I don’t mean to be a drag, but sometimes humanity gets me down. I love what I do, helping horses. But after I’ve fixed up the traumatized horse and sent it back home, I don’t always know that he’s going to have a better life. I have to watch horses get passed along from situation to situation, and sometimes they end up worse off. I have no control over that. I don’t get to decide where they go when I’m done with them, and I can’t force the people who own them to stick to what we’ve worked on while the horse was with me. I can’t force people to care to take the high road over the easy road, and I watch horses get banged up, dinged up, misunderstood, and frustrated daily.
Of course I have tons of great highlights of my job – I get to watch scared horses turn around and trust again. I get to see people learn and get their light bulbs to turn on. Sometimes I get to watch people change their whole lives.
Those who take the horsemanship journey soon find out it isn’t just about riding, it’s about who you are as a person and what you not only offer your horse, but the world around you. That’s the hard part as a teacher – I know I can teach the mechanics, but I can’t always make someone want to try when there are short cuts out there. Not everyone wants to get fit, to get aware, to get humble, to realize they don’t know it all and have so far to go, to realize their horse reflects them and their shortcomings. It isn’t always a pretty pill to swallow.
Sometimes I get frustrated with people and wish I could just take horses in training. Horses will always take the better deal if you can convince them it’s better than what they’re holding on to. People on the other hand are not always so keen to change, even if they see what you offer is better than what they have. Ego gets in the way. Laziness, greed, lack of interest. You name it. So when I teach someone who isn’t eating it up, dying to get better, willing to go the extra mile for their horse, I feel deflated. I know the horse is getting the worse end of the deal.
A good friend of mine and trainer I really respect told me, “if you love horses, you’ll love people.” It wasn’t so much a statement as a command. Do it. Do it no matter how long it takes. “If you don’t commit to changing and helping people, you can never help the horse. It’s the people that control that horse’s future.”
Out of the majority of people I encounter, I can generously say 5% want it bad and are dedicated. For most people it is a hobby, and they are interested and yet lackadaisical about it, which is understandable. I am only semi dedicated to rock climbing, for example. I like doing it when it’s in front of me, but I’m not dropping everything to go to school and learn everything about it. It’s important to find the level of interest you have and get a horse that matches the level of your ability. But I digress.
Sometimes I come across someone who just wants the easy way out. They bring the horse to me to fix up, like an oil change, so they can go home and keep doing what they’re doing. They just plain don’t care to learn how to do things better. These are the ones that keep me up at night. Make my hair gray. How can I change someone? I can’t possibly change someone. I call my friends that I trust, I talk to my parents, I ask the dog for advice. I just sometimes flat out don’t know what to do. I have to accept that I can only present information and hope for the best. It isn’t up to me to change people.
But when I’m just about at the end of my interest in helping these types of people, they surprise me. Not all of them, but a few. Enough. I’ve had a few doozies turn around and go from hateful, horrible handling to sunshiny and downright emotional the next week. Yes, in one week. It can happen. I had a student who criticized her horse for an entire hour. Told him how stupid he was when he spooked, called him a baby, told me how much better he needed to be. I told her, “he is a reflection of you, and he can go no further.” I agonized over saying that. All night I worried that I had gone too far, but the next week she came back and walked him around on a loose rein, petting him, telling him it wasn’t anything to be afraid of. Her horse’s eyes were soft and she was relaxed in her body. I was amazed and asked her what changed. She looked me right in the eye and said, “I forgot my horse was my friend.”
Miracles can happen. They don’t always happen, but they can, and they can be so beautiful. I watch horses put out effort and make changes every day, and it always amazes me, but I think the most miraculous is when someone set in their ways turns a new leaf. I don’t know if I have anything to do with that, but I am honored and humbled to witness it every time.