There are definitely horse/human pairings that are not meant to be. Certain personality traits just do not work well together, no matter how much training and discipline are involved. In these cases, an owner may be best advised to let their horse go to a person that is a better-suited match.
Specific examples would be a timid, easily unnerved person with a hot, volatile, anxious horse. A person who wants to putter around at a walk and trot would not be well-suited to a horse who loves to gallop and jump. Someone who is stuck at a small boarding facility, without transportation with which to take the horse on adventures, may not be an ideal partner for a horse who craves action, new scenery and frequent, playful outings.
However; before you make the huge and final choice to divorce your horse, there are several things to consider and significant factors to assess.
Remember that frustration dissipates much faster than regret.
You’ll want to be absolutely certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you cannot work successfully with your horse before you give him up. Use more logic than emotion, be reasonable, honest and rational, but do not rush your decision. A rash decision is often a regrettable decision.
Here are some suggestions and questions to ask yourself that have helped many owners struggling with the idea that they may not be well-suited to their equine partner:
Do you feel unsafe? If you truly feel that you’re physically at risk when working with a horse, get help immediately. You may wish to consult with more than one trainer. If you become nervous, you’ll unnerve the horse and interfere with any potential progress. You may want to put the horse with a qualified, respected trainer for at least 2 or 3 months, taking lessons with them as well during that time. If you need to rebuild your confidence, look for a trainer who has calm, enjoyable, older schooling horses that you may learn from.
What are you doing to thwart your horse’s progress? Almost always, if a horse is acting up or running into a training roadblock of any type, the rider is to blame. Think carefully about what the trouble is and seek to understand what you’re doing to cause it. Never allow frustration to interfere with your ability to take responsibility for any issue with any horse. Example: your horse is the picture of politeness and perfection on the ground. Only under saddle do you have a significant challenge. As soon as you try placing the saddle on the horse’s back, he begins to act up. Look at saddle fit. Seriously, really look at saddle fit. No matter which master saddle-fitter you’ve had create this artful piece of tack for Fluffy, your horse has the final word on fit. If he says it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Look too at your reactions to the horse’s misbehavior. How are you rewarding unwanted antics? The number one cause of horse problems are humans. Examine your actions and attitude thoroughly in all manner of things that may seem problematic.
Are you approaching the horse with a positive attitude? Attitude is everything. Negative perceptions are self-fulfilling prophecies; what you expect to happen, will happen. If you need to take a few days away from the barn so you can adjust your attitude (and you can, if you choose to do so!), that’s far better than interacting with your horse while you’re carrying negative mental and emotional baggage. If you’re in a setting where you’re the sole caretaker, pay someone trustworthy, competent, reliable and kind to handle the basic chores for you for a few days. Step away from the situation temporarily until you can jump back in with a cheerful, hopeful, can-do outlook.
Do you really understand and respect your horse? These are essential elements to progress and a happy, long-term relationship. Horses have different needs and, just like humans, different learning styles. There’s no one-size-fits-all training program and some horses just do not have what it takes to do well within specific disciplines. Take an honest look at your horse, her innate preferences and her abilities. If your number one goal in life is to become a grand prix jumper, a Fjord may not be the right choice. Even if you love that horse with all your heart, you’ll both be frustrated by your efforts to make him fly through a 4’6 course in under 60 seconds. You either change your course (trail riding or dressage may be more up Ingrid’s alley) or you change your horse. But, before you trade in the horse, pay very close attention to his needs and desires. In the scenario we just described, maybe Ingrid does have a very willing attitude and is athletic enough to master obstacles up to 3’. She excels at dressage. She is brave and adventurous. You could compromise your course of action and switch to eventing. Now you’re doing something you’ll both love. Assess your future with the question “What can we do?” rather than focusing on what you cannot accomplish.
In summary, have you done everything possible to give your partnership an optimum chance for success?
Have you worked with a highly skilled, positive and encouraging trainer?
Have you altered your training methods to allow for the individual needs of your horse?
Have you made sure that all the horse’s tack is properly fit, comfortable, and adequately supportive?
Have you tried different methods of training or riding if your horse seriously balks at certain techniques or practices?
Have you honestly assessed how you’re personally contributing to undesirable equine behaviors and then worked diligently to correct your own actions, reactions and habits?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, and have spent a good two to three years working with your horse, and still feel that you’re unsafe, incompatible and mutually displeased with the union, it may be time to move on. It happens, and when it does, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or the horse. It simply means that the two of you are not a good match.
If you’ve diligently explored all potential avenues for success and given yourself and your partner every opportunity to progress, and still find that you’re both unfulfilled, there’s no shame in admitting that new pairings could be the best possible choice for you both. As long as your decision isn’t made in a rash or careless manner, it’s unlikely to be one you’ll regret.