While the highlight of any rider’s career may be the moment they find “the (four-legged) one”, there is the dark side of this milestone, when many riders realize that they are not a fit for the horse they are riding, and in many cases, own. What is interesting is the choices riders make after these realizations.
Some riders suffer form the overwhelming pressure and desire to make it work, to try something new, to keep pushing onward with that horse. Not shocking since as a culture we celebrate the special relationships and the successes that horses and riders can share. And let’s be honest, regret or the fear of regret can be a heavy motivator.
When things do go wrong, many times the weight of this failure falls onto the rider – that they didn’t do enough, or what they did was not correct. Many riders fall victim to a spiral of second guessing their own feelings on the matter as a result of these conflicting ideas. When do you decide enough is enough? What else should they have done?
This is the point where advice would point you in two primary directions: physical and mental. Is the horse physically comfortable in the role you’ve chosen for it? That’s an easy one to check. You can consult a local vet, reach out to alternative treatments, or heck – go big and call one of those animal psychics. Whatever you need to make sure you know as much as you possible can. And yes, lament the fact you wish they could just tell you what is going on. Many times this extra level of health evaluation will lend some insight into partnerships gone astray. In the long run, spending a little extra time to be sure health isn’t causing your problems, can lead to years of happy partnership, perhaps with just a little adjustment.
A horse’s mental state is much harder to establish, but any owner comes to know their horses mood, and general state of mind over time. If the horse is sound, comfortable and get a thumbs up from your vet, you are left with the decision to evaluate what you are asking of the horse. Are they happy in their job? Are they happy in their lifestyle? Is your training program the right fit? Only the people closest to the animal can answer this, and you must be as transparent with yourself as possible.
After all this processing and testing, you are simply left with a choice. This is not about placing blame, but rather the fact every rider has the responsibility to respect both themselves and their horse enough to realize that there is no judgement in “giving up” – especially when riders have done their due diligence for the horse. The stigma being that giving up is always considered negative. In many cases, it may be a matter of realizing things would be better with a different partner, and having the courage to accept this.
While there will be difficult horses down any path, and they can teach us much about the sport. They show us how to ride through the hard stuff, and about what we do want in our next equine partner, but it does not mean they warrant a life long devotion to forcing a relationship. Sometimes the most beneficial things horses in this situation can teach is when it’s time to move on.
Riding is hard, expensive, and emotionally taxing as is. There is no reason to continue to push when it has become obvious the match isn’t there. Riders and horses both deserve to live a life that they can be happy in, and that may mean with different matches. If you are going through this type of emotional roller coaster, you know that at a certain point there is a feeling of “not right”. It is up to us, as the decision makers, to embrace this understanding. There is no shame in moving on, only pride in making the correct decision for you and your horse.