon for horses to come and go out of our lives relatively easily. I’ve heard the number 5 thrown around – that (on average), a horse will have 5 different owners in its lifetime.
We outgrow them. They outgrow us. It never was the right match to begin with. We change disciplines, we get out of the sport totally. An injury is career-ending or requires the horse to be a flat-only or trail-only or pasture-only pet. We have new goals and sometimes that requires a new partner at our side. The tried-and-true schoolmaster doesn’t want to do lessons anymore. The horse, for whatever reason, needs a new job. The perfect match or new owner pops up out of the blue. A lesson horse gets bought by a long-time lesson kid who has loved them since the first time they rode the horse. Some people buy horses for the specific purpose of training them and re-selling them quickly. We decide that our long-time partner needs to retire to a lower level of competition, or maybe he’s earned a lush field to spend his retirement in.
There are a million reasons, and so it is no surprise that both out of necessity and out of want that the horses in our lives are in constant flux.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t the so-to-speak ‘cradle-to-grave’ horse owners, but it definitely is not as common.
I know people who relish the challenge of a ‘project horse’, finding the diamonds in the rough and flipping them, watching them soar in new careers with new owners. I know people who, while they no doubt have loved all their horses, have more competitive goals in mind; if their current mount was not going to be able to get them to that goal, they found something more suitable. I know people who only like to start horses and give them the versatile base to be finished by a future owner in whatever direction they so choose. I know people who buy horses and dedicate themselves to ensuring they don’t change hands again. I know people who have agreements with new owners for the horse to be returned to them when they are ready to retire, and make sure that their horse has a soft place to land when they are ready.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to horse ownership, as long as the horse is well-cared for and loved while it is yours-however long or short that time frame may be.
But what about the once-in-a-lifetime horses, the so-called ‘Heart Horses’?
The horses that maybe you’ve outgrown. Maybe they are getting a little older. Maybe you could find something more suitable, or younger, or fancier, or a better prospect. Or maybe you are still actively taking on the world together.
They’re the horses that we have a mutual understanding with that is incomprehensible to others. The pair that wasn’t supposed to succeed they way they did. The horse that wasn’t talented enough or big enough or fancy enough, until they found their person. These horses touch us in such a way that the very thought of not having this particular horse in your life is enough to send you into a frenzy.
What makes the Heart Horses different?
What makes these horses so special that they get to take a hold of us in this way?
When I adopted The Mare, my expectations were non-existent. Maybe I’d have her a little while, maybe she’d be a project, who knew what she could do, (and later) who knew if she could even jump. I had no expectations on the length of our partnership, but I know that she quickly wrapped herself into my life and settled to stay there.
I had met and ridden a lot of horses (and many more since owning The Mare), but it was pretty apparent that she was and is, my Heart Horse.
I cannot count the times my trainer noted that The Mare was capable of things but only when I was the one that asked it of her.
She reads me on a level that I don’t fully understand at times.
She’s taught me more than any other single horse.
She’s tried harder for me, been more willing, challenged me in ways I didn’t know she could, brought me more success and joy than I could’ve ever anticipated. There is not a thing I wouldn’t do for her sake.
My heart swells with pride at any opportunity for my Mare. And my heart aches when I cannot help her.
At times, she’s caused me more anguish than I thought I could feel for another being.
As cheesy as it sounds, I believe that Heart Horses are akin to something of an equestrian’s soul-mate. Apart, either one is only capable of so much. But together, they are whole. They are cut from the same cloth. The same heart.
Maybe we are lucky enough to find our Heart Horse, and maybe we are lucky enough to have multiple Heart Horses over the course of our equestrian careers.
Maybe your Heart Horse is the biggest, fanciest, most talented, fastest, scopiest, whatever-your-ideal-is-ist horse out there. Or maybe they’re not. They don’t have to be.
Every horse is for sale. But Heart Horses – they just happen to be priceless.