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A woman called me this past week complaining that her horse was trying to cost her money. He had broken the water trough heater, kicked out the barn and chewed up a halter before suffering a bout of colic that ended up costing her over $1,000. She got me to thinking about how so many folks view the relationship between them and their horses.
You take excellent care of your horse; you spend a boatload of money on all that he needs and buy him all the best. Yet, it seems intent on ruining blankets, tearing down fencing, chewing the barn, and getting hurt. All that money spent and look at what you get. The least you can expect is a little appreciation for the extra effort you put forth. But nope, he continually destroys all the expensive things you buy for him. Plus, aside from all the costs, he doesn’t even care if you are around or not. He is just as happy being alone with his horse friends, or eating, or just hanging out in his pen as he is if you are with him. It seems he may be happier on his own.
Horses do not have bank accounts and do not understand the notion of debt. They do, however, comprehend the idea of a paycheck and will happily work harder in anticipation of their reward.
My Experience: Over the years, I have met many people disgruntled over their horses not reciprocating their investment. One owner insisted that the horse owed her for all she did for him, and she expected to horse to be perfect since she did so much for him. She called me to help her make the horse understand what she wanted. Of course, it wasn't the horse needing to understand, and it took me months to convince her that her expectations were too high.
For example, she expected him to run to her when she arrived. She got angry if he had rolled and was dirty. She hated when he tried to eat grass while on a trail ride. Once, he kicked at a fly on his belly while she groomed him, and her response was to smack him. She told him he should appreciate all she did for him and take care of her.
She remains one of my most difficult clients because she refuses to acknowledge that horses are not indebted to us for the care we provide.
The time commitment can also wear the most diligent horse owner. Horses are a lifestyle, not a toy that is picked up and then put into a closet until you feel like playing again. The time and money that horses require are only part of the horse-owning equation. Many other components enter into taking on the responsibility. A person must be willing to give and care for an animal while sacrificing their own needs. Taking care of horses outweighs taking care of yourself. Some folks struggle with that, while others relish the job!
As heartbreaking as his attitude may be for you, understanding horses have no idea of what angst regarding current financial affairs might be or his contribution toward any distress you are experiencing. Once you let go of the concept of his owing you the simplest of appreciation, the sooner the feelings of unfair treatment by him should disappear.
His job is not to make your world better by repaying you for all you do. It’s pretty much a one-way street where you do the giving, and he gets to enjoy the benefits. That said, he is or should be an extreme source of joy and happiness. If you find you are angry and upset over the financial burden, take a moment to evaluate where you stand with horse ownership. Is there another reason behind the sudden worry over finances, or is the problem buried elsewhere? If the real issue is money and how much it costs you, it is time to reevaluate your priorities. If you cannot afford to keep him, you will need to ask the most difficult question; keep him or find him a new home? Perhaps consider a partial lease to alleviate some financial burden until you are back on your feet.
If you still feel an emotional burden that you thought he would lift, maybe you are expecting too much from your horse. Is he suited to your preferred discipline, or does he need more training? Are you both speaking the same language and communicate efficiently? Is your horse sound with no pain issues that may cause him pain?
If none of the above criteria is an issue, your expectations that he fulfills his part of the relationship are fair. But to expect him to understand that he needs to step up his role in some manner to ease your financial or emotional world is unrealistic and unfair.
His number one job is to be a horse, not a partner, not an equal, and not a best friend. He gets to eat, stand around, cost you money, and look good, nothing more. If he gets hurt, you will still have to pay his vet bills and care for him while he is out of commission. If he never heals or cannot be ridden ever again, it lands on you to care for him and give him a good life. Harder to face is whether he needs to be let go from his pain. And even this most unthinkable of gifts will cost you money. Then, you may feel guilty and wonder if he appreciated the gesture.
What does make it all worthwhile is the relationship, the new friends you’ll make, the knowledge you’ll gain, and the incredible fun-shared times. These shared experiences, along with the bond you share are indescribable and incomparable. If you feel these things are not enough or if you need more in return, it might be best to find another hobby or relationship that can fulfill you in a manner you prefer.
The bottom line is this: if you got a horse so you would feel appreciated, there is a good chance it is simply never going to happen. Having a horse is a luxury that will cost you money from start to finish. What you get in return is not measurable in dollars and is beyond what money can buy.
And this is what makes us live with our horses, Happily Ever After!
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