Do You Need a Horse Partnership Agreement?
First up what is a horse partnership agreement? Not the sort of agreement you have when you part own a horse with another person, I mean a partnership agreement with your horse.
Do you have a partnership agreement with your horse? Does your horse know that he is indeed in a partnership agreement with you? And does he want to be a party to that agreement?
Not sure then read on.
Why even have an agreement?
Having grown up learning to ride and borrowing horses in my younger years I can honestly say I never considered any of the horses I had then as my partner. Often they were hand me down horses, borrowed from local horse people, invariably the ones that other kids weren’t using at the time, and it wasn’t until I was 16 years old that I had a horse to call my own, one my family actually bought for me.
Now this is not to say that I didn’t love every single horse I had the pleasure to look after and ride. I loved them dearly with my horse infatuated little girl’s heart. But I was young and uneducated when it came to developing a true partnership with a horse.
It was never discussed and certainly never taught in the riding lessons I attended as a kid.
I grew up in the era of kick to go and pull to stop. Horses were for fun and competing on and for the crazy fast trail rides my friends and I would go on every weekend. Whether the horse liked it or not!
In hindsight these horses were saints to put up with my yahooing and general ignorance of their real needs.
I certainly didn’t have a partnership agreement with any of these horses, they tolerated me at best, occasionally bucking me off or wiping me under a tree when they were sick of my antics.
And I am ashamed to say that while I treated these horses well, in as much as they were fed and watered and brushed and rugged, I had no regard for their feelings or their wishes as an individual that had their own needs.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones, I rode like this until I was 18 years old and did not have a serious accident off any of these horses. It seems to me now that this is almost a miracle considering we all took our horses for granted and never considered what they wanted or what they were feeling at the time.
We just expected them to be the same no matter the time or day, no matter if we were pulling them out of the paddock after a 6 week break for a trail ride or traipsing off to the local shows.
I often heard the phrase “just get on and ride him” even though my horse was clearly telling the world through his behaviour that it would be a bad idea. Sometimes I stayed on, sometimes I ate dirt, but apart from a few concussions I survived my younger horse riding days intact.
So if I got away with not having an agreement with these horses and I see probably 90% of riders even today getting away with not having a partnership agreement why bother to go to the effort now?
What you want … What your horse wants
I am assuming that if you have come across this website you are looking for a better way to be with your horse. Perhaps you look into your horse’s eye and see his soul.
Perhaps you want to change the downward spiral that is kick to go and pull to stop. You realise that he is more than an animal to parade around on and show off your horse riding skills to admiring friends or a trophy to pull out and run ragged to win another ribbon at the show.
People all want different things from their horses and the time they spend with their horses.
I am not saying that it is wrong to want to compete or to enjoy the social aspect of getting together with other horse people and learning or trail riding. Or even just hanging around down the barn to catch up with friends for a chat. I also do those things.
But we need to realise that what we want from our horse relationship and what our horses want are probably two different things.
You want companionship, a boost to your ego, the feeling of pride when you go out with your horse, the thrill and excitement of controlling a 500kg prey animal, fulfilment through competition, maybe a way to fill the vacant void for things that are missing elsewhere in your life.
Your horse wants peace. Plain and simple.
Horses are such compliant animals, they will give you the world if you know how to ask them and more importantly how to say thank you for all they give so willingly.
A Horse Partnership Agreement is built on trust and acknowledging that you can provide your horse with the peace he so desires and needs to live comfortably and harmoniously in the world we expect them to live in.
The difference between humans and horses is we have an ego and they do not.
We have a responsibility to provide for our horses, not just physically but mentally as well, and that’s where a partnership agreement comes into place.
Control your Little Self
I read a book a few years ago now called the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. In which he describes the human ego as the Little Self. It is the small part of you that allows greed, envy and jealousy to surface and that gets in the way of your peace and being able to live a mindful life.
It’s what makes us try to “keep up with the Jones’s”, always wanting more and more and never being satisfied with what we already have.
This in turn stops us from fully connecting with our horses because horses do not have an ego. They live in the moment and they do not yearn for advancement or external gratification.
Harmony, connection and peace make for a fulfilled horse – can we say the same about ourselves?
How to build a partnership agreement with your horse
It’s quite simple really and only consists of two things:
- You take the time to understand your horse and consider their wishes all the time
- You put the relationship with your horse first before anything else
Take the time to understand your horse
Slow down when you are with your horse.
I know we all have busy lives, there’s always something else which should be being done when you are spending time with your horse, but you need to put that out of your head when you commit to spending time in their company.
When we are with our horses we expect them to respond to our instructions. We expect them to perform, to do as we ask and to acknowledge our directions. We need to do the same for them.
By slowing down you will give yourself an opportunity to hear what your horse is saying to you. You need to be observant, watch for the flick of an ear, the gentle gaze when his eye softens at your touch or the swishing tail prompting you that he is not comfortable.
If you are not sure what the subtle signs your horse is giving you mean, find a local knowledgeable person who can spend some time with you and your horse and explain the small signals from your horse.
Be at peace with yourself and you will be able to open your heart and allow your horse to open his.
Take a deep breath before you enter your horse’s yard, clear your mind of all the life woes and pressures and give yourself over fully to your equine pal. Really enjoy the time you have with your horse.
Expect the best from your horse. Give him the benefit of the doubt more often than not. They are not out to get you or make your life difficult. Horses just don’t think like that.
How often do you hear when you ride or do groundwork with your horse “you have to show him who’s the boss, you need to win”? This statement indicates that there is a battle or a competition going on. Your horse is not in a competition with you, he doesn’t even know that there is or has to be a winner.
If he is showing you behaviour you don’t like then he is trying to tell you something. Maybe he is sore, maybe he is feeling too much pressure, maybe you have not slowed down enough to consider what he might want at that moment.
Your horse is not trying to be better than you, he might just be feeling like his needs are not being considered in the partnership and that it is all one way traffic.
So often I hear people say “oh my horse is useless, or he has this or that bad vice”. If you find yourself saying negative things about your horse, stop and consider the positive things you could be saying.
I’m not being Pollyanna about this, you need to acknowledge if there are training problems and issues you have allowed to surface. You need to pinpoint those and improve your training to fix them.
We call it poor behaviour or bad behaviour but really it is just your horse trying to tell you something. It is probably behaviour you don’t want but it is still just behaviour. No matter what we call it, it can make being with your horse unsafe and needs to be corrected. But remember that behaviour is there for a reason. Something is not right with your horse and it is up to you to find out what and fix it.
He is not a bad horse, he is just displaying behaviour you don’t like.
But you also need to find areas to praise your horse. What are his good points? Do you really show him positive reinforcement when he gets things right or do you just expect that and offer no reward?
By finding a long list of great things you love about your horse you change your mindset about him. The more good things you see the more will reveal themselves to you.
Putting the relationship first
Once you are in tune with your horse and you are seeing and acknowledging the subtle signs your horse is giving you, don’t ignore them.
It is not enough to notice and understand what your horse is saying you need to put his needs ahead of your own.
We see so often people riding around on sore horses because they paid to enter a competition or attend a clinic. How can you have a partnership if you force your horse to work when he is obviously sore? This is not putting your relationship first, this is putting your needs before your horses.
One of the hardest things for a human to do is to know when to quit. I’ve done it, you may have too.
You know that time when things were going really well and you were having so much fun you thought we’ll just keep going and try that one more time or perhaps make it just that bit harder.
And all of a sudden everything goes to pieces. You have put your ego or your desire for more in front of your relationship with your horse. In hindsight, you wish you’d stopped on a good note, but you’ve pushed yourself and your horse just that bit too far.
This is not putting the relationship first.
So do you have a partnership agreement with your horse?
If you don’t I strongly encourage you to do so. If you think your agreement might be a little onesided then stop and take some time to evaluate how you can improve your partnership.
Put into place the two points above, consider how you can implement these ideas with your horse and watch your relationship blossom.
Because I can guarantee you will get more from your horse, he will give you everything you want if you will spend the time to learn and understand what he is telling you and you always put your relationship first before anything else.
Please feel free to share with us any stories about when you have put your relationship first with your horse, or perhaps even when you haven’t.
There is no judgment here and we can all learn from each other.