Life Law #7: Life is managed; it is not cured.
Your Strategy: Learn to take charge of your life and hold on. This is a long ride, and you are the driver every single day. -Dr. Phil
I love this quote from Dr. Phil. Some love him and some hate him but it’s not the topic here. The topic is “life IS managed; NOT cured”.
Most of my living is made rehabilitating problem horses. The dangerous ones who buck, rear, bolt, bite, kick, strike, spook, etc. A lot of the horses I’ve worked with have severely injured people to the point of near death, broken bones and missing limbs, I know that sounds dramatic, but its true. To most people, they’d say that I have a tough and dangerous job working with animals like this, I must be brave or talented… HA! But when people see what I do day to day to fix their horse, they wonder why they pay me so much because its all pretty simple stuff. You don’t pay me for what I do, you pay me for what I know how to do.
I didn’t create the horse issues brought to me but I continue to learn how to help the animal find a better option. The majority of cases I get are the result of poor handling/training, on top of lots of experience behaving a certain way, combined with physical issues which further exacerbate the problems.
Horses thrive in herds where they get the opportunity to be with other horses, graze as much as they want, move around as much as they want and genuinely find peace in nature. Horses thrive on structure, discipline and compassion they receive within the herd environment. A lack of stability creates uproar and chaos until it is sorted out. If you don’t believe me, put a new horse in an existing herd and watch what happens… Its not all roses and butterflies. The horses are held to a standard where everyone has a place in the herd, they learn rules and boundaries to create a peaceful environment. But it is not cured, it is managed. There are lots of moments where order is reestablished and someone gets in trouble for pushing the boundaries. Some herds settle quickly, while others take much longer depending on the members of the herd and their knowledge of how to behave. I know when I add a troubled horse to my herd, it may take weeks if not months for that troubled horse to learn to find peace in the herd. The herd doesn’t feel sorry for the troubled horse, but rather they give it the same rules and boundaries that everyone else follows.
So its not shock that horses become imbalanced to the point of dangerous behaviors because we tend to confine them, feed them on our schedules, train/exercise on our schedule, lack boundaries/structure and have expectations way above our horses pay grade. Horsemanship is about the human learning how to work with the horse in a way that creates that balance and stability that horses crave. Not too many people have access to land and lots of horses to fulfill the needs of their horse, I know I don’t! So its our job to educate ourselves in how we can manage our horses with the balance our horses crave.
Horses are not vehicles that can be bought fully assembled with all the safety features and come with a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty. Horses are not fixed or cured, they are managed with good handling, structure, discipline and most of all compassion that, after all, they are still horses. We cannot expect our horses to perform higher, behave better or simply hold them to a higher standard than we hold for ourselves.
When helping people rehabilitate their horses, there is no guarantee that my work will translate back to the owner. It is not guaranteed that if you pay me to “fix” your horse, that your horse will be “fixed” in the time frame you proposed and the budget you set. I wish I could do that, but I just can’t make it a guarantee.
Respect, trust and the relationship I build with an animal is not guaranteed to transfer to the owner. It is up to the owner to do the work with their horse in a way that maintains the behavior and balance that I have worked to create. Sometimes that means the owner has more work to do than the horse. If you go back to doing what you did before, you’ll get what you got before. If you change the approach, you’ll change the outcome. Success with horses is learning to change who you need to become in order to have the relationship you want with your horse. The horse simply helps us navigate our journey. They tell us the truth if we are willing to listen and change ourselves.