You might know by now that I do the occasional house and barn calls. If you live close by and my schedule allows, I will visit with you and your animal in person. If you live within driving distance and organize a day for me to meet with 4-8 horses and their owners, I will gladly show up. And, rare but possible, if you send a ticket, I will also fly across the country for consultations.
Today I want to talk about one of those barn calls. At that point in the day, I had communicated with six other horses at that barn when the owner asked me to tune in to one more horse. When I approached the stall, the horse was standing with his butt toward us, looking out the window on the backside of his stall. He stood stoically still. Just looking out of the window.
The owner explained that this was her retired showhorse and wanted to know how he felt about his retirement and subsequent work teaching lessons.
I said hi to the horse and got quiet for a moment to see what he had to say.
I hear nothing.
I saw nothing.
I felt nothing.
This horse was not communicating.
While the other horses had stood by the door, eager to get the conversation going. This particular horse was mum.
After a few breaths, I asked the horse if he had anything to say about his situation.
Another breath went by before he spoke up.
“I do not understand why she would hire someone to talk to me when she knows the answer herself.”
I looked at the owner and said, “He is not clear why you would hire me when you already know the answer.”
The owner laughed. “Well, I guess I kinda do. I just wanted confirmation.”
As if the confession had broken the silence, the horse asked, “Why am I retired?”
The woman replied, “Because we reached 3rd level, and at his age, I don’t want to push him into 4th level.”
The horse chimed in again, “Why didn’t we stick with 3rd level? We were good at it. I worked hard to get to 3rd level. Why don't we enjoy what we have accomplished?”
The woman and I looked at each other. Stunned.
What a concept!
“Why didn’t we stick with 3rd level? We were good at it.”
With that statement, ladies and gentlemen, we hit the crux of the matter.
Horses, as much as we love them, are often a commodity.
We ride them to accomplish something. Once we accomplish it, we upgrade. Which often means the horse needs to downgrade.
Because I do not ride or show my horses at this point, I wanted to get feedback from a rider and dear friend who knows more about the show world. And she explained that there are three scenarios why one wouldn’t ride in 3rd level shows once that goal has been accomplished.
Because it costs money. Spending money on a class that one has already mastered seems unnecessary.
It takes a lot of time to show. And, if one heads out to show, there should be a challenge for both horse and rider.
If one sticks with 3rd level though one has already raked in the blue ribbons, fellow riders do not appreciate you sticking around raking in more blue ribbons. It is not good sportsmanship.
That all makes sense. From the human point of view. But not when you see the world through the horse's eyes.
Let’s think about that for a moment. If you as a human are talented, let’s say in gymnastics, and your parents get you into classes and sign you up for competitions, you the human being are fully aware of what is happening. You talk about your goals, you know, looking into the future, what events are coming up, and what you're training for. For this horse, the situation was very different. He didn’t know that he was performing in the ring with the purpose of moving up, up, up, in the ranks until his body was too tired or aged to move further up.
Thai horse was riding along because he really likes his person. Thai horse was happy to go in the ring at home to learn and hone his skills. He was happy to hop on the trailer to go to a show and present himself and his talents with his person on board.
Then one day, he was no longer hopping on the trailer with the other horses; instead, he became a teacher. Giving other people rides while his person stood in the center of the ring calling out instructions.
Do you see how this could be surprising? And confusing?
Why was he no longer hopping on the trailer?
Because his person wanted the best for him. Not overwork him, not push his body beyond capacity.
But what about the mind? What about the relationship of doing something fun together? What about connecting under saddle?
Thankfully, this particular owner was open to fulfilling her older horse’s wishes. She said she would ride him again more often. She was going to look into some shows they could attend.
And I get it. Showing up with a 3rd-level dressage horse at a local show can seem a bit unfair to the local riders. But I can surely understand the horse’s perspective as well. Not enjoying your accomplishments once you achieve that level of skill and talent seems silly.
Once again, if you are the gymnast and you decide - one day - I am too old or injured or tired of the mat, balance beam, and parallel bars … good for you.
But if you are the horse and you are not tired of your rider and the show ring and how good it feels to dance along in the arena while people are watching … and then suddenly you are staying home, carrying strangers on your back who know only the half of what your person knows while your favorite person is standing in the middle of the ring … that is depressing.
At least for this horse.
And that’s what’s so wonderful about animal communication. It provides clarity. I am a relationship coach for animals and their people. By sharing his thoughts, though it took him a moment :-) this horse now has a chance - if the human follows through - to get back to what he knows. What he is good at. What he loves.
And, if I can give you one tip … do not leave your horse in the dark.
If you decide to retire him, if you decide to sell your horse, or if you need to travel to take care of your ailing mom, speak up. Tell your horse verbally what is going on and why. So many depressions can be prevented if we communicate. Use your words. They matter.
And with that, I leave you for this week. I am curious about what you discover as you speak more directly and openly with your animals. Let me know.
Until next time. Goodbye and Auf Wiedersehen.