This has been a really rough weekend. I have a wonderful, sweet, not quite 4 month old Irish Setter puppy. He is the canine embodiment of goodness and the light of my eye. I haven't loved a dog like this in a long, long time. Saturday morning Dan and I were doing chores and as always our dogs were "helping". Their version of helping is pretty much gamboling around us while we bustle about feeding, watering and the many other assorted chores that come with equine and bovine husbandry. We don't allow the dogs to chase or otherwise antagonize the stock so they know to stay out of the fence lines unless invited and the Healer and two Border Collies are respectful of this. The Irish Setter puppy is obviously still learning. He prefers to be right with us. Because of that I've been trying to stay out of the pens when he is with us right now just because he doesn't know to stay out of the way. Our horses are used to dogs. They are underfoot all the time both at home and on the trail. I mostly worry about a horse inadvertently stepping on a dog that isn't paying attention.
What happened Saturday wasn't inadvertent. I was standing outside the fence with Patrick. He had moved to just barely in the fence line but wasn't going any further and was paying attention so I was just watching him to be sure he didn't go in any further. That's when my gelding came over and out of the blue struck him and broke his femur. It was quick, it was violent, and it was heartbreaking to see. It was like watching one person that you love, trust, and respect stab another person that you love, trust and respect right in the back. I know that is anthropomorphism and I'm not trying to place human values on the actions of my animals, but that was the heart wrenching feeling that it evoked in me. I've had horses and dogs all my life and we co-exist like one big happy family. I have never in my life had something like this happen. I suppose it was just a matter of time.
Anyway, the incident resulted in two separate surgeries for the poor puppy. Anybody who has animals that they love as their children knows how hard it is to watch your pet in pain. They don't understand and you cannot explain it to them. They just hurt and you hurt for them. It isn't any different for veterinarians and their own pets and sometimes I think it's even worse because we know the worse case scenarios and it's very difficult to keep your mind from going to the procedure failure statistics instead of the procedure success statistics that we use to bolster our clients confidence.
So, here is the other heart wrenching side of this sad tale. The gelding that did the deed is my aspiring bridle horse. I have hours and hours of concentrated training into this horse that I have been carefully leading on the path to become my all star. I love this horse and enjoy him and hadn't planned to part with him. Now, I can't even look at him. The anger that I feel towards him is irrational and powerful when coupled with how much I love him. He is, after all, just a horse. He has absolutely no history of any aggressive behavior like this. In all likelihood it'll never happen again. Like I said, he's been around our dogs and had them underfoot for the past 3 years and I don't even remember him pinning an ear at them.
But, irrational or not, it's how I feel. I know without a doubt that that anger will fester and interfere with my ability to continue his training. You see, in horsemanship, all emotion MUST leave the equation. Horses don't hold grudges, they don't premeditate, they don't act out of malicious intent. That is why they don't understand it when we do act that way. Punishment is ineffective in horses because they don't think that way. They move from one minute to the next and can go from aggressively chasing a pasture mate away from a scrap of hay to eating nose to nose with them the next minute because of that ability to move beyond the emotion of the minute. It's not because they are stupid, it's because they are herd animals that rely on that kind of social dynamic to survive. It's a shame people don't have the same instincts. Think of the splendor of a society that can instantly forgive and forget and move on.
So when you carry a grudge with your horse you become unfair and injust. When you carry the emotions of your bad day, or the remembrance of the shinanigans your horse pulled the last time you rode into today's ride, you have failed your horse. When his little mistake gets inappropriate correction due to your anger it can create fear in the horse. If you ride with anger in your heart, they feel it in your hands and it isn't fair to the horse. When you lose the inability to distance yourself emotionally you fail the horse.
So, as hard as it is for me, I've decided that the best thing I can do for my gelding is to put him into the hands of another horseman that can approach his training without the emotional baggage that I now carry. He deserves to have a partner that allows him a clean slate. I can no longer be that for him. He is an amazingly talented horse with the kind of custom designed lightness and responsiveness that you just don't come across very often. Because of the intense and specialized training he has had the transition to a new rider won't be very easy for him, but it'll be easier for him than his trusted rider riding with anger in her hands.
I care too much about the future of this horse to risk riding him with anger and creating fear. I come across people all the time that are struggling with their relationship with their horse. Maybe the horse did something that scared them so they lost trust. Maybe they just don't see eye to eye with the horse and cannot establish a level of communication that is working for them. Whatever the reason the resulting relationship is one of tension. The owner is constantly angry and disappointed with their "jerk" of a horse. The horse is in either a constant state of fear or struggle for dominance in the pecking order because of the fear they sense in their supposed leader. Sometimes those relationships can heal, but honestly, for both horse and human I just wish they would go their separate ways. The person needs a horse that they can trust and communicate with and so does the horse. There is no shame in claiming irreconcilable differences. Humans have such a hard time letting go or giving up the fight and all it does is drag out the misery for all involved. Sometimes, as hard as it is to admit, there is a better person to take the reins.
So, while this is an emotional decision on the heels of an incredibly emotional weekend, it isn't a decision that I have made lightly. As opposed to those who will view this decision as one I have made out of hate, I have made this decision out of love. I love my dog and I love my horse. I love my horse so much that I would rather see him in the hands of another person than risk treating him unfairly because of my inability to move beyond this moment in time. He deserves better from me and I know I just am not able to give it to him. Someday when I am completely able to detatch all emotion from my horsemanship I know I will have finally completed my journey.