He’s not at all impressed when I put forward the argument that the British cavalry became the envy of the world because they always put their horses’ welfare first.
They had it right of course, because the wellbeing of their work-horses made the difference between victory and defeat. Life and death. (So I could be accused of exaggerating a bit in order to make my point.)
Thank goodness horses no longer have any place on a battlefield, nor can I make the leap of imagination between keeping horses for pleasure and honing an implement of warfare. But our horses, as domesticated animals, have no more control over their lives and destinies than soldiers of a bygone age and their hard-pressed mounts. We own them from the tips of their velvet ears to the soles of their swift-tipped hooves: we owe it to them to take care of them to the best of our means.
So, in my book, the horses’ needs come first, be it feed, water, medical attention, shelter or security. If my husband feels a little peevish occasionally, I know that, really, he is a secure enough adult to provide for his own needs and be sure of his place in my heart.
Originally I entitled this post, “Just How Much Should You Love Your Horse?” but the answer to that seemed a no-brainer. If he or she doesn’t occupy a decent sized chunk of your heart you should check you still have a pulse.
However ….. loving your horse in a Mummy’s lickle baby, matching pink accessories, sugar lumps on tap, kind of way is not going to do anything for either his or your self-respect. And if you’re that kind of girl, you don’t need a horse; get a designer dog in a designer handbag (preferably a soft-toy kind of dog).
So where does Aretha come into it?
When I was having my initial difficulties with Pom, friends were quick to say I was “too soft” and he should be taught Respect. At the time I was too busy teaching him to trust and not to eat me.
To me Respect doesn’t work unless it’s mutual. It doesn’t mean that you lay down the law and your horse jumps to attention the minute you apply hand or heel. It means that you both respect the same set of rules, so that you’re rowing in the same direction up this difficult river of partnership and at the same time you respect each others’ differences.
Here are a few suggestions.
R: Reassurance (Mutual). As partners you are there to support and reassure each other, sing off the same hymnsheet, work toward the same end, trust each other. If he scares the living daylights out of you once you enter his box, or she cowers before your authoritarian diktats, you are not a marriage made in heaven.
E: Empathy. You don’t have to fall into exaggerated anthropomorphism to know that as highly evolved mammals, horses have most of the same needs and basic emotions as humankind. Shelter, food, company, security, health, freedom of expression… The conditions you provide affect his wellbeing profoundly.
S: Space. Both of you will have areas of personal space you want to call your own. You don’t want to be head-butted in the face because you quite like your nose to be centrally situated. He might detest your urge to touch his ears when he’s eating. Both of you have a right not to be hurt or annoyed by the other.
P : Preferences. You might not like high speed travel. He might not like the sudden appearance of men in flourescent lycra on racing bikes. You have your natural human fears. His are no less valid.
E: Empathy. I know I already mentioned it. It’s probably the most important point. Think how you would feel in his place.
C: Character. His easy-going nature might calm your nerves or her highly strung reactions might need your steadying hand on her mane. Your natures may be complementary or contrasting, but you need to find a workable harmony. If, after giving the partnership every chance of taking root you have to admit he’s a country boy who prefers the wide open spaces and he’s never going to realise your dressage dreams, find him a happy home elsewhere.
T: Tact. You want his prowess to look effortless. He wants your aids to be as light as possible. Tact comes out of mutual understanding and empathy. Politeness isn’t just a social nicety, it oils the wheels of conversation in many guises.
I’m sure all of this comes naturally to you.
In an ideal world respect and love should go hand in hand.
Sometimes it takes a sense of humour to remind us.