There was recently a subject up on Fugly Blog about if your horse likes its work. I’ve had many horses over the years and some just did their job because they were trained to ride. Tate stands out in particular, my buckskin. He just rode around because he was broke to ride, but he did not particularly enjoy anything. He was not an affectionate horse, he was quiet and mannerly, but he didn’t exactly work with gusto. He just rode because he was a riding horse.
Lickety Split is among the horses I’ve owned that I truly feel loved his job. He went to work every time I rode him with interest and a spark that makes a horse special. He had a dirty sense of humor, but when he was really put to a challenge, he always came through and he knew the difference between home/lesson and a show. He enjoyed watching me hit the ground when I least expected it, but he was brilliant at shows. I think he loved his work.
Luke loves his work, too. He’s the best driving pony ever and just goes at everything with his ears perked and a snap to his step. He’s enjoyable to drive, fantastic to show, and he seems to love it whether he’s working in the arena, out on the trail, in a show, doing tricks, or working on liberty things I am trying to teach him.
Spyder, my gray mare, was bitter living proof of a horse that hated her work, her stable, her owner, and everything else. She turned aggressive towards me and would attack me on the ground, would try to charge me when I worked on longing or trailer loading her, she would rear and strike and squeal and buck when I tried to sit on her. She would pin her ears and try to bite and strike me. It was horrible. She hated her work, hated her life, and hated me. The minute I took her to my hunter trainer and put her with a new handler, in a new barn, and a new discipline, she was happy and content and stayed that way for ever.
So I’ve had both ends of the scale. From horses that clearly purely enjoy their work, to a horse that clearly and purely hated it. And I’ve every step in between. I can’t say I prefer the “drone” horses. Like Tate… the ones that ride just because they’re supposed to be ridden. They put no life or energy into their work and while they are enjoyable to ride because they are safe and quiet, they are not enjoyable to ride because you don’t really feel like you’re building a relationship with the horse or “getting through” to them. I owned Tate for over 4 years and I don’t think I ever built a relationship with him.
Does your horse love his work, or does he just do it? How do you know?
One thing that bothers me, that I see listed in ads all the time, or hear people say about their horses is that they love to jump. Then, I see the horse jump and it’s rushed, forward, and slightly panicky. People think that when their horse perks up and runs forward he’s loving what he does. Actually, racing forward over jumps is a sign of nervousness and uncertainity and lack of understanding of what they’re doing, lack of confidence, and possibly, lack of enjoyment.
In my opinion, horses enjoy doing what they understand. Running forward with the head up is not enjoying nor understanding. Listening to their rider, adjusting strides, staying in rythym – these are signs of understanding. Understanding leads to confidence. Confidence brings enjoyment.
Now, I’ve got Chewbacca. Chewie is quiet and sweet, big and gorgeous, he has a great personality. He nickers when he sees me coming and simply expects that I have iced oatmeal or molasses cookies in my pocket. (And he’s usually right….). Every little thing I’ve been teaching him in the 3 months I’ve owned him he has been learning in stride and he really seems to love it. From stretch exercises to jumping he is doing it all with interest and a little bit of spice, and he’s been really fun!
The other day I was hacking on the flat and doing some circles between jumps, and he was leaning towards the jumps, like he was questioning me about why we weren’t going over them. With only 2 exceptions, he’s gone over every jump I’ve pointed him at and he’s learning and understanding more and more every time. We have our mistakes – I make them as a rider, and I try to correct his as a green horse learning. But those are expected. He always picks his ears up and has zest and life when he’s doing anything that he does. I’ve learned that he really enjoys a new challenge. The one time I worked on roll backs and tight turns over ground poles, he was a whole new horse – he loved it. He’s attentive, listening to my leg and seat and hands, ears up, and working on figuring it all out. Sometimes when we’re jumping, you can almost see him thinking. He’s interested and enjoys what he’s being taught and everyone in the barn can see how much he likes what he’s doing.
It’s really really great to have a horse like this again. I’m having so much fun I can’t even begin to define it! I love riding him.
This past weekend we took another lesson. This is now Chewie’s 9th time jumping. Definitely some mistakes – wrong leads and a lot of circling before a fence (which was more a problem with me than anything) but all in all, he was absolutely wonderful and while he is terrific during every ride, every lesson, I’d have to say that this ride was better than all the ones before.
At the end of every ride, I cool him off bareback and on this video, I took a lap around the arena with my camera in hand.
Have a great day!