It’s a fine line . . .

(“It isn’t even their idea to be ridden in the first place . . .”)

. . . between the numerator and the denominator. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
It’s also a fine line between empathy/feeling for your horse and over empathy/making excuses for every resistance, objection, or failure to perform.

Let’s agree that horses are at our mercies. It isn’t even their idea to be ridden in the first place, much less to jump a Normandy bank and drop into water or to execute a line of zigzag half passes in the canter. When you confront this question, it comes down to what it means to be fair to them. More than once I have arrived to give a lesson and found the owner wrestling make her horse bend only to discover that the day before he had a whole neckful of fall vaccinations. Do we wonder why he might be complaining? And if he does finally comply, what would it prove?

At the other extreme occasionally I hear the most eye-rolling excuses from riders who anthropomorphize every reaction their horse offers. “He hates his green saddle pad.” “He won’t work after the kids leave for school.” “He didn’t get his treat when I put his bridle on.”

I admit to being kind of old school— not so archaically-minded as to condoning ponies in Wales working in the coal mines, but long before the advent of modalities like glucosamine, hyaluronic acid joint injections, custom saddles refitted every few months, theraplates, BEMER treatments, equine massage, et. al., horses still performed. They did difficult things and they did them well. If you saw a little scrape and it was “too far from his heart to kill him,” you went and rode anyway. Probably you made allowances and didn’t push your horse to the limit, but you did not necessarily give him four days of stall rest either.

As I said, there’s a fine line. There must be kindness and care and reason. At the same time speaking as one who wakes up with mild aches and pains or feeling a little tired and goes about life regardless, it’s not unreasonable to request that your horse does the same.