Horse Issues: Deal With It!
By Betsy Kelleher
Every horse has issues. As owners, riders, or handlers, we have to deal with those issues. Time after time, as I search for help regarding a problem, I am always impressed with one common answer. Go back to the basics, find the “holes” in the training process, break the training goal into very small steps and have lots of patience!
When my husband buys a horse, I end up trying to “fix” the current problem to make that horse safer and easier to ride. In the process, I feel I have benefited by learning more about horse training, by having more things to write about, and feeling the satisfaction of seeing improvement in the horse. Only thing is, I end up with more horses! And now we have four. Yes, four. Two senior citizens with four horses, in a boarding stable, on self care. Now you know for sure that we are nuts!
Each horse has a blessing, however. While washing dishes this morning, looking out my kitchen window and listening to Charles Stanley, I agreed with him that yes, God does have a purpose in all that He does!
I think about Lady, and her fear of noisy trucks, tractors, motorcycles, and four wheelers. Russ didn’t know about that when he bought her, and he didn’t realize what an “alpha” mare she was. I panic at the thought of riding her with the mere possibility of meeting any of those things. But I also think of the special bond we have developed. I think how smart and affectionate she is, and how sensitive and how quickly she obeys my slightest cue. I want to conquer my own fears and learn how to control my emotions, to become the confident rider she needs. For now, I enjoy riding her in the arena and venturing out a short ways now and then, and I have enjoyed riding her on the trails. But I let a better rider than me take her further down the road.
I think about Rocky, who stood quietly by the side of a road a few weeks ago, watching two motorcycles go by. If there had been a tarp blowing in the wind that day, it might have been a different story. And if I’d been riding Lady, it definitely would have been different! For now, Rocky is mine, and I am enjoying the ride, especially his canter!
I think about Traveller, who has been a faithful mount for many years, letting me relax and enjoy riding. He has come through EPM and side effects (and I believe God really helped there), and I’m ready to ride him again on easy trails, building up his stamina.
Three horses to ride and care for are two more than I need! I feel overwhelmed by the decision of which one to ride next and how to keep them all exercised.
And now we have a new gal, Ginger, who also stood by the side of the road a few weeks ago, calmly watching two motorcycles go by. She is a good old fox trotter mare, but not without her own issues. Somewhere in Ginger’s past, someone apparently tightened the cinch too tight or too fast, and she is “cinchy.” But I have begun a slow and patient effort to reeducate her brain that cinching up a saddle doesn’t always hurt. Yes, I know it will take time!
Does God lead us to a particular horse with a certain problem for a reason? I remember my husband’s first trail horse, Magic. He was a little cinchy, and we scolded him for putting his ears back and tightened the saddle anyway. He wasn’t too bad, and we just accepted it. Like Ginger’s former owners. But here I am now, wanting to fix everything, so I have been researching the subject on the internet. Wow, there are a lot of trainer websites with tons of information and training advice out there! Of course, I ended up buying another set of DVD’s. And I did find some good advice for helping a cinchy horse. Most horses are cinchy because of a memory of pain, even when the pain no longer exists. The solution to cinchy-ness is to determine whether there is pain now that needs to be healed, or to help erase the pain memory or fear of pain in the mind.
I started by rubbing all over Ginger’s body, especially the areas where a saddle touches. I felt a few bumps, but she didn’t seem to register pain when I pushed on them. Then again, when a saddle pushes on those bumps, it could irritate. I’m hoping to learn more about the bumps later. Next, I put a rope around her girth area, tightening it slowly, and I got a response. Her head turned toward me with ears back, even though the rope was not anywhere near the bumps! Then I got out my old surcingle, the one I planned to throw away because one ring had broken off, and put that on her as loose as it would go. No reaction. I walked her around, tightened it up one hole at a time until it was as tight as I would normally make it. No reactions, no ears back, no threatening head movements. It may take countless similar exercises to help her ease the pain memory, and maybe it won’t be that simple, if there is actual pain when a saddle is tightened. But I’m going to do all I can to help Ginger feel more comfortable with being saddled.
When you or I have pain, we can go to a doctor and find help. We can say what is bothering us. But with a horse, we must be very alert, very sensitive and patient, and very persistent sometimes to learn why a horse behaves a certain way. Sometimes a professional horse trainer can help, but we need to be careful to choose a trainer that truly cares about a horse’s welfare more than making money.
As a horse learns to trust his rider, he (or she) comes to depend on that rider for safety, for guidance, and for care. In my efforts to become the rider my horse needs, I find I must grow mentally and emotionally, learn to relax or to have greater courage. I don’t believe God’s purpose for our lives is to have more horses and solve all their problems (although sometimes I wonder about that!). I do believe His purpose for each of us is to help us learn to trust Him more, to depend on Him and to grow spiritually in the likeness of His Son. I believe God has allowed us to reach this place, or guided us here for a reason. In dealing with our horse’s issues, we do some research. We work to overcome the problem, instead of just accepting it as we once did. And we hope the situation will be better in time because of our efforts. In the process, we ourselves can grow spiritually as well as emotionally and mentally.
I can’t wait to load up the new mare and my Rocky or Lady or maybe Traveller and go back on the trails once again. Even though I have been riding in the arena and around the barn a time or two each week, I really do miss being out there on the trails, hearing the birds sing and seeing nature around me, seeing wildflowers, or smelling the Russian Olive trees in bloom. Somewhere during the ride, if all goes well, there is a moment when the tensions drain away, and I take a deep breath and feel new again. And that moment makes the stall cleaning and everything else worthwhile.
We can find many passages in Scripture where God reassures us. Isaiah 41:10 says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” We are to depend on Him just as we ask our horses to depend on us. We can’t fix every problem on our own. God gave us His Word, as a source for all our spiritual needs and we must learn to use it, to search it, to meditate on it and make it a vital part of our lives. A Bible isn’t any good lying on the coffee table or the shelf, just as all my training videos won’t do a bit of good unless I watch them and start practicing what I learn!
Horses as well as humans sometimes just learn to live with certain issues. But one very sensitive and intelligent Arab mare named Syn-cere taught me to deal with them. A trailer accident had made her unsafe to tie. She was 16 when I bought her, and four years later we had resolved those fear memories so that she could be tied. Instead of feeling we just have to live with a problem and instead of saying to ourselves there’s nothing we can do, we sometimes need to step above that human level to believe in God’s power to help. True, He does not always remove a burden we carry, but He does help us carry it. Sometimes He brings along a horse with a problem, and in solving that problem, we learn something for ourselves (if we take the time to look for it with the right attitude).
There is hope for almost any situation. Sometimes we need a human friend, or some serious Bible study as well as searching for valuable information. The process usually requires patience and persistence. We humans sometimes have old fear memories that prevent us from being all we were meant to be. Only God can fix some of those. The only way not to solve a problem is to give up or not try. In Matthew 11:28, God tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Whatever the need, our submissive partnership with God’s Spirit allows his power and wisdom to work with us. He cares about each and every one of us and He wants to help us. It doesn’t depend on how good we are or what we can offer Him. Fixing problems may take time, but God has all the time in the world! And every resource is in His hands.
And there’s someone out there who needed to hear this as much as I did.
(Originally published in the May 2007 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)