Developing a friendship with a horse is sometimes easier said than done. It requires time commitment, effort and smart choices.
Why do most of us involve horses in our lives? Well, for some, they are a necessity. They are a way to make money—whether ranching, training, rehabbing or selling. For others, they are a partner to learn with, to teach, to challenge us, or merely something to be enjoyed.
For me, I like to think it’s a little bit of everything. Sure, they are my bread and butter, but they are also my friends. And, as much as I hate to admit it in print, sometimes I forget that.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy being around horses. The main focus of our business is to try and make horses better for their future riders and owners. We want to set them up for success—whether we are working them on a cow, starting them under saddle or helping them learn a concept or maneuver. But the sheer volume of mares, geldings, stud colts and fillies that pass through our pens makes it hard to be buddies with everyone. Between having a number of them to ride and work with every day, logging odd hours to beat the heat/cold, managing all the other aspects of our business, and just plain falling into routine, it’s easy to forget the absolutely imperative (and rewarding) part of interacting with horses. We get a chance to be their friends.
By friends, I don’t mean going through the motions of keeping them alive and healthy. And I don’t mean treating them like a fragile, perfect flower either. Horses are happier when they have structure and boundaries in their lives. But besides certain discipline, I think a friendship with a horse requires taking some extra time to get them to let down in our presence and enjoy us. Try to bring out the most in their personalities and willingness. This may mean tummy scratches, grooming with a soft brush, and occasional drinks from the water hose. Friendship with a horse is a simple concept: invest some time in learning to enjoy each other’s presence, no matter what else is going on in life.
Truly, the friendship we create with our horses is similar to our friendships with people. It takes effort, energy and smart choices. Learn what they like and give them some selfless time out of your day. Find out about their fears and insecurities and help them grow into a more confident and comfortable version of themselves. Make great memories. Go on adventures together. However, just like with people, a friendship doesn’t mean getting pushed over or disrespected. Boundaries must be set. Standards should be high. We wouldn’t let friends walk all over us, and the same goes for our horses.
There have been many times we’ve had some tough colts to start. Let’s face it—some horses are just more likable than others. There’s often a horse in the group that is shy, or touchy, or just plain unhappy to initially have human contact. But rather than hold ill feelings or merely “get through it” with the horses that don’t want to be in my company, those are the times I should be taking extra windows of my day to cultivate a better relationship with said horse. Perhaps if I was more approachable and brought a sense of ease and tranquility to its world instead of some sort of pressure always, it would learn, grow and trust people quicker.
It’s amazing to see the changes that have taken place since I have taken on this challenge of befriending certain horses. It’s easy to give the attention to the friendly ones. But the colts and fillies that hide behind their friends in the field are often the ones who require that extra time. Over time, with friendship in mind, their personalities have developed from shy and introverted actions to clever and intelligent ones, and I’ve seen it crossover when they’re under saddle, too. Plus, it’s made every corner of my job a little more enjoyable, as my co-workers are pretty much all happy to see me every day (and not just because I bring lunch!).
Because hey, who doesn’t love a tummy scratching once in awhile?