Today, I’m talking about a very special horse in my life and what I learned from her. This is a repeat of one of my first blogs, but I think it illustrates how important it is to get to really know your horse–how he/she thinks, reacts and views life.
My best friend when I was a kid was a horse named Star. I had started riding off and on when I was four, but I didn’t get a horse of my own until I was ten. A year later I got the love of my young life. Star was a beautiful, liver chestnut (dark brown) Morgan mare who turned into the best pal a kid could want.
She didn’t start out that way, though. Six months after we bought her, I was ready to give up and try for another horse. While she was sweet and loving on the ground, she had been badly handled under saddle and was very hard to control on the trail as a result. There were few professional horsemen in my area. Most people bought horses with some basic training and just got on and rode. If a horse gave you problems, you tried a stronger bit and maybe a tie down. The advice we were given by more “experienced” people and even books was the harsh “make her behave” variety. I now know, of course, that was exactly the wrong approach for her.( See my early post Sex and the Single Horse where I talk about “asking” mares.)
One day when I was at a really low point, I began playing around with Star on the ground. When we bought her we also bought her yearling colt, Comet. My dad used to play with him and taught him a couple of tricks. Of course Comet got lots of carrots and praise when he did them right. For some reason that afternoon, I gave Star the signal for one of her son’s tricks…and SHE DID IT. I was flabbergasted and tried again and she did it again. It was then I realized that she really wanted the pats and treats too, which had not been many because of her “bad” behavior.
The next day I went to the library and got a book on teaching tricks. I started with the simple ones, such as bowing, counting, nodding “yes” and shaking her head “no.” I soon discovered I had an astonishingly smart horse who would do anything for a carrot and praise. Over the years we developed a large number of tricks and even put on demonstrations at small horse shows. But I also discovered I had a horse who would try her best if you asked her, but would fight like mad against anyone who tried to force her.
I spent a lot of time developing a good relationship with Star on the ground and she learned to trust me. I changed to a milder bit and tried to listen to her as I realized how much she wanted to please. Eventually, we became an inseparable team. We competed in small shows, jumped cross-country, danced in parades, led a Western drill team and covered hundreds of miles of trails. When things got difficult at home, I’d take off on her and find my peace.
Star taught me a different way to deal with life. My family’s approach to life tended to be harsh and critical. She showed me a gentler way to handle problems. And to try and see what was really going on rather than reacting to appearances. She taught me how to be a friend by being my best friend.
Did you have a good friend who taught you something special or made a difference in your life? Who are the people you value?