Horses – and clients – are not all equal

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When horses die, it can hurt so deeply you wonder if you’ll ever recover. After decades of owning horses, I experienced the first death of a horse in my care (she was my darling, my rock, my world at the time). It completely changed my ability to feel for a horse so completely again. Sad, I know, but this loss sent me off the deep end. It’s good and bad – I will never be so vulnerable in the future, but have lost the ability have that unfettered connection and engagement that comes from such a deep emotional bond with a horse.

My heart still breaks every time I hear of an unexpected equine death and what the owner might be going through (both for them and me as the memory pang rises again). Of course, I still get attached, but feel I’m in a better place with this protective shield – even though it means my experiences may not be as rich. Sometimes you need to tone down the passion to survive.

Equine professionals must detach to survive

When you’re working with client horses, you don’t always have control over their outcome. I’m fortune to be dealing with a lot of owners and trainers who really care about the horse – but that doesn’t always translate to a meeting of the minds when you get into the risky business of performance demand decisions. Some clients just aren’t worth the stress, pain and hassles that come with the income. Even with the good ones, when you hand the horse back, his welfare is often out of your hands. Discovering clients who are willing to listen, learn, involve you in future decisions and include the horse in the conversation is a thrill.

Odd equines can teach you so much – about both horses and humans

This winter we had a horse come to Halcyon Acres® who clearly wasn’t right in the head. What we realized (after we got through a learning process that included vet bills and near hospitalization) was this horse was able and willing to process information – but there was nothing normal how he did it.

Once we discovered the key to reaching him, we were delighted at how excited he became about meeting requests and tackling new challenges. The whole experience was akin to how Anne Sullivan describes the moment Helen Keller understood what was being tapped into her hand.

It was critical that the trainer this horse moved on to understood and accommodated his peculiar way of experiencing his world. Fortunately, this man was open about changing his thinking and actions to accommodate this horse. Rain Man will be running this week for the first time, and will probably win. His owner and trainer deserve a ton of credit for making this so. Without their understanding, flexibility and willingness to modify their beliefs, this horse would have been a sad statistic.

Brave, humble people are making horses happier – one at time

With the proliferation of packages and promises touting the effectiveness of formula training, it’s wonderful to see a growing number of equine professionals recognize this doesn’t work. They’re reaping the rewards as they customize programs to address a horse’s proclivities, style of learning and soundness concerns. Amazingly, fewer ‘problem horses’ come into their stables. Some of their average horses develop the heart to prove exceptional, seemingly grateful for the consideration. Horses come to relish training instead of dreading and fighting it. This kind of progressive thinking makes these people richer in so many ways.

Fortunately, novices are starting to get savvy too. They’ve tried the popular approaches that blame the student if the horse doesn’t respond as illustrated. Halcyon Acres® is getting calls in growing numbers from people who are stuck and need a guide to assess their horse and recommend a course of action.

Sometimes it means re-homing the horse. This is heartbreaking for anyone who’s fallen in love (tough not to do with a first horse), but welcome input in the long-run.

Other times it’s simply a matter of lessons for the rider because the issues stem from confusion or a lack of confidence on the horse’s part (and often the rider’s too).

Cases also arise where off-site reprogramming is called for, but the suitability of the horse for the intended use is always a strong consideration with this option.

The common thread with these novices reaching out is they are sponges when it comes to absorbing ideas and practices that are effective. Having the benefit of someone to show them in real time how their actions are affecting the horse’s behavior and how to change them for desired results is priceless. It’s incredible how easily these folks can then take this knowledge and apply it on their own. Do we get calls and e-mails when they get stuck – you bet! We encourage it (and take the time to help remotely at no charge).

It’s exhilarating to witness the mindset of these contemporary smart and humble novices. The horses in their care are lucky to have them. Once a bridge of understanding is built, the equine partners know it and show it too.

Getting horse care right

Somewhere, there’s an ideal middle-ground between loving a horse so much you get stupid, and viewing them as a commodity or tool.

Many professionals who consider the horse a critical contributor to their income give them great care, but few love them.

Novices tend to fall in love with a horse, holding on for too long to the detriment of their quality of life and the horse’s happiness. Most horses want to be engaged, guided and encouraged to do a job well. The wrong horse in the wrong job or hands languishes.

Have you found that place that lets you love in a way that still allows your brain to function? Do you have a special horse – or learning experience – that’s touched your life? Please share in the comments below.

Nanette Levin


Nanette Levin is a writer, author and equestrian specializing in young horse training and horses with issues. Look for Horse Sense & Cents titles on Amazon, Audible and other major online retailers.

3 thoughts on “Horses – and clients – are not all equal

  1. It can be a fine line between treating horses like a pet on one end of the spectrum and treating them as a commodity only to be cared for in order to create future income on the other end. I imagine that most horse owners are somewhere in between. I think that I would be lucky to have a trainer as dedicated as you are when it comes to caring for my horse. I definitely would have you on speed dial when training questions arose. Thanks for another great article.

  2. Aren’t you sweet, Marie. Honestly, it’s hard not get too attached – particularly with the special ones – so I can relate to those who love a horse deeply even when they’re not treating it like a pet. You make a great point, though – it doesn’t often do either the horse or human a service to view equines as pets, nor as a mere means for income. True partnerships arise from challenges you work out together.

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