Sunday, February 11, 2007

Horse Poor - Experience Rich

We recently experienced the joys of being "horse poor." For thirty days we assumed the care, custody and control of a horse that was intended to move us into the equine-enabled community.

We learned some things. Others we relearned. Still other lessons we transfered from former pets.

On the internet I identified a horse that appeared to possess our needed qualities. After a trip with our stable owner to check him out, we brought him home on a thirty day trial lease. If it didn't work out, the owner would pick him up at the end of the thirty days - no questions asked.

In thirty days he transformed from a shy, insecure, almost fearful horse into a headstrong, belligerent animal that walked through any fence except the metal round pen. He became more difficult to handle as the time went on. During the last five days of our tryout time he exhibited aggressive behaviors toward the people that run the stable so I made the decision (which wasn't hard) that he had to go back.

When I contacted the owner to tell her of our decision, I became aware this was not the first time he had gone through this. She asked me what the problem was because "no one will ever tell me what he does that is wrong." (Did you hear the bell go off?)

I explained my observations and experiences. The stable owner shared what she saw and endured. We then watched as a calm, under-control horse was loaded into a trailer and hauled 200 miles to another person who was convinced that this was the horse for her.

Maybe we ought to change his name to "The Professor" because the thirty days were not lost time. Here are some of the lessons he taught me.

Lesson 1) You may buy an animal, but all you have done is assumed the responsibility for their care. They decide whether they become yours and how they will relate to you (horse whisperers not withstanding). If you have ever had a cat for a pet, that is always lesson number one.

Lesson 2) Before you arrive at the stable barn have a clear plan in mind for your time together. He was not very tolerant of the person who failed to have a firm agenda for the day. You don't want a horse that stands 16.2 and weighs over one-half ton to be picking you and your indecision apart.

Lesson 3) Even if you are not a horse trainer, you are a horse trainer. You will train them with your attention to detail or you will train them by being lazy, foggy-headed and overwhelmed by the job at hand.

Lesson 4) Even with good leadership, buying a horse is a "crap-shoot" at best. There are some good rules and measuring tools that can help. Having an experienced and objective advisor is critical. But in the end it boils down to "He'll do or he won't." As I was advised, decide what holes you can live with and make a decision. In this case we decided we couldn't live with additional holes in our body.

Lesson 5) The cheapest part of getting a horse is buying it. 'Nuff said.

Lesson 6) If you are not a rodeo cowboy or an active rancher, expect to enter the world of female equinologists when you buy a horse. Estrogen runs rampant at the stables I have visited. That isn't bad. It is simply a truth that if a testosterone-enriched individual has problems taking instruction from a female, the first lesson you will have to learn is not how to halter the horse. It will be how to halter your attitude.

I'll stop here so as to not recreate "The Ten Commandments."

We are not out of the horse business. We are just a bit wiser. And somewhere out there is the animal we are looking for. We also learned a lot about patience.

I can imagine that on the evening of January 29, 2007, a dapple-white horse, 16.2 hands, was led into a new stall. He looked around the barn and thought, "OK, bring on the next student. Graduation is only thirty days away."