The “Horse of a Lifetime” - In need of a definition change.
There’s a phrase that I have believed, uttered, and even written about in the past. That is “the horse of a lifetime”. These mythical horses are often fantastically talented, amazingly beautiful, and oh so rare. Some of these horses of a lifetime are characterized as quirky, difficult, and only one person is able to bring out the true value of such a horse. It can be summed up in like this:
I call BS. IN A HUGE WAY. Every horse, no matter the temperment, the level of talent, or the size of horse ego, can be a horse of a lifetime.
Let me rewind my own life with my own horses about five years ago. I had a younger appendix, Comet, who was not really SUPER at anything, but he was OK at some stuff. We dabbled here and there with dressage, reining, dressage, trail, cows, and even gymkhana. He was also wildly spooky, unpredictable, and had started to become a dangerous. I had limited time for him, and he was developing some hock issues that (looking back) likely contributed to his bad behavior. A BNT (big name trainer) actually told me he was a piece of S*** and what was I thinking when I bought him. I couldn’t sell him, I couldn’t even give him away knowing that he could really hurt someone. I called his only other owner to see if she wanted him back. Needless to say, he was the furthest thing from a “horse of a lifetime”.
That same time, I had another horse come into my life. The sweetest, most predictable, winning, famous, and Grand Prix trained horse named Migs. He was the very definition of a dream! Every day was joy, learning, and pinching myself. You couldn’t rub a genie’s lamp and ask for a better horse. And he was mine! The horse of a lifetime myth was alive and well in my mind - I had proof!
And then I made some decisions. I would turn out Comet for almost 18 months. I saw him once or twice a week at most, and barely even brushed him. I enjoyed our visits, but knew that I needed to separate myself from him to get a clear head on how to deal with his “issues”. In the meantime, I devoted myself to learning all I could from the Migs. I still had it in my head that Comet would never be the horse of a lifetime, so what did it really matter?
Eventually I discovered "clicker training" and I used that as a way to help me help Comet. Having worked in disciplines that have barely heard of clicker training, this was highly irregular and often mocked. He and I now have one of the most amazing horse and human relationships. Now I can call him the horse of a lifetime, but honestly I think that phrase is horrible. Years of learning, experimenting, and never giving up brought us to here and now. What he has learned from me pales in comparison to what I have learned from HIM. And isn’t that was this whole horse thing is about?
Even the most rank, nasty, untalented horses can be amazing. It’s up to us, the Grooms and trainers and owners, to work with what you have to make that horse the best that it can be. And by BEST, I don’t want you to confuse this with talent, ribbon collecting ability, or even looks. By BEST, I mean the horse that can teach YOU the most. Perhaps that’s the horse that teaches you patience, how to do a standing wrap like no other, or the horse that forces you to try things that are unconventional because all other methods are not working. Some horses will teach you when to let go and find them another job or owner. Some horses will teach you how to sit like a fiend. Some will teach you how to deal with spooks, bucks, and bad behavior by forcing you to figure out WHY. Be a horseman, not just an owner or rider.
Don't get confused by internet memes and fantastica stories that say things like "for riders so skillful". I unlocked the magic of my horse Comet from the ground, by myself, with a book about clicker training, and loads of perseverence. (I think that makes me skillful in my brain, not the saddle.) Ignore phrases like "Not often easy". Ahem, excuse me, but a completely easy horse that teaches a young, scared kid the wonders of riding deserves a gold star in my book. And also ignore the whole phrase of "horse of a lifetime". You may spend every second of your life looking for this elusive and "rare" creature that you don't notice the one that you already have.
Every single horse on the planet has something in them that makes them a horse of a lifetime. You just have to look.