Sometimes You Need to Bother

A few days ago, I went with a friend to look at a horse. (This sounds like the opening line to a novel, doesn’t it?). Nice horse, very easy-going and just perfect for my friend, I hope that she buys him.

The horse was being represented by a horse-trader, nice enough fellow, very chatty actually. He was talking up a storm about this horse, but not in a salesman sort of way, more of a guy-who-talks-a lot sort of way. This horse was very mindful of people and his behavior when he was around them. The chatty horse trader said something that I thought was very striking in a multi-layered way. This is what he said: “The gal who owned this horse never fed him out of her hand. And you know, if you never hand feed your horse a carrot, you’ll have a horse for life.”

And then he looked at me, nodding his head at me and smiling, just knowing, that of course, I would agree with his sage wisdom.

In fairness, he’s not wrong on the idea that hand-treating your horse can cause all kinds of un-wanted behavior. I will give him that. But that’s not what was so interesting about what he said.

His exact words stuck with me because what he thought he said and what he really said, may not have been the same thing. You see, what I think he meant to convey is that when you don’t hand feed your horse, you won’t have problems with your horse when he’s in your space and relationship-problems in general that can (and they do) arise from hand feeding horses. But what he actually said was something a bit more. Think about the line “…horse for life.” What he is suggesting is that when folks have a horse with problems, they don’t keep that horse and tend to move that horse along to another person. And I thought, well, gee, what he’s saying is that horses are disposable. He’s also suggesting that people don’t want to take on any responsibility for their horse challenges, and especially they don’t want to go through the effort to help the horse learn some new ideas to replace the troublesome behaviors.

Now, I’m not saying that he isn’t correct in his assessment of folks’ desire to “not be bothered” with it all, because unfortunately, he is right on this. But rather, I felt it was a shame that the answer to folks’ couldn’t-be-bothered-ness, is to avoid anything that could be tricky in the first place. Of course, I am thinking of all areas of horsemanship that fall beyond conventional wisdom, not just feeding your horse treats by hand. There are many rewards to doing things differently with horses, whether it’s using food or many other outside-the-norm ideas, but when you are “breaking the rules” you have to be prepared for the unintended consequences that sometimes arise, and be prepared to help your horse find a place of harmony for the both of you when things fall down a bit. It’s our responsibility to the horse. Why just send them down the road when things get a little challenging (especially when you created the problem)?

You really can have your carrot and eat it too… it just may require being a bit “bothered.”

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