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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Signs that Your Equine Relationship Just Isn't Working

Here in the foothills of the Cascades, spring has (finally!) arrived. The grass has come up seemingly overnight, the sun is now making more than a brief appearance, and daytime temperatures have warmed to the 60s. In short, it's time for the first trail ride of the year, with long gallops through grassy fields and leisurely walks beside rushing rivers. I mentioned this to a friend and was surprised when she looked a little panicked and declined to go along. What was the problem? In short, she was afraid her horse would act up and hurt her.

When your very expensive and time-consuming hobby no longer satisfies you, it's time to evaluate whether you need to make a change. Like human relationships, equine relationships can be more heartache than happiness. Just because a horse and a person are both amazing individuals doesn't necessarily mean that they will make an amazing team. Here are some signs that your equine relationship may be broken.

(1) Your horse consistently intimidates you or even scares you. You spend your entire ride wondering what dangerous thing he's going to do next, and you feel relieved when you dismount in one piece. Because you never know what your horse will do, you always have to be on your guard.

(2) Your horse often can't or won't do what you ask of him. Maybe your horse really can't do what you are asking him to do - his conformation, athletic ability or temperament may not match up well to the job at hand. Is it really fair to try to make a Western Pleasure champ out of a hot-tempered, high-headed horse?

(3) Your horse does his job, but lets you know he's not happy about it. Perhaps the horse is physically able to do the job you've selected for him, but he just doesn't like doing it. For example, he'll jump around a course, but keeps his ears pinned the whole time.

(4) You and your horse have a personality mismatch. As in human relationships, sometimes two nice people just can't get along. The relationship between a horse and a human is an intensely personal, and human/equine personality conflicts are fairly common. Maybe you are a perfectionist who makes constant adjustments, but your horse works best when left alone. Perhaps your horse is forward and energetic, but you are timid.

Any of the above situations is a recipe for misery, both human and equine. What remedies are there?

Training. Professional training can go a long way toward correcting attitude problems and filling gaps in a horse's education. For example, a spoiled horse can relearn manners, and a green horse can learn how to do his job. However, training is not a panacea. It can't fix personality mismatches or make a horse suitable for a job that doesn't come naturally to him. And if the horse owner can't or won't continue the training at home, the horse will revert to his former self.

Job Change. If your horse is unhappy in his current job, find him another one. Try out a bunch of different events to see what he does best. Maybe your jumper would rather be a trail horse, or your Western Pleasure horse would rather chase cows. He just might surprise you!

Ownership Change.
When a horse and rider just can't get along, or a horse is ill-suited for the rider's chosen discipline, it's time for a change. As long as you are honest with prospective buyers about your horse's challenges, you can sell or give him to another home with a clear conscience. Horse people are natural optimists. They believe they'll be able to solve problems and overcome obstacles, and sometimes, they can. Just because a horse intimidates you doesn't mean he'll be able to do that with his next owner. Likewise, your horse may be happier with a rider who asks less of him, more of him, or asks him to do something different. When the horse has gone to a new home, at least you will no longer be frustrated, and there's a good chance he'll be happier, too.

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