When I tell people I don’t ride my horse, I get mixed reactions.
I remember a time not that long ago when I thought that having a horse you can’t or don’t ride seemed like a waste. Isn’t that their sole purpose and duty, to be ridden? Don’t horses ‘need a job’ or need to ‘earn their keep’? In my humble opinion, they all already have a job and that is being a horse.
Don’t get me wrong, I think horses can find enjoyment and meaning in being ridden, and I love to ride, there is nothing like the feeling of working together with your equine partner and sailing across the landscape on their borrowed speed and power. I take lessons when I can and volunteer at a farm where I have opportunities to ride. But, in the 21st century, I don’t believe a horse needs to be ridden to earn their keep and I know many horses that work and play well with humans and are not ridden. I believe that we can ask them to share their wisdom, beauty, and strength with us and we can do amazing things *together* as a partnership and sometimes that partnership can mean that the human’s feet stay on the ground and sometimes it does not.
I didn’t come to believe this easily or by my own volition. I came to it because my horse can’t be ridden due to injury.
I won’t go into the story of why my horse can’t be ridden in this post, but a few years ago I had to make a choice if his life was worth saving. That choice came in the form of fairly costly surgery. My vet informed me that even with the procedure, the odds of a full recovery was low and being able to ride again even lower. I felt such a flurry of emotions, I felt horrible for the pain Bucket was going through and wanted him to be better above all but it also felt like my dreams were being ripped away from me.
It’s difficult for me to write this part down but although I loved him, at that time I had thoughts about how if I decided to put him down instead of going through with surgery, I would be free of his uncertain and potentially expensive future. I could afford to get another horse that I could ride. Those thoughts made me feel so guilty, but they helped me to understand how I truly viewed our relationship at that time. I was looking at my horse as a means to an end, as a way to make me happy, to fulfill my desires without even considering him in the equation and I realized I had to change and that this was my opportunity to show that my love really is unconditional.
We proceeded with the surgery and even during his recovery I still had some hope that there was a future where we could still go on to fulfill my dreams, but as time went on it became clear that would not be the case. He is now considered pasture sound and although I have been given the approval by my vet for light riding, I consider him to be retired from riding. We play on the ground and occasionally I will sit on him for a brief time if he consents. Through this journey, I have learned to be more mindful. I’ve also learned more about liberty horsemanship, body language, anatomy, and veterinary medicine. I have been introduced to a whole world of people who have horses that they don’t ride and learned that my feelings of uncertainty and fear of judgment were not so unique. I’ve found that many in the horse world don’t see anything strange at all about having a horse that isn’t ridden.
I believe that having a horse means making a commitment to their well being, and for us, that meant making a decision not to give up even if I knew that meant I would need to change the expectations of my relationship with my horse.
For so long I wished, hoped, willed, and prayed for him to get better and to just be a “normal” horse again. But wishing for that was futile and stemmed from my desire to ride, not for him to just be a healthy horse. Only once I let go and accepted what was, did the magic begin. In the end, I was the one who had to change, and I am so thankful he showed me how. This is the freedom of viewing our relationship with horses through a lense of equifinality and being open to new ways of learning with our horses. Some who read this will have a horse they ride regularly, some may never ride, some may only ride certain horses and certain horses may only like to be ridden by certain humans. Every relationship is unique and deserves respect. Here’s to everyone with ‘pasture ornaments’ that they love.
If you are looking to get connected with other non-riding horse lovers check out the Non-Ridden Equine Facebook page, In the Spirit of Horse podcast by Mosie Trewhitt and her other content has also been an inspiring source of comfort for me. I also owe so much to Leanne, my partner here on this blog journey and CORRAL Riding Academy where I volunteer and am a student of their method and horses.