The Argument for Manners

Every barn has one.  THAT owner.  The owner who believes their problem horse needs only one thing to solve the problem behaviors:  love. Do I see a lot of head nodding out there in agreement and/or frustration?

I’m not casting stones.  I was THAT owner.  I blame it on The Black Stallion.  The book needs a disclaimer…nothing in here has any basis in reality. I wanted a horse to be a kind of big dog that would love only me, respond only to me, and protect me.

Uh-huh.  Okay.  Well.  Are we just an eensy bit self-centered?

I’m okay with blaming it on The Black Stallion…until you’re over 16 or had your first horse-related injury.

When we grow up, it’s time to adjust our parameters.  Love is great.  Love does and can work miracles.  I’m a great believer in love…second.  Boundaries-and-manners-love first, mooshy-love second.  It’s a good formula.

We have a current THAT owner at our barn.  She means well.  She loves her horse.  Too much.  And not enough.  I see my former self.  She’s not open to gentle suggestion.  Frankly, she hasn’t been open to her trainer’s firm direction.  We all want to shake her.  She has a lovely horse.  He’s being loved to pieces.  He’s a pain in the rear to handle.  She’s been hospitalized three times.  Two of the incidents were on the ground.

This is a barn where you can call anyone up and they will pinch hit instantly if you can’t make it.  No one wants to step up to the plate for this horse.  The horses none of us mind stepping in for?  The ones that stand still for blanketing, pick up their hoof when they see a pick in your hand, stay out of  your space until invited in, and don’t dive for food before you get the halter off.

This is the question we need to ask ourselves around our horses: what will happen to my horse if I die or endure a fiscal tragedy?  Is this a horse someone will want to snap up, no matter what the age, breed, or discipline?  You may have a $65,000 spoiled rotten marvel  that some trainer is willing to take on.  If there happens to be a trainer in the market for exactly your kind of horse – at half price.  Or free.  Depending on how much you loved your horse.

Look at this animal you love.  Really look.  Now imagine your horse yanking someone else around, stepping on feet, rearing with the vet.  Knocking grooms over.  Imagine your horse in the auction yard.  Not the good auction yard with the nice handlers in tuxes.  The run down auction yard where they don’t bother to provide food and water, because he’s being sold for dog food.  Yes I’m being brutal.  It’s a brutal world,  especially now with the fiscal stress most people are experiencing.

If you love your horse, put love second.  Teach your horse to stand quietly until you relase him.  Teach him to lead properly and stay out of your personal space.  NEVER let your horse drag you around for grass.  Take charge.  Set your horse up for success in case something happens in your life.

The retired older guy with great manners and gentle ways often ends up being a terrific lawn ornament on someone’s property.  The young off-the-track Thoroughbred that has so much potential, but runs roughshod over everyone and everything…THAT is the horse no one wants, who needs the grief?  That horse won’t even get lawn ornament status…he’s no fun as the family pet.  He might make your property uninsurable.  Or your training facility.

Manners go a long way to keeping people interested and willing to come back, far after a horse has outlived it’s designated usefulness.  The thing is, the better behaved your horse is, the easier it is to apply the mooshy love without getting your teeth knocked out.

Do the right thing.  Love the horse the way they need to be loved, not the way you want to love them.

Copyright © 2009. The Literary Horse. All rights reserved.

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