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You got a horse! No matter how long ago this happily anticipated event happened, you were thrilled and excited to have an equine buddy to explore new horizons with. But what happens now, when your dream is not coming true? How do you decide what to do at this point? 

Maybe you even believed he’d  make you feel happy and fulfilled and successful and worry-free! You were ecstatic and thrilled at first, too. And then stuff happened and is still happening and you question your once most happy decision. And then other people began questioning your moods, your level of stress, your anxiety, your inability to relax and you feel even more anxious than before. What have you done?

First, the worry you feel is normal; your horse is dependent upon you and the daily choices you make to ensure his well-being. The fact you worry about him and his welfare is commendable, and remember, you’re not alone. There are tons of resources to help you through the tough spots and many people who can offer assistance should you need. For training or behavioral problems you feel under-qualified to fix, hire the most qualified people you can. If you can’t afford to hire a trainer, ask around for someone who might be willing to barter or approach a trainer you respect and talk to them. Don’t automatically depend on who is closest in proximity to the barn, or settle for the least expensive and don’t listen to those who seem to know it all. 

The debt portion of this equation is ultimately in your control. Evaluate the need to have the most expensive saddle and if a matching bridle is an absolute necessity. Look around and you will find excellent quality used items for a fraction of the cost of new. If your horse is at your own property, find a friend to be a hay-buying partner and purchase larger quantities and get a quantity discount. Ask when you order what the seller’s price breakdown is and then find others to go in with you. Learn to do as much of the maintenance, health care and barn chores as possible and that will help, too. If you must board, try to find a private boarding facility instead of a large barn and you may be surprised at the reduction in cost; plus you may be able to work off part of your board by house sitting for the owner, pet care, doing barn chores or whatever else they may need. Be creative prioritize your expenses in the most logical manner possible. Education is invaluable, so following basic equine husbandry, learning all you can about every aspect of the horse world, taking lessons and talking to a respected trainer and veterinarian can help bring your stress level down to minimal levels, too.

Assess your goals and expectations regarding you and your horse. If you have been struggling with the level of reward versus stress, the worry magically turns into joy and happiness once you let yourself off the hook of living up to an arbitrary standard anyway. 

Some days, just go hang out and don’t set a list of tasks to complete while there. Groom him, scratch him, play a game, or just sit outside his paddock and watch him as he eats or otherwise occupies himself. What does he do once he gets bored watching you watch him? Who is his best friend? Where does he like to be scratched best? What’s his favorite treat? If you call him, will he come to you? 

No relationship is instantaneously perfect or easy or ideal. Take the time to get to know him without demanding anything from him. Just hang out and enjoy each other. Let him smell you, touch you and touch your shoes if he wants. He will explore in the same way a small child might; using his lips like fingers to feel the texture of your clothing. It’s okay to develop the relationship over time and to accept a little less from him than you expected on day one. It is important to be kind to yourself as well as to him.

Some folks want an equine partner to help make their world feel fuller, happier, and less stressful. That’s a lot of pressure to put on both of you. In general, he can’t fix what may be broken or fill what may be missing from your life. You may feel everyone else seems to have a happy horse-human relationship, and things roll along easily for them, but for you, it seems to be the opposite and you wonder if maybe you’ve made a terrible mistake. The good news is that the answer is within you, and not difficult to find! Begin by honestly evaluating how tense you are on average each day, and what causes that stress. You may find that your own anxiety over things that don’t really matter are in direct correlation between your high levels of stress and the lack of joy you feel. 

Make another list in order to pinpoint what is worrying you and making you unable to see the positives as outweighing the negatives, then decide which you want to hang onto and which can be thrown out. A worrying person will bring anxiety to the barn and the animals there will pick up and reflect those same emotions back to you, so ask your horse by listening with your eyes how he feels during your time together. The answers he gives may surprise you and finding a remedy may be far easier than you expect.

Horses are terrific biofeedback machines, and can show you through their reactions where your tenseness or anxiety makes them tense wary and worried. Once you recognize where the stress is hiding, the solution to releasing the overwrought and uncomfortable feeling is located. The best way to release stress is to laugh and let it go, but this is not always easy and never done on command. Rather, you want to find a way to step back, slow down and stop long enough for your heart rate to lower and your humor to return. Most often it’s a matter of taking a deep breath and returning to doing something you both are more comfortable with. Changing your energy and focus is the best way to help yourself relax and reevaluate your horse’s reaction to whatever you were doing when you began to feel anxious.

By keeping your horse’s well-being and happiness in focus, you’ll automatically be putting him first in a way that results in him feeling safe and content. It’s a symbiotic relationship of energy that helps him to be soft and quiet by your being in the same frame. By listening, feeling and being int he present, your horse can be of great help to learning how to control your own energy and emotions. 

If you find your life is too stressful having a horse and you honestly can’t see a way to fix whatever is keeping you at arm’s length from him, or stressing you out to the degree that owning a horse does, maybe it’s time to get back to your pro’s and con’s lists. Evaluate why you have him, why you want him, and ask yourself if life truly is better with or without him. You actually already know the answer so give yourself permission to follow through with what is needed. If you are not happy, likely your horse isn’t either.

And don’t feel bad! Relationships are tough, no matter what and sometimes what we think we want is not really what we want. Other times, it’s easy to get on board, looking in the same direction for the answers on how to live with your horse, Happily Ever After!

~Tanya Buck

***  STILL not sure what to do? Get your FREE Questionnaire to help you focus on what is best for you and your horse. Like a Pro and Con Sheet, but with more in-depth thought-provoking things to look at and ponder. Click here to get yours now!


Tanya Buck
Published on 02-03-2021
Tanya Buck is an equine advocate, an author (101 Ways to Die with a Horse or Live Happily Ever After and White Horse, A Novel), horse trainer, coach and riding instructor. And if that list isn't long enough, she is also a member of the Front Range Animal Evacuation Team in Colorado and founder of the Horses Happily Ever After Project. Tanya believes that a holistic approach incorporating the horse's physical, mental and emotional state combined with reciprocal communication is most beneficial in creating the bond of champions. Her ongoing work to better the world for the horse drives her to keep doing what she does!