In my line of work, I meet a lot of people who are struggling with their horses in some way, and sometimes in a lot of ways! While this might sound like a negative situation for those people, the fact is that the challenges our horses present often prove to be a path towards tremendous growth and learning, for both horses and people. That said, some people are in a truly difficult place where the challenges presented by their horse seem overwhelming. In this situation, people often feel deeply frustrated and possibly even afraid of their horse, and wonder if they should make the decision to find the horse another owner. In this post, I’ll give you some thoughts that might be helpful if you are finding yourself in this situation.

Sometimes, the challenges our horses present can feel overwhelming, yet I’ve often seen people make tremendous progress by simply learning to work with a more relational approach to training.

From the outside, the decision to move a challenging horse down the road may sound like a simple equation: If the horse is too much for you, you should sell the horse. In reality, the decision to part with a horse can be a difficult and heartbreaking one. We may believe we are weak because we are “giving up”.  We may believe that we have failed the horse and failed ourselves. We may love the horse dearly, despite the struggles we’ve had, and it can be extremely upsetting to think of sending them away. We worry about finding the horse a good home. All of that and more can make the idea of parting with a horse anything but easy. So, how do you make the right decision?

One way to start processing what to do is to think of yourself very much as we think of a horse having to deal with some sort of new pressure. If the horse has been taught how to think through various pressures in a way that has given him the confidence to handle whatever comes at him, this new pressure is likely to be a non-issue. He may even enjoy the novelty of the experience and gain even more self-confidence from it. However, if the horse has not been given tools that allow him to process different pressures and respond to them thoughtfully, he is going to tip over into self-preservation and feel the need to flee. Now think of the challenges your horse presents for you as a form of pressure, and you are the horse having to deal with that pressure. Do you generally feel confident that you can find a way to work through the issues, or are you frequently tipping over into doubt and fear? Do the challenges seem like an opportunity to learn and become a better horseman, or are they stripping away the joy you once felt around horses?

Even if the answer is the latter, the solution may not be to sell your horse. You may simply be like that horse that feels the need to flee from pressure, meaning you just haven’t yet been given the right tools to help you work through the “pressures” your horse presents. I can tell you that there have been many cases where a student came to me feeling pretty hopeless about ever getting to a good place with their horse, only to find things changing — often surprisingly quickly — when they changed their approach and started working in a relational context. Therefore, for many people, the answer is really about getting the right help, and being okay with needing help in the first place.

I first met my long-time student Susan Kauffmann when she brought her remarkable but often challenging Morgan, Gryphon, to one of my early clinics. A trainer herself at the time, Susan recognized that her traditional approach was missing something when it came to settling Gryphon’s mind, so she went looking for new ways to help her horse. Says Susan, “Gryphon was never an easy horse, but he truly taught me the meaning of the Buddhist saying, ‘The Obstacle is The Path’. He pushed me to seek and to grow so much, and for that I am forever grateful.” Susan’s hard work with Gryphon paid off for her, for the horse, and even for me, as I ended up using Gryphon in a number of demonstrations and in this photo shoot for EQUUS magazine (photo by Robin Duncan).

It is important to remember that none of us have all the answers, and I promise you that even the best horsemen can use some advice now and again. So, if you are feeling lost with your horse, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who has a good track record helping both horses and their riders overcome the kinds of issues you are dealing with.

But, if you have gotten what you believe to be good help, you’ve put in plenty of effort, and you still can’t get to a place where you are enjoying working with and riding your horse, it may truly be that you and your horse are not a good match. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, and if you aren’t having a good time, you can be pretty sure your horse isn’t either. Horses are extremely sensitive creatures, and they don’t enjoy a problematic partnership any more than we do. They also tend to feel our fears and frustrations, which can make them insecure and even more likely to demonstrate challenging behaviors. Therefore, while it is a hard truth, it is a real truth that hanging on to a horse we just can’t build a harmonious relationship with is usually not doing the horse any favors. And, if you are able to find someone who can be what that horse needs, you will all be better off in the long run.

Then again, if you really love the horse, you get along with them in ways other than riding, you can provide a good life for them, and you can afford it, you might also consider keeping the horse as a companion for you and your other animals. There is actually a whole movement referred to as “the non-ridden equine”, made up of people who have horses but choose not to ride them for any number of reasons. Some do other things with their horses such as trick training or liberty work. Some just enjoy hanging out with their horses and caring for them. The bottom line is that as long as the horse is happy with the life you provide, there is no right or wrong in terms of your choice to ride the horse or not.

Cindy in Nevada spent many years working hard to feel safe on her beloved yet sometimes frightening 16 hand Arabian, but finally decided to get something smaller with a quieter mind. As she explains, “I really started to feel that life was too short, and I didn’t want to feel afraid when riding anymore. I definitely had mixed feelings about getting another horse and not riding my beautiful Arabian again, but honestly, I’m having so much fun with my little Rocky Mountain Horse now that I know it was the right decision.”

If you do decide to part with your horse, please recognize that there is no failure in that. It is a brave and honest recognition that you are simply not the best partners for each other, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Certainly take your time and do your utmost to ensure that your horse is going to the right home, and also take your time to find another horse and be honest in that search as well. Whatever decision process led to you having a horse wasn’t right for you, believe in yourself that you know better this time around. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help in choosing your new equine partner, especially if you are still relatively new to the horse world. Your “right horse” is out there!