Is It My Horse, or Is It Me?

We might be quick to blame a horse for misbehaving, but a closer look at equine behavior might reveal we’re the problem. Here’s what to consider.

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Is It My Horse, or Is it Me?
Pointing at the horse when things go wrong seems like the easy way out. But if we want to be fair—and want to improve our horsemanship and our horses’ welfare—we should be asking ourselves, 'Is it my horse … or is it me?' | Photo: iStock

Urraca knows what she’s doing. The champion Lusitano dressage horse responds quickly and expertly to the precise cues of her rider and trainer, Barbara Clément Klinger of Boissière Ecole, France. A shift of the hip here, a lift of the reins there, and touch of the spur, and the massive gray mare reacts with lightness and—dare we say it?—willingness. They exhibit a partnership that blurs the line between horse and rider as two separate beings.

Now, enter Christa. Yes, me. It’s my turn to ride the Iberian horse. This won’t be so hard. I’ve been studying and writing about and practicing learning theory on horses for years. I can ride a fancy Lusitano dressage horse, right?

But I swing my leg over Urraca, and that striking unison of rider and horse is gone. I’m definitely a rider who’s sitting on a horse and trying to communicate clearly and subtly … and not getting very far. Urraca’s confused; I’m frustrated. The ride is a real workout and, frankly, it’s not very fun for either of us. It’s awfully tempting to just drop the reins and my head and say, “She’s not listening!” or “She doesn’t want to work for me!” or even, “She’s just trying to see what she can get away with

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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