First appeared in Saddle Up Magazine (February 2016)
’Tis the season to dress warmly to visit our furry four-legged equines out in the snowy pastures! I hope everyone had a great Christmas holiday season and maybe even got out for some winter rides.
This month, I would like to address something that has come up for me recently, that is the issue of letting go of needing to control everything and doing what’s best for my horse even when it’s not easy.
I believe there is a fine line between caring for our horses and controlling them (or letting them control us for that matter). Of course, we all want what’s best for our horses; we love them and they’re a part of the family. Some of us might even take better care of them that we do ourselves, maybe? But what I’m learning is that doing my best is not always being “nice” or being too gentle (to not hurt or upset anyone). Being a littler tougher can be important in many situations. A relatable example is when our horses are too fat we put them on a diet. We might feel bad for them because they’re staring longingly over the fence, or are cranky as all hell towards us. Yet we practice this tough love because we know that being overweight isn’t good for them.
The same principle applies to behavioural issues. If bad behaviours aren’t dealt with promptly and firmly, they only get worse and the horse can become very dangerous. Now this might seem so obvious that it isn’t even worth mentioning. However, it has come to my attention that just because something is obvious doesn’t mean everyone is practicing what they preach. I want to express that I am one to talk. I used to be very much a “mother hen” and worry constantly about the well being of my horse, or my cats, or the mouse my cats were torturing, or even the spider that I had to kill (because even though I hate killing things, I just can’t deal with spiders!). I understand so much that our horses are our babies and it might seem totally reasonable to s tay up all night making sure they’re doing okay in the rainstorm, or to worry constantly about them being cold or if they’re getting enough to eat, etc. But as I’ve been learning, as a horse owner and as a person who has to take care of many other things in life (including myself), I can’t control everything. I have to put my horse in the best situation I can provide for her, and I can love her, and I can take care of any other needs that are within my means, but beyond that, I have to let go. Worrying doesn’t do anyone any good.
So , what does this have to do with Equine Therapy? Basically, everything. Equine Therapy, for me, doesn’t end with the horses. the way we as owners deal with and relate to our horses has everything to do with how they behave, if they thrive, how they perform, and how they recover from injuries and hordships. As a therapist, I only spend a couple hours per week with a client’s horse. It is up to YOU, the owner, to support and raining the healing because you are with your hose much more than I am. As challenging as it may be to accept, sometimes our behaviours are hindering progress. But honestly, as I’ve said before, what I love so much about what I do is the opportunity for healing in both horse and riding. And when it’s difficult is, usually, when the most healing is happening. I feel that the responsibility of a horse owner is the give the horse the best chance it has at living an enjoyable, positive, and healthy life. And to do that sometimes we have to put our foot down and know that when being “nice” or “lenient” is sometimes actually hurtful in the long term. Tough love is, sometimes, true love.