I’ve been spending a lot of time this winter contemplating the meaning of Partnership when we are talking about our relationships with our horses. I think it is every little horsey girl’s dream (and maybe every horsey boy’s as well) to have that one horse that loves you back as deeply as you love him. That horse that comes running when you call and carries you bravely through adventures as well as performing with just a thought in the arena for whatever discipline you decide to pursue. That’s my definition of partnership and perhaps it’s a standard that is beyond what is reasonable to expect out of any horse.
I blame that expectation on too many Disney movies as well as the the rose-colored glasses of time. My first Morgan, Triton King Cory, was an amazing horse. Talented and athletic, game for any and all adventures, fast, beautiful and the love of my equine life. He was with me through most of the big moments of my life right up through starting my own mobile veterinary service. As a matter of fact, I named my business after him. But, if I’m honest with myself and remove the rose-colored glasses, even that partnership wasn’t perfect. Cory was hard to catch until the day he died. He was a bully with other horses. He hated clippers, hoses, and anything that meant he may have to go to a show. But, in my memory of him he is and always will be perfect. They say you only get one horse of a lifetime and when I lost Cory I was convinced that every horse I had for the rest of my life would pale in comparison. I don’t believe that anymore. I think it’s up to us to attempt to find that magical partnership with every horse we meet. I don’t think we will always be successful but I think it’s up to us to learn not only how to cultivate partnership in our horses but within us as well.
|Triton King Cory 1991|
I have 4 Morgan boys in my string right now. Chico, my 17 yr old gelding has been with me for the longest. He’s the only one that was here to meet Cory and sometimes I think he and Cory must have had long discussions about what I would need from him once Cory was gone. I tried not to expect too much from Chico after losing Cory, knowing it would be hard for him to live up to that “once in a lifetime” title I had already assigned to Cory. Since Chico was 4 or so I could trust him with my life out in the mountains. He has always been steady and trustworthy, and we spent many hours out in the mountains by ourselves exploring and me burning off pent up frustrations from the struggles of becoming an adult and a business owner and a part of the local professional community. Once we came down from the mountains and attempted to compete in the arena, I realized that it wasn’t Chico that was letting our partnership down, it was me. I needed more education to help Chico become everything that he had the potential to become. Chico has allowed me to grow and learn as a horseman and is the reason that I am part of the Cowboy Dressage community. My faith and trust in Chico was well established long before his training level meant that we could do anything at all in the arena. It took much longer for that side of our partnership to develop fully. Chico taught me that being a worthy partner goes both ways, and that I could have that deep connection with another horse after Cory. You do get more than one horse of a lifetime if you allow it.
|With Chico at the Cowboy Dressage Gathering in 2016|
Kit, my 8 year old gelding has been harder to cultivate a partnership with and I think that’s been my fault. Kit and I have been together since he was a weanling. What a character he has been since the day I brought him home. There has never been any doubt in my mind that Kit loves me and enjoys spending time with me. Where we have struggled is in who should be the leader of our partnership of two. We had several unfortunate mishaps during our early years that meant we both lost confidence in the other. Consequently, I got it into my head that he was difficult. Kit got it into his head that I thought he was difficult and he couldn’t trust me to trust him. My relationship with Kit reminds me of that saying from Ray Hunt about training horses. “First you go with him, then he goes with you, then you go together”. Kit and I are finally going together. I can't really pin point what was the turning point in our relationship, maybe it was just time. But, somewhere this past year I realized I could trust him and it's been only progress since that day. Kit taught me that partnerships are built on trust, first and foremost. Without that trust, the training may develop but the partnership never will.
|Kit early in our partnership|
My 5 year old, Ernie is more like a dog than a horse. He is the friendliest and most gregarious horse I have ever known. He is more than happy to just hang out like one of my Irish Setters. He will come running whenever I go out to the pasture and will walk away from his hay to come and see what I’m up to. You would think that this would make him the ideal partner and I was very hopeful that our relationship once under saddle would be that fairy tale, “They lived happily ever after, winning top scores and buckles and ribbons for ever more”. Unfortunately Ernie is plagued by an attitude that abhors work. Trail riding and chasing cows and doing fun stuff he is 100% on board for but work makes him rather grumpy. He reminds me of a teenager rolling his eyes and stomping his foot when you ask him to clean his room. So, right now our partnership is very heavily into the category of parent and child because every time I try to be his friend he starts acting like one of the scouts in my dad’s Boy Scout troop. Ernie has taught me that good Partnerships are about more than just mutual love. There is no doubt that Ernie loves me and I sure as heck love Ernie. Discipline and clear expectations are very important in creating a partnership. Without discipline there is just fun and games and no growth.
|Ernie and I in Montana|
Finally we come to Santa Fe Renegade; undoubtably the most highly trained horse I have ever had the privilege of riding. 15 minutes atop this stallion is like a shot of a highly addictive drug. He really does just perform with a mere thought as we move from jog, to lope to pirouette to flying lead change and back to leg yield. You can paint any picture you would like in the arena from the back of this amazing horse. While having Santa Fe Renegade here in my barn is like a dream come true for me, nobody asked Santa Fe how he was going to feel about the change of address. There are some things that I think he loves about living here in Idaho. I do think he enjoys his time outside hanging with his soul mate, Bonnie. The footing seems to agree with him as he is able to go barefoot for the first time in his life. However, none of us are 8. Santa Fe and Eitan had one of those perfect partnerships and while the move here to Idaho was made for his benefit, I’m not sure that Santa Fe was on board with the change. I’m having to work hard to develop a partnership with Santa Fe. I feel a little bit like I did when I was in high school. I had this deep, all encompassing crush on a boy in the year ahead of me all through high school. I spent a good deal of my time stalking him, mooning over him and trying to find some way to make him like me. I hope I will eventually have more luck winning Santa Fe over than I did with the blue eyed boy in high school. Santa Fe has taught me more than any other horse that partnership isn’t all about obedience and perfect training. That’s only one small piece of the puzzle.
|With Santa Fe Renegade at Wolf Creek Ranch|
Education and an Open Heart. Trust and Time. Discipline and Boundaries. Mutual love and respect. All of these things (and I bet you could add some of your own words) are important in the development of perfect partnership. As I enter into the middle age of my horsemanship career, I hope to have many more partnerships with once in a lifetime horses ahead of me. Most horseman will spend 70-80 years or more in the saddle. One amazing horse during all that time? Seems like such a waste, doesn’t it?