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We Are Not Beasts of Burden

October 3, 2011

I am completely obsessed with my best friend’s horse Hailey. She is an “off the track” Thoroughbred, so she can really be difficult to ride sometimes (which makes her fun) and is the sweetest thing on the ground. She’s a hard worker and wants to do well, for Jacob her owner especially. They were among the top scorers last year for the jumper division on Long Island, which was pretty amazing. So, it was a little strange this weekend at a horse show when she literally stopped directly before the first jump of her course and then proceeded to leap over it. A lot of people’s first jumps are what you call sticky, so it would have been shrugged off, but she did it again before the second jump, and then again at jumps 1 and 2 for her next two courses. Our trainer checked out her legs, another trainer checked out her legs, I checked out her legs; she was fine physically, but something was up.

I am not GOING anywhere, so stop hanging on my face.

 Jacob has a tendency to really pull the reins when Hailey’s jumping. He is a fantastic rider, but everyone has flaws and that’s his. Particularly when you’re asking your horse off the ground, she is going to want to move her head. It’s pretty counterproductive to hold her back when you want her to go forward. She takes what we call a victory lap around the ring whenever she finishes a course, and I think it’s because she’s so happy he’s let go. I ride Hailey when Jacob goes away and I always try to let go of her, because that’s what she likes. Yea, it’s a little scary sometimes because she was trained to run, but I have to trust her. She is there to work for me, but I am there to work for her as well. That’s something that riders sometimes overlook, which is frustrating to watch.

You’re pulling hard. It’s hard, really hard. Please don’t pull as much. …I said please. Ok, you know what?

I don’t think her behavior was rotten or dirty in any way. Hailey’s been telling Jacob, subtly, that he’s been holding her a little too much. There’s this whole image of horses being “beasts of burden”, but there has to be some sort of exchange where the horse benefits. Many horses truly love their owners and their jobs (I know this because I have met several who have gone into “depression” from retirement). This does not mean, however, that everything they do is catered around their rider. It’s a partnership, even a relationship, and it demands communication and understanding. Horses very often tell you what they are feeling and planning. There are almost always signs. Hailey was acting fine the whole morning but she had been backing off from jumps at home. A lot of people were upset with her, but was it really her fault?


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  1. jenny permalink

    What an amazing insight, Rachel, that horse and rider are literally in a partnership, a relationship, but very often only one of them gets blamed for things that go wrong. Does that sound familiar or what? The one who can’t speak up, the one who has taken a subservient role–whether we’re talking about men, women, children, animals, employees, citizens, or whatever–tends to get blamed. This is an example, I think, of a particular situation–in this case a riding anecdote–opening up to reveal a universal truth. Your sympathy, circumspection, and sense of justice come across very powerfully.

    One thing I would perhaps emphasize in a rewrite is to perhaps more explicitly illuminate the nature of thoroughbreds, their love of speed and running. Horse people know this, but not everyone, i think, and it explains why this particular horse would respond so drastically to pulling on the reins. Oh, and also, I’m intrigued by your suggestion that Jacob might actually be *afraid* to let her free to really run–his fear is literally holding them both back. This could become a post about letting go of fear, too. Many important themes raised here!

    I like this blog. Are any of your horse friends reading it (not the horses, but you know!)?

    • Thank you, I tried to take into account what your comment said last week. I will attempt rewriting this to make it better. None of my horse friends know about this blog, unfortunately. I’m a little too paranoid that someone would be offended. haha

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