By Kailie Nott
Tippin, my first pony, was challenging and fun. He taught me to respect his feelings as well as my own. Tightening his girth came with crocodile jaws to take a piece out of me if I wasn’t careful. Until I mastered a more independent seat, too much bumping on his back resulted in him living up to his name and him tippin’ me off. Despite being subjected to my beginner’s skills he was a forgiving pony and still came up the paddock when I called. I loved my pony and would gently cradle his heavy, sleeping head on my shoulder, caressing his face while I struggled to stay on my feet under his weight.
Tippin had his own personality, but he also reflected mine. If I was excited, he became excited and would gallop flat out up the hill, or race around the games course. He would follow my courage to chase back the chasing dogs, and jump any obstacle I was committed to. His ears showed interest and suggested that he enjoyed his days out exploring the countryside as much as I did. Some days I just lay on him, in reverse, his rump a pillow for my head while he grazed. Or I might let him let him choose where to go, interested to see what interested him. I was very fortunate to have a mostly vice-free and willing pony. Tippin helped me develop confidence, problem-solving skills, perseverance, and a rewarding relationship. He gave me joy, independence, challenges and successes and an escape from stress.
I cannot say what caused my obsession with horses, only that it came on years before I got Tippin. The mystery of my own obsession has made me interested in what attracts other people to horses and to consider what attracts a person to a particular horse. Horses can satisfy so many needs – our need to nurture, to compete, to gain recognition, to connect emotionally, to move, to engage with nature, to escape the mundane, and much more. Whatever our reasons and no matter the horse we have, the horse will be an expression of our approach to equine relationships and often other types of relationships, too.
Choosing a horse is like finding a life partner, it may have the temperament, training or potential we are looking for, but it is the individual horse’s particular ‘something’, its indefinable essence that we instinctively relate to that really attracts us to one horse over another. Sometimes we find a compatible partner and things tick along smoothly. Some people end up in difficult relationships with their horse no matter how many horses they buy and sell, always blaming the horse and never seeing that they are the common denominator in all these difficult relationships. Then there are those who have always got along fine with their horses until they get a new one that doesn’t respond like the rest and challenges much of what they do.
Some people do not seem to notice that they have a fairly dysfunctional relationship with their horse, thinking that the behaviour from the horse is just what horses do and not seeing it as something that could be changed for the better. Although this existence is acceptable to some, others are aware that the horse does not behave the way they would like, and find that it does not conform to their known ways of training. Sending the horse to a professional to retain can be a short-lived solution unless the owner can follow through with the appropriate behaviour. The owner may decide the horse is too much for them and decide to sell the horse or give it away. Or they may be determined to make things work and keep the horse.
This is the most challenging option as we will be forced to confront ourselves, take responsibility for our part in the difficulties, and venture out on the long road of self-improvement in order to improve the dynamic between our horse and ourselves. The horse will be our most honest tutor and judge, marking our improvements, persistence and patience with more desirable behaviours and a happier demeanour. He will educate us at the school of the natural world, where we will learn to abandon our distractions and work with nature rather than against it. What passes in the human world will not pass in the world of the ‘difficult’ horse: these horses will not tolerate incongruence, force, impatience, expectation, or time frames.
There are great rewards awaiting us when we overcome some of our modern human traits and re-enter the natural world of the horse. We not only end up with a better relationship with the horse, we have better relationships with all things, including ourselves. Whatever our particular interest with horses is, when we allow our horses to help us understand and improve ourselves, our equine pursuits are of a higher standard and are more fulfilling and rewarding.
Copyright Kailie Nott 2017