Sometimes the partnership just doesn’t work

When I bought this mare she'd been barely started off the track. It never occurred to me that she would have no real aptitude for jumping. She sure was pretty!

When you buy a horse you are  buying more than just an animal — you are investing in your hopes and dreams of what you want to accomplish. You visualize yourself coming in from that cross country course with your cheeks flushed and your eyes watering from the excitement . . . or finishing that hunter round with the headiness of nailing every spot and every lead change . . . or finally mastering tempi changes down the center line and feeling like you are dancing with your horse.

The problem is, the horse doesn’t know what you want to accomplish and even when you think you have figured out all the angles — a great PPE, a nod from your trainer, a show record that speaks volumes about potential — it doesn’t always work the way you imagined. Sometimes you never “click” with the horse and establish that feeling of partnership. Sometimes the horse isn’t capable (or willing) to do the job you want. Sometimes an injury limits that potential.

Over the years I’ve been pretty lucky with my horses but there were two who just didn’t work out. One had a physical issue (upward fixation of the Patella (slipping stifle) that limited his ability to stay sound, and the other  just had no talent over fences. She hung her legs and I wasn’t sure she’d ever be safe enough to ride cross country.

In the first case I was very sad to move the horse on. He had an adorable personality and I was worried about where he’d end up. I finally “sold” him for a nominal sum to someone who came to me with excellent references and multiple connections. The mare? I’d never meant to keep her. I’d bought her as a project horse and I found her a home where the owner had only modest jumping goals over fences that could be knocked down.

When you think it is the horse that will carry you for many years through wonderful adventures, it’s harder. The bond that you have with a horse is special. While I know people who have given away dogs or cats that didn’t work out with barely a backwards glance, I’ve seen friends who struggled for years with horses who either weren’t temperamentally suitable, who needed a different style of rider, or a different job. I’ve seen people try multiple medical procedures to make their horse more comfortable, only to find they still aren’t able to perform. And I’ve seen horses that were just plain dangerous who were sold on to unsuspecting buyers who then tried their best to fix them.

Truth be told, there are times when you need to move on. While it’s hard to admit defeat, riding is supposed to be fun. It’s always going to be expensive and it will always have an element of danger but if you are worried that you won’t make it back from each ride, it’s time to stop riding that horse. Just because a horse doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it won’t find a good home with the right job.

A friend of mine had a horse with a wicked buck and the knowledge that he could eject most riders when he got tired of behaving. After putting him in training (twice), treating him for kissing spines, Lyme, and a few other miscellaneous things, she gave him away (with full disclosure) to a young eventer. Someone who could ride that bugger hard seven days a week. Wet saddle blanket therapy seems to have done the trick and he’s now putting his excess energy and athletic abilities to more productive use.

Try not to think of it as a bad choice for your horse if you sell him on. If the person who first adopted Freedom hadn’t given up on him (she sent him back to CANTER) I wouldn’t be having such an excellent time with him . . . and he wouldn’t have found that his true calling in life was to be a foxhunter.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes the partnership just doesn’t work

  1. I’ve not clicked with a few horses. I’ve always struggled with sending them back or sending them on. Luckily, experience now has me knowing when I don’t click with a horse before they come home. I’m glad you found Freedom and you enjoy each other. 🙂

  2. This is excellent perspective and counsel. If I owned the horse I thought was my dream horse (that I rode for ten years) I’d love him like crazy, but he’d be unsafe, unsound, and extremely clean. LOL.
    We clicked emotionally, but we never clicked physically. Riding him was strangely awkward, every single time. I’d always assumed my skill level just was not there when it came to this horse. I felt horribly sad over not being ‘good’ enough for him. I now realize, that like dance partners, there are horse and rider partners that simply don’t work well together.
    I now own a much more physically challenging horse, ten times more athletic, and riding him is joyful and easy, never awkward, even if I’m riding badly.

    You have said it very well: you need to match in all the key areas, and it should be FUN to connect. If I had purchased my dream horse, I never would have received Hudson. We fit. We enjoy the same basic things. He needed a new career that I just happen to love. He’s even beginning to like some of the more ‘thinking’ elements of dressage! Excellent post on such a difficult topic…

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