Horses by their very nature, excel at forgiveness. Watch some herd dynamics and you’ll see that while there can be some very articulate discussions over herd dynamics or access to food, they are brief. Horse move on. They don’t hold a grudge. At least not much.
Zelda is very forgiving. Even syringing ulcer medication into Zelda’s mouth for 28 days, she still greeted me every day and let me put her halter on. There was a short look of betrayal when I whipped out the syringe, and she didn’t make it easy, but each day she came up to me full of hope and curiosity.
Curly, on the other hand, is far less trusting. When she came back from the vet clinic, she got antibiotics for 10 days. Many horses will eat the powder if it’s mixed into their grain. Not Curly. She’d rather starve. That meant I had another horse that needed to be dosed with a syringe. But first, I had to catch her. After the first day, she wanted nothing to do with me. Even though I dosed her before I fed. Like I said, she’d rather starve. So I had to chase her around the pasture, wrestle the halter over her head and then syringe the mix of water and antibiotics into her clenched jaw. My black down jacket looked like a modern art painting — with splashes of ulcer meds and dried antibiotics covering all surfaces.
Freedom always wants to get caught. He can be standoffish to strangers, but he always comes over to say hello and usually comes when I whistle for him (although he’s a bit deaf these days). Luckily, I haven’t had to give him any meds for a long time, but he’ll generally eat most things without fuss and even when I do have to dose him with a syringe, after all this time (I’ve owned him for 16 years), he’s come to trust me.
Under saddle, forgiveness in horses is also described as “being able to take a joke.” That’s the horse that doesn’t overreact when you catch them in the mouth over a fence, or get them to a wrong spot. It’s a horse that puts up with you when you are having a bad day and get frustrated when your ride doesn’t go as planned. But it’s also important that we give horses that same type of forgiveness. We need to stop riding defensively, anticipating a problem, just because there was one the last time we rode. We need to learn the concept of forgiveness from our horses and move on.