I always hesitate when it comes to discussing the dynamics of relationships, especially when it’s targeted at horse and rider combos. It’s a touchy subject fraught with controversy and, let’s face it, horse people are known to be an opinionated bunch to say the least. But, here I am about to enter no-mans-land because this week’s lessons and discussions have been about nothing other than suitability. Getting it, keeping it, and understanding that you never had it in the first place. Recognizing that all relationships, whether horse or human are fluid, evolving, and dynamic is important when a rider is evaluating any partnership. My job is to stay positive and supportive while assuring my riders that at some point everyone questions the suitability of their equine partnership.
The relationship that we develop with our horses is just that, a “relationship”. It will have ups and downs, bright and shiny moments, and those we’d just as soon lock away in the dark recesses of our minds. Horses have the ability to make or break a day, and just like any other type of relationship they have power to help define and shape their partners not only as riders but as people.
It’s all too easy to forget that like every other type of relationship our horses need to be a good fit for us. They should challenge our abilities, complement our personalities, and push us to grow in directions that we might not choose to go on our own. At the end of the day, we need to think of our relationship with them as a means of better understanding ourselves and our dreams, goals, desires. The trouble is that like every other type of relationship, we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we might need to re-evaluate whether the fit continues to be a positive and productive one or whether it’s time to let go of something that’s no longer working. It can be a difficult and emotional choice, but without critically assessing our partnerships we can sometimes miss out on opportunities or prevent our horses from excelling with a partner more suited to their personality and talents.
Determining that a partnership is on its way out can be an emotionally exhausting roller coaster ride. Understanding that something is not working can leave a person feeling frustrated, disappointed, and extremely guilty. Much like any other relationship, riders go through lengthy periods of doubt. Was there something they could have done differently? Shame. Why can’t I make this work? Frustration. I love and care for you, why are you making this so difficult? And if all of that’s not enough to wade through, there’s the fear that people will pass judgement should you decide it’s time to post the “For Sale” ad. Sticking with your convictions can be tough, especially when every horsey person you meet seems to have a solution to your problems. Acknowledging that something is wrong and taking steps to do something constructive about it is what makes for good happy riders. Just like in real life some relationships are doomed, even if no one is to blame.
Knowing that solutions do exist is helpful and, of course, all possibilities should be explored. A change of coach, trainer, or facility can improve many problems, focusing on other elements of the relationship can help gain perspective and get you out of a rut. But the fact remains that if the relationship isn’t making you happy despite your best efforts, it’s ok to give yourself permission to pull the plug. I often try to help my clients come to terms with their anxiety about giving up on a partnership by reminding them that sometimes the rider has to take steps to preserving their own self-worth and, unfortunately, that might mean finding a more suitable partner to share their aspirations with. I always like to think that if a rider knows something’s not quite right, their horse probably knows it too and feels exactly same way.