The barn we moved to in June has two types of boarders. It used to be a hunter/ jumper barn with a trainer and all her followers. But now it’s sort of transitioning to something else. There are a few hunter/jumpers, including the owners, though it’s more in their past I think. The mentality is there though. Then there are the majority of boarders who have their horses out on pasture 24/7. We are a mixture of young and old, who love horses but don’t always have the time we would like for them. Some show (very informally), some trail ride. My daughter is a very busy 21 year old – in college and working almost full time. She used to ride every day and showed occasionally, and now she gets out there as much as she can which is usually about three times a week. I try to take up the slack. I am a very beginning rider and, honestly, just prefer hanging out with the herd and watching their antics.
The hardest thing we’ve had to deal with now that our horses are on pasture 24/7 with a herd of about 15 to 20 horses is that they don’t want to leave the herd. I don’t at all blame them. They spend the majority of their time with the herd. They are family together and all we seem to do is make them work. Though we do feed them supplements which taste pretty good and now that it’s mid Oct. in Illinois, the grass in their pasture (20 acres or more) is a little used up. So, when we come we take them into another area with fresh grass that they also love. So we aren’t ALL bad to them.
When we first got to this new barn, we couldn’t get Major, our big percheron, and also the alpha gelding out there, to come to us at all. Slowly, and many times with food bribes, we got him to go with us up to the barn. It took about a month of coaxing and we eventually got him to come pretty easily. Our 8 year old mare, Princess, has always been good and leads wherever we ask. Our 3 year old Arab mare, Belle, who is a rescue and never been ridden, was on and off, but lately seems to be doing as we ask willingly. We spend a lot of time just hanging out with her, building trust and leading her around and she seems to be responding well. So all has been pretty good for the last few months.
Last night, however, we were leading the three of them in. The wife owner of the barn was riding in the outdoor arena which is right next to the pasture, and Belle kept staring at her and not wanting to go that way. I coaxed her forward and she was doing okay. I was also leading Princess and as we got almost past the arena, Belle walked around Princess and the rope got taught and pulled out of my hand. Belle, seeing her opportunity, took off at a gallop back to the herd on the other side of the field, her lead rope like a scarf flying in the wind, attached to her halter.
The owner, who rides a 20-something, chestnut thoroughbred who seems to be very calm and never does anything wrong (that we see anyway), looked at us like a mother scolding her six year old. She told us how dangerous that was and why didn’t we feed our horses their supplements in the grass paddock on the other side of the arena instead of taking them up to the barn. Well, last time we fed our horses in that grass paddock and she was riding, she told us to take them up to the barn because they could disrupt the riders (though they were too busy eating grass to care less about the riders over the fence).
Nevertheless, we put Major and Princess in the grass paddock and went and got Belle who walked, easily over to the paddock and inside, no problem. I really don’t know why she had such a reaction by the arena, though she is a three year old, Arab, mare. I’m not sure it’s fair to blame it on her age and breed, though it is convenient, as it takes the blame off us. The thing is, we are doing the best we can and taking steps forward. The hardest thing about the whole situation was the owner’s reaction.
It is so common and so easy for one horseman/rider (whatever you want to call yourself) to judge others and how they handle their horses. The problem with voicing that though, is that all you really do is make the person you are correcting doubt themselves and their abilities. And I sometimes think the most dangerous thing around horses is, not making a mistake, but self doubt.
I know that handling horses can be dangerous. I believe that it’s best if your horse considers you the leader. If he looks to you for guidance. And I think a horse will take the lead if the handler doesn’t. However, it’s also a learning process. A process that takes a lifetime. Some days go well. Some days just suck. Not all of us are natural leaders. But does that mean we should just give up? Does that mean we are failures? I don’t think it does. And having others look down on us and judge doesn’t help anyone or any horse.