When you’re a magnet for young, easily stressed, lonely horses, you learn to appreciate silence.

There’s an old saying that states that “silence is golden.” I say “old” because I assume whoever coined the phrase lived in the times when horses were the main mode of transportation. And said wordsmith must have gone through a string of young, lonely horses who were tied up alone, whinnying and working into a mild frenzy. And I also guess that finally, one of those young horses grew up into a wise, seasoned animal that learned how to self-soothe and stand tied, patiently and quietly. 

That silence is, indeed, pure gold. 

lonely horse stands tied
Teaching lonely horses to stand quietly while tied up and alone isn’t an easy task.
Photo by Ross Hecox

At my house there’s nothing but lonely horses. We are a magnet for the unsettled and unseasoned. I’m not complaining. As long as someone is in our barn, whinnying or pawing at the wall or railroad-tie floor because he or she is missing a buddy, it means we have work to do. That’s our business model. Loneliness and impatience comes with the territory of training young horses

But, oh how valuable it is to have a horse that can be happily by itself. There are many different methods and thoughts behind the best way to “grow a horse up” so that he can go out on a ride alone and feel stress-free. And by “grow them up,” I realize that old horses can be just as disturbed by solo times as young ones.

Folks have all sorts of ways of teaching a horse to be stoic in all situations. We like to create very safe tie-spots on different places of our property, where a horse can be tied high with a rope or chain that swivels and won’t tangle or bind the horse up in any way. It needs to be close enough that we can monitor it, but far enough away from other horses that the colt tied up learns to be okay standing alone. When we ride outside, we might meet up together and then part ways time and again, creating a situation where a horse learns security with just a rider. I know of folks who might haul their mounts to the bar on weekends and leave them in the trailer, or take them for a big circle on gathering day, among other strategies. 

It’s not for everyone. Getting a lonely horse through his insecurities can be a slow and risky process. Often, it’s loud, and sometimes extra annoying. There needs to be a situation where a horse can paw and move and fret without disturbing the ground below him to the point of no return. Just like colts, we need to exercise patience as well. Most get better with time, though some don’t. But gosh, to go through it and have a gentle, confident and seasoned horse at the end of it is well worth the effort. 

Though I’ve got to admit, I don’t blame the lonely ones for being the way they are. 

Because, hey, I always feel better with a horse around, too.

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