By Fallon Taylor
Getting into a perfect, winning rhythm with your horse is like finding your soulmate. If you think I am exaggerating, go buy a barrel horse and try to make it work on day one. It’s not going to happen. Our relationships with our horses are like any of our human relationships in that they take loads of work, dedication, and time. But how do you know when a relationship is headed for the long term or when you need to call it quits?
Every horse, whether you purchase a completely finished, NFR-caliber horse or a foal, will take tons of time and will most likely have you pulling your hair out at one point or another. So, simply being frustrated with the process is not cause to end the relationship you’ve established with your horse.
Many people have told me their stories of trials and tribulations with their horses, and what has and hasn’t worked for them. The following is some food for thought that has helped me make the most of each new equine partnership.
A New Likeness
It’s natural to want to project your favorite horse’s likeness onto your new horse, but doing so may set you both up for frustration. Try to put everything you used on your last horse in a spot for safekeeping and use none of it on your new horse. It will only set you back and keep you from learning your new horse’s preferences and his individual strengths that will help you both succeed.
The same goes in the warm-up pen. We all have our own pre-run routine, but I think most of the things we do behind the arena are for us instead of our animal. I have to remind myself over and over
what to do in the moments I get overwhelmed, and that includes doing weird circles with Babyflo that I’m sure makes her think I’m crazy, but it’s what has worked for us.
When you head to the warm-up pen, step off your horse for a moment and visualize exactly what you need to do in order to feel prepared. Try to eliminate the need to lope for 30 minutes or fabricate a whole new theory on barrel racing right before you run.
Now that you’re ready to head toward the arena, remember, your old horse knew the body language you used to let him know the race was on. This new horse does not. So, after a less than successful run, think about each step that led you toward the alley. What could you change in the next run in the back that would give your new horse a better clue? In time, every horse you ride will learn your quirks and habits, but until then, make sure to be aware your horse, like your boyfriend, husband, or soulmate, is not a mind reader.
If you’ve been through the normal six-month transition to your new horse and things are still disastrous, it may be time to re-evaluate. I have paid lots of money for horses I didn’t get along with at all, and next to nothing for my superstars. What is your sanity worth? You can keep trying with a horse because of financial obligations, or you can find a way to put the horse in a place that would make you both happier. Much like a marriage, if you aren’t happy, your horse isn’t either. Trading for a horse that isn’t as well bred, pretty, or worth as much may make you cringe at first, but think about dedicating the same amount of time, feed, and vet bills to a horse that would fit better with you and reignite your fire.
What’s the normal journey like? The journey to success is not an uphill climb with a few stumbling blocks, it’s a jagged little road riddled with U-turns and detours. So keep your chin up, keep your standards high, and know that it’s possible, but not easy!
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