Chapter thirty eight – Horses for courses

With the huge array of breeds and cross-breeds across the nation, there is no shortage of different personality traits when it comes to horses. And we’ve all met them; the ridiculously clever ones, the nervous ones, the athletic ones and the can’t get out of bed ones. Over the years I have always enjoyed imagining what a lot of these horses would be like if they were human and when I do this with Tag, I see him as the the hopelessly nervous friend, who chain smokes, starts every sentence with, “You’ll never believe what happened to me,” and shakes his leg when sitting down ‘relaxing’. As a person and as a horse, Tag is quite a tiring character and his constant need for reassurance and stability, tests my skills of negotiation and patience, daily. But as with all my best friends, horse or human, I wouldn’t change him and accept that is just the way he is, which I think is the mark of a proper friend.

Over the years I have met many horses that maybe didn’t quite fit the life that had been given to them, such as show jumpers that would have loved the life of a western horse, cantering contentedly across the planes. Racehorses that would have preferred to trot around an arena as a riding school horse and riding school horses that fancied their chances at the grand national. Very often the life that the individual horse is bred and trained for, is not always the most suited to their personality.

Many moons ago, I took a very popularly bred, big, strong, dark bay, strikingly handsome, three year old gelding to the Thoroughbred sales in Doncaster. Looking back at the fun times I’ve had at Doncaster horse sales, I think they could have a blog of their very own, but as I’ve mentioned, pre-social media, those fun memories will stay in my head rather than popping up as a facebook memory to remind me of how skinny I was back then!

At this particular sale, I was there with just two horses, so I got to know them quite well. They were half brothers and on paper they should have been similar, but the reality was very different. The horse in question, was accompanied by his much smaller, more robust, twin, who stood in the stable next to him and was every bit the racehorse, ready to fulfill his calling. Oozing with confidence and relishing in the whole atmosphere, he strutted round the pre-sale show ring like he was worth a million pounds – which he wasn’t, but we didn’t tell him that.

Unfortunately, his much bigger, leaner, less confident, half-brother did not share his enthusiasm and found it all a bit underwhelming. He was quite clearly miserable and I’m sure he spent all day praying that no one would want to see him being trotted up – which of course with his breeding was never going to be the case. So after the end of a long day showing off his huge stride up and down the sales yard, I would get him tucked up for the night and that is when he was truly happy. Many children have comforters (mine included), but so did this three year old, future star of the racetrack. He would literally hold his breath, wide-eyed, as I lifted his old, tatty, smelly, jute rug out of his cupboard in his stable. And as his rug came into sight, he would start to nicker, as if he was seeing his long lost mate. I had never before and have never since, seen a horse so attached to a material item and it really exemplified how different individual horses can be. That rug was his little bit of comfort and when he was sold, I made sure the rug went with him, but I always wondered how things turned out for him in his racing career, because at that time, I could imagine him being nothing other than someone’s pet.

So as humans, we put horses into pigeon holes, just as we do each other. We seem to feel like we have to make excuses or justify an individuals behaviour. “Oh their grades weren’t that good, but they are so sporty.” “No he doesn’t really like football, but he is a whizz on the computer.” Is that the choices, sporty or academic? What’s wrong with just being yourself? Trying to justify a person’s character because it doesn’t ‘fit’ the perceived stereotype, is something we are all guilty of and as horse-owners we do this too. He’s bred to race/event/jump, well that may be, but it’s not a foregone conclusion to success.

At the end of it all, an individual can only be themselves and a horse can only fulfill their potential if they have the mental and physical capacity to do that. Tag was a very good racehorse and if circumstances had been different, that might have been all he was. Thankfully his horizons broadened and now he is doing quite well in the dressage arena and with some more work I think he has the potential to do as much as I am capable of! So our story/chapters continues and I will do my best not to put Tag’s square peg into a round hole, my mind is open to what we can do. But we will do it together and even if I’m not able to push him as much as he is capable of, he doesn’t know that – and nor does he care. Fun, therapy and fulfillment is what I aim for and luckily for me, I know we can achieve that. #heisnotsquare #andhedoesnotcare #heishappy #andiamhappywithhim #missionaccomplished

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