Breaking Up is Hard to Do….an article I wrote as published in Americas Horse magazine.
By Stacy Westfall
There’s no doubt that some of the happiest moments of horse ownership come when you take delivery of that new horse. It’s kind of like infatuation —easy to see all the great things about the new partner, and any negatives or possible problems are easily overlooked. Expectations are high and as far as potential success goes, the sky’s the limit. You figure you and your new horse will be riding together years in the future, still enjoying a fruitful and fulfilling relationship.
The other end of that spectrum is coming to the conclusion that it might be time to part ways with your horse. This can happen after years together, or soon after a new purchase. Either way, the realization is unsettling — and usually for the very reason that the initial expectations were so high.
When someone asks my advice about selling a horse, I like to stick to some general points. The final decision is a difficult one each individual needs to make on their own. There are three things I tell them to consider: safety, enjoyment, and purpose.
When you feel unsafe around your horse, or if your instructor or some other professional is warning you about your safety, take it seriously. No amount of loyalty to your horse is worth getting hurt.
Behaviors that threaten your safety include biting, kicking, rearing, bucking and striking. If you can’t control your horse, even if someone else can, the horse is still dangerous to you. You do have options if you consider your horse a safety threat.
Sending your horse to a professional trainer is one possibility. The downside of this is twofold. #1 a good professional trainer can be expensive. If you don’t have the money to see the training through, it’s time to consider selling. #2-can you maintain what the trainer has done? Some horses become wise and know the difference between the trainer and the owner. If you can’t maintain it, the training will not benefit you.
If you have the ability, time and inclination to train these behaviors out of your horse, it’s time to get to work fixing the situation. Be realistic. Are you really capable of addressing the dangerous behaviors in your horse? Are you willing to commit to the time necessary (a minimum of four times per week) to correct the behavior? Are you willing to be consistent over time (fixing your horse could take weeks, months or more)? Are you willing to postpone your goals? For instance, you may have had a goal to do some trail riding or enter a show this summer, and if you switch gears to fix bad behavior, that goal might not be possible.
If you hesitate in answering any of these questions, it’s time to consider selling. The area of safety is a serious one. This is one area where it is reasonable to expect your horse to change but if you don’t have the time or resources to facilitate this change-sell.
If you’re like me, the reason you spend time with horses is that horses bring you joy. Why do something so expensive and time-consuming if you don’t absolutely love it? So ask yourself if you’re still enjoying your horse. Do you look forward to riding or do you avoid or dread heading out to the barn? Have you noticed that you are riding less often, and when you do it’s for shorter periods of time? Does thinking of your horse make you smile, or do you wince?
If any of this sounds like you, it’s time to ask yourself why the joy is gone. Two things can strongly impact your enjoyment with your horse — personality conflicts and energy level. Look for your enjoyment issues here.
Horses, like people, have distinct personalities. Some are affectionate and seem to enjoy your attention. Others are more stand-offish and businesslike. If you want your horse to LIKE you, to run to you from the pasture and nudge you for a snack, don’t get your hopes up if your horse is of the second type.
I once trained a horse that was successful in the reining pen, but the horse and the owner didn’t ‘click’. The owner had always had horses that were curious, friendly and loved treats and interactions. Her gelding however, would never eat a treat — not an apple or carrot or any of the expensive horse cookies. And he was stand-offish. He did his job and then wanted to be left alone. She always felt something was missing and in the end she chose to sell. In doing so she was able to find him a home where he was enjoyed for who he was.
Likewise, if what’s most important to you is the way you and your horse perform, no matter how cute and attentive it is, if it doesn’t live up to your expectations in the arena, you’re going to have a hard time really enjoying it. Is it fair to try to change him? Consider your horse’s strengths and weaknesses before trying to change him too much.
Mismatched energy levels can also lead to lack of enjoyment. A forward, excitable horse is going to be a challenge for someone to enjoy whose idea of a nice ride is a meandering walk along a trail. Rather than relaxing, they’re likely to be constantly pulling the horse back, wishing it would just chill out and walk. On the other hand, a lazy walker that resents moving to a trot can be frustrating to ride when your aim is to lope a pattern.
You get the picture. Like with certain people, you move at the same speed or you don’t, you like the same things or you don’t. If you suspect that the lack of enjoyment you’re feeling with your horse is a personality or energy issue, it’s time to consider selling. Those characteristics are innate, and won’t be easily changed in either of you. Not surprisingly, if you are constantly trying to change your horse, for example trying to make a lazy horse become a get-up-and-go horse, your horse is probably not enjoying the relationship much either.
What do you want to do with your horse? Your current horse may have been the perfect match when you first got it. It’s possible, however, that your goals and skills have evolved since then. The key question is, is your horse suited to you and what you want to do NOW?
Let’s say you started out content to ride trails. The horse you have is perfectly capable of that. But now you’ve decided you would like to try to compete in endurance rides. Your horse, while able to pick its way over rocks, cross creeks and step over logs, may not be up to the demanding pace required to be a successful endurance competitor. Consider how important it is to you to achieve that next goal. If your horse is holding you back, you’re going to begin to resent it. Trying to change your horse into something he is not can also make him resentful. Instead, consider selling your horse to someone who can appreciate him for who he is, the way you did when your goals were different.
Older show horses can be great starter horses
That retired show horse with some arthritis in his hocks may have been a great choice for your eight-year-old daughter to learn to ride on. Now that she is twelve and has decided to take jumping lessons things have changed. Pushing a horse to do something it’s not suited to is a recipe for disaster. Consider selling such a horse to someone who can use it to its abilities.
While it’s rarely easy to end a relationship, sometimes it’s the best thing to do. Many horse owners hang onto their horses based on the idea that they are the only ones in the world who will take care of them. There are many responsible horse owners out there, and for one of them, your horse could be that special once-in-a-lifetime partner.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”-Hemingway
Blogging is hard. Harder than I thought it would be.
I love to write….but the very thing I love about writing I have had to mostly give up in blogging.
I love being thorough….and blogging doesn’t lend it self to that. How do I tell my complete view on a subject in 500 words?
On the flip side…who wants to read a 4,000 word article on a chin strap or some other obscure topic. I might not even want to read it by the time I was done!
And even then someone would have a problem with it.
Because, really deep down that is what I struggle with. People not understanding me.
Notice I didn’t say people agreeing with me. You don’t have to agree with me.
In fact I really want to make people think. That includes me.
I love feedback like this from Lyn, “It is also thought-provoking. If that was your goal with this blog, you have certainly accomplished it.”
Thank you Lyn, and everyone else who is helping me along this journey.
Yes, there really is an answer to this question!
One of the great things about living in the information age is that you have the advantage of accessing virtually endless amounts of information online. Add to that the growing number of TV shows, horse expos, blogs and YouTube and it would be easy to argue that if you want to learn something; a lack of choice shouldn’t be the problem. Here are some things to consider when finding the right fit.
First thing: put some time and effort into finding someone who’s techniques, methods, and teaching style fit you.
I often tell people to study one persons methods from colt starting to finished horse…that could be Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox,Bob Avila, Pat and Linda Parelli, Richard Winters, Ken McNabb, Julie Goodnight, Josh Lyons, Guy McLean, Craig Cameron, or anyone that you admire the results of. That includes the local person giving riding lessons or the regional person who shows horses that you have been admiring from afar these last few years.
Study that one person’s methods from beginning to end because the consistence is important for the horse. If there is one disadvantage to the amount of information out there it may be that people ‘pick and choose’ from methods without looking for a ‘common thread’. Remember when you were in kindergarden? First grade? Second grade? There was a reason why you had one teacher for all of your subjects. It made finding the ‘common thread’ easier for you. It gave you consistency.
‘Pick and choose’ does have its place also. I recommend it as step one and step three.
Step One-Look around and see what is out there (pick and choose)
Step Two-study one method from beginning to end
Step Three-look around and see what will challenge your thinking (pick and choose)
The goal of this would be that you would find a teacher who 1) you like their results 2) you understand and agree with their methods.
So who is the best horse trainer or clinician to follow? The answer is the one that fits you the best.
P.S.- Other thoughts to consider: once you do this three step process….you aren’t done. (Sorry, it is true) because your needs will change as you continue to grow. This will eventually send you back through the three steps again.
Also, as you study, you should begin to realize that the vast majority of clinicians and trainers have similar methods (the common thread) running through the programs. Once you can see that similar thread (the release is the reward, etc) you will suddenly be able to study multiple programs without confusing your horse.
I could just keep writing on this subject…..maybe another blog……
Help! Should I start a second blog site? Or just add more content to this blog and Facebook?
I have the urge to blog and discuss topics that are NOT horses…for example marriage, kids, homeschooling….the stuff that happens in my life that is more indirectly related.
If you are here for ‘horse’ stuff….how would you feel about a post that was my favorite recipe or about me homeschooling my kids?
I bought two other domains already just incase….
yourlifeyourwork…com —–work is so closely tied to life
mastertheartofliving….com ——- I don’t just want to ‘live’, I want to ‘master the art of living’
Would it be more confusing for me to have two sites….or more useful because I have ‘horsey’ and ‘non-horsey’ topics?
Picture this: A young mother in the grocery store with three kids all under the age of six. Little hands are reaching, little voices are asking, ‘Mommy…mommy…’ and it largely goes one of two ways:
#1- the mom looks frazzled…the kids are picking up everything, one won’t stop screaming for the toy he wants, another is running up and down the isles taking things off shelves….
#2- the mom looks tired….but the kids are engaged. They are asking for things but the mom is asking them questions back, ‘Can you pass me that can of tomatoes?’…..’do you see the apple sauce we usually get?’ , ‘how much is that bag of chips that you want?’
LOOK: Either example is work. One is more productive.
My husband Jesse often says that, “Horses are like kids — if you don’t keep them busy they will keep you busy.” Sometimes when they keep you busy, it will be doing thing like bucking or generally giving you a hard time. Often this is a sign that the horse is controlling the workout.
In yesterdays blog I explained how I use training cycles with Jac. You might be asking, “How does this apply to me?” Well let me ask you a question — has your training flat-lined? Is your routine the same every day? Consistency is good, but we need to remember to challenge our horses both physically and mentally.
Does working your horse involve increasing and decreasing the intensity over time? It should.
The concept of cycles applies not only to individual workouts, but to overall training plans over weeks and months. For example, pertaining to a weekly plan, Monday will be an easier day than Tuesday, Wednesday. And Thursday may be the peak of the week, and Friday will be easier — similar to Monday or Tuesday. The weekend can be used as recovery time, as time needs to be allowed for the body to rest and rebuild.
On an even bigger scale, looking at a month or several months, the training should have cycles in which week one is easier than week two, three and four but then week five might head back down the scale.
A horse that is ridden several times a week, with a routine that never changes, will often become more difficult because they have reached a level of fitness and are not being challenged either physically or mentally.
Having a plan, and planning with cycles in mind, will assure you have an aim each time you work your horse. So, even if you only ride three times a week you should use a training cycle.