Monday, November 22, 2010

When Personalities Collide: Should you Keep the Horse or Your Sanity?

Butting heads is never fun.  Whether you’re gritting your vegetarian teeth while your coworker gorges on a rare burger or you’re sneaking out of bed at night to turn up the thermostat that your polar bear partner insists on keeping at sub-frigid, the stress eventually ruins whatever pleasure you might have found in the relationship.

You may not be able to change jobs or leave your mate, but if the conflict involves your horse, you may actually be risking more than your pleasure in the horse-owning experience.  You could be risking your life.

Let’s talk rationally for a moment about horse ownership.  What brought you to the decision to buy, lease, or adopt a horse is key to your own personality.  Are you a fixer—someone who feels a certain drive to help other people solve their problems?  Are you aggressive?  Passive?  Passive-aggressive?  Are you the strong person your friends turn to in a pinch, or the one who is always leaning on them for support?  Are you calm or chronically hyper? 

It’s your most dominant personality traits that sent you horse shopping, and it may well be those same traits that made you pick a particular horse out of the vast herd of sale and adoptable animals.  Most of the time people choose horses that compliment their personalities.  The quiet, shy, unassuming girl may choose a calm, older horse with a kind eye and not much energy, while the aggressive, controlling woman might fall for the rough horse with personality plus and attitude coming out his ears.  Both would appear to be perfect matches, but in fact only one of these two is likely to result in a successful, long-term relationship.

For the quiet, shy girl, the calm, gentle packer is an ideal companion if his quietness is a reflection of a basic generosity of spirit and willingness to partner with a human.  A horse that is withdrawn as a reaction to abuse can be explosive when it’s least expected, and the timid rider will find herself overwhelmed.  But a careful background check, buying from a trusted seller, and having professional guidance will ensure that this pair will have years of happy rides together and a bond that will benefit both of them.

The aggressive rider, however, while drawn to the horse with all the flash and attitude because it’s a challenge, is likely to find herself face-to-face with 1200 pounds of frustration.  Successful horsemanship is about finesse, not force, so a confrontational owner will be constantly at odds with a horse who will not back down and escalates the battle at every opportunity.

The best way to select a horse is to do so with the guidance of someone who knows you well and is able to be objective in assessing both your riding abilities and your personality.  An instructor, a trainer, or a horse-wise friend who is willing to try out the horses you’re looking at and give you an honest report on their perceptions of those animals may help forestall the anger and frustration that results from a poorly-conceived partnership.  I hedge here with the "may" because no one, not even the most experienced horse trainer, can truly assess an animal in one or two rides and guarantee a fault-free result.  Some horses take longer than others to show their true colors.

If you’ve already made the mistake and bought the wrong horse, are you destined to spend the rest of your riding life dreading trips to the barn?  It can get that bad.  Many horses wind up abandoned at boarding farms either due to lack of funds or lack of enthusiasm on the part of the owner, but personality conflicts often underlie the decision to walk away and just never go back.  Since abandoned and neglected horses are a serious problem in this country, it would be a positive step if more buyers would make better choices.

There are lots of people who will enthuse ad nauseum over the lifetime commitment we make when we buy a horse.  While it’s certainly a lovely thought—more common on the East Coast and in urban areas than in the West where horses are for work as often as for play—that every horse will have a permanent home with a loving owner, it’s also unrealistic.  If you have made a bad marriage with an equine with which you’ve developed irreconcilable differences, move on.  Sell the horse to someone more his type, and either forget about horse ownership for a while or ask for help in finding a horse that really does suit your temperament.  The riding life is a beautiful thing, but an extreme sport like riding is not a good venue for testing the validity of your therapist’s work.  Fewer bad marriages, whether to a fellow human or an equine partner, mean fewer divorces, and everyone comes out ahead. 

If you’re not sure what your personality type is, there are lots of tests available for free online and there are numerous books on the subject.  Keep this list of qualities from the “Big Five” test in mind as you ponder:

Are you: 

                Extroverted (outgoing) or an Introverted (reserved and private)?
                Orderly (clean and neat) or Disorderly (messy and disorganized)?
                 Emotionally Stable (calm and at peace) or Emotionally unstable (easily upset)?
                Accommodating (geared toward helping others) or Selfish? (geared toward your own needs)
                Inquisitive (curious and creative) or Practical  (more realistic and rigid)?

It's easy to make some erroneous connections with the types of horses most likely to find success and happiness in the hands of the personality types above because the plan isn't foolproof.  For instance, a selfish owner should find a selfless, forgiving horse to be a pushover and easy to own while an assertive, less willing horse might cause endless conflict.  That won't prevent him being drawn to the flashier animal for other reasons, like pride of ownership that can go hand-in-hand with selfishness.    An emotionally unstable owner might be drawn to an equally unstable horse figuring, "Hey! He should get where I'm coming from!" while a more stable horse would be more suitable.  A disorganized owner will play havoc with the brain of an overly-dependent horse that needs all its i's dotted and t's crossed at all times. 

Keeping in mind the parameters and assessing both horse and riding on the scale is a good step forward, but might best done by a horse professional with experience in placing horses with appropriate owners.  An instructor or trainer might be the best bet.  Unseen and untested via the Internet...not so much.

How you answer the quiz questions should help to guide you in selecting the right horse and making a happy horse life for you both.  Put each horse you look at on the same scale, and think rationally about how the two of you will mesh.  It’s worth your time and possibly your life to leave your ego at home and choose wisely.

1 comment:

Marli said...

Well written article Joanne and one that would serve any prospective horseowner advantageous to read and give serious consideration if a new or additional horse is in their future!