In which sometimes the best (and the hardest) thing to do is to give up

If you read the previous post about the wonderful things the Dragon has done in the last 7 years, you might think that I am a genius trainer, or at least, a tremendously stubborn one.

Well, no.  But, yes.  But also, no.

There are, as at least one commenter pointed out, times when the very best thing to do is give up on a horse. It isn't always the best choice, as we've seen--Fiddle would never have become so delightful if I hadn't invested a bunch of sweat, tears, and problem-solving power in her.  But giving up isn't always the worst choice, either.

And I'm here to tell ya, as a stubborn person, giving up is sometimes the very hardest thing for me to do. 

The Toad had a perfectly respectable "Arab-type" name, but his owner never
wanted me to use it in print...all these years later, I still respect her wish.

FOR took me a VERY long time (too long!) to give up on the Toad, and I'm sorry that I'm such a slow learner.  With the wisdom of retrospect, I think that he might have had a much more brilliant life.  He had a good life.  But not a brilliant life.

I stubbornly refused to give up on him, and that really wasn't the best possible choice, so he never really had a good chance at brilliance.  I'm sorry about that, now.

When I was talking about it with the Usual Suspects this week, everyone within earshot had a similar story to mine:  a horse (or dog, or person, or truck, or job) that really didn't work very well, but they stuck with it, determined to improve things even though forward progress (after a certain point) was clearly not happening and improvement was no-fly.

THAT, in a nutshell, was my relationship with the Toad.

He was an awesome horse, a talented athlete.  He was bred for endurance, the kind of horse with a heartrate that dropped to 52 beats per minute within 10 seconds of trotting into camp.  He had strong legs, good feet, and a back that held the saddle well.
First year in competition, 2001.
The reins are about 10 inches long...otherwise, he'd
drop me in the dirt and run away.

He also had more than one screw loose.

He wasn't crazy, or mean.  His idea of humor was to trot on a loose rein for 5 miles (or 18 miles...or 70 miles...) and then suddenly drop one shoulder, spin 180 degrees, and fly off in some completely random direction for no reason whatsoever, leaving me clinging to the saddle...or not.  Yeah, boi.  That's hilarious.

2005.  Reins are longer, mostly because the dirt is soft here.
We did 2 out of 3 days of 50-mile riding the weekend this photo was taken,
and he ditched me about 2 miles from the finish line on the last day.

I could never trust him.

I could never completely relax while riding him.

I don't think I even relaxed completely even when I was at home, 30 miles away from him, for the entire 8 years we worked together, because the "don't dare think about it" thought buried in the deep back of my mind was always, "Is the next ride the one where he dumps my butt in a tree and leave me for the zombies?"

The biggest irony of all was that the Toad wasn't my horse--and the horse I did have was the most trustworthy creature on the planet.

What can I say?

I sipped just a bit of the Endurance Kool-Aid from the big punchbowl labeled "YA GOTTA GETTA ARAB,"  and it took me 8 years and more than 2,000 competition miles to spit the stuff out.

When "trustworthy" Story died , "angry toddler" Fiddle was delivered...and the extreme nature of her training needs were exactly the breaking point I needed.

I gave the Toad back to his owner with my profound thanks.  I saw a lot of beautiful trails with that horse.  I learned a lot.

But, a few months later, when she asked me if "I'd like to ride him again," I didn't even think before answering.

If she'd asked me "if I would please ride him again," I probably would have done it.  But she didn't ask that.  She asked if I wanted to ride him.

And I didn't.

And I never rode him again.  I petted him.  I played with him.  I worked with him when he got injured.  But I never, ever rode him again.

Looking back now, I ask myself, "what took so long?"

Sigh. Cuz I'm really dumb that way sometimes.

Now, Santa Jim is significantly smarter than me.

He is one of those folks who can learn by watching other people.

Jim and Hana, 2007

He and Hana did some good miles together and had some fun.

2009, I think.

But when his back started paining him, and Hana's "boingitiness" caused him pain, Jim got off and stayed off.
We kept Hana at home, refusing to sell her to "just anybody," especially in the middle of a bad economy.

She's an awesome little mare, but she isn't the right horse for Jim or me.

Jim brought Hana cookies this weekend...and she did her tricks for him!

All my stubbornness in the world wouldn't have changed the Jim/Hana dynamic...

It's easy to smile when riding the right horse.

because she really wasn't really Jim's horse at the end.  She is really Duana's horse.

Matching up Duana and Hana makes everybody happy.

So, there you have it:  my learning curve.

Stubbornness is good.

But letting go is hard good, too.


  1. I didn't learn this lesson in time, and I still carry a lot of guilt about Jubilee because of it.

    This is a great thing to share, Aarene.

  2. It is a really hard thing to decide sometimes. And the more time you've invested in a horse the harder it can be. I've stuck to some and had it work out really well, and let go of others...and that has seemed like a good choice, too. I think you have to go with your gut. Great post, Aarene.

  3. This really hits home, as I am lucky enough to have been on the other end of this. My mare was bought with the belief that she was reasonably bombproof and definitely child-safe. She rapidly flunked out of being child-safe, the daughter she was bought for lost interest, the owner prefers safe, sane, and non-reactive. So: they kept her, leased her out a few times, never quite managed to sell her since the right home never showed up. I fell in love and two years later I was gifted the pony - something like six years after they originally bought her.

    One very happy trail pony, one very happy rider, and one very happy previous owner who we ride with weekly. (Who would, I think, be absolutely delighted never riding the silly mare again.)

    Letting go is hard. Those of us on the receiving end are so very, very grateful for those with the courage and strength to let go.

  4. I agree. There is a time to give up (or not get involved in the first place). Sadly, I learned this lesson the hard way just this year. Another important lesson, and one that can be hard to accept if you have a big ego like mine, is that one trainer's 'give up' horse, is another rider's soulmate. I think there are genuinely horse/rider combos that just plain don't work. And it's not necessarily anybody's fault. Those situations are an example of a good time to throw in the towel as well.

    1. Dom, it took me working with other people's rank horses to figure this out too (in my mid-20's). I just got lucky that I didn't end up with something major broken as well.

      There are some horses I just don't get along with. Period. The hard part is figuring out who is who...

  5. Thank you for this post today!!! I'm struggling with letting go of my pony and worrying that I just didn't 'stick with it' long enough. This is a great reminder that both my pony and I will be happier with better matches.

  6. Agree with all that's been posted... I think horse people are possibly the most stubborn on the planet. When we set our minds on something - be it horse, human, dog etc. we tell ourselves that it's going to WORK! If/when it doesn't - it's easy to berate ourselves, when in reality if we'd just listened to our gut instinct in the first place...

  7. I hate letting go, giving up - call it what you will - it always screams failure to me. And how can you be sure you're not making a huge mistake? I never know, yet it's something I have to come to terms with.

    I just sold my boy Joey - and while I KNOW that it is best for him, and it's best for me, I still feel really sad about it. When all is said and done - I was quite fond of the little blighter! It's a bit awful really, but I am positive he'll be happier and that really is what matters most. I'll come around eventually.... :(

    bonita of A Riding Habit

  8. Its funny that this is your most recent post as my friend and I were just talking about this very thing! Horse people are stubborn and tough because you have to be to stick it out with horses over the long haul. The cry babies get weeded out early. But the other end of the spectrum is "stubborn to the point of stupidity". When we finally learn the lesson and let go of our own "toads" we berate ourselves on falling into the stubborn trap. I say it's time we rejoice in our brilliance and say hooray! I finally figured out this horse isn't for me!! Better luck down the road, pony!
    I totally admit being a part of this stubborn team... by the time I sold that #$%^* of a horse, I was not sad to see him go. He sent me to the hospital and messed me up for years. But I learned my lesson and now know how to match my needs to my horse's abilities and disposition. Those are the best combinations and give me the greatest joy. Not fighting my horse, but loving her because she is perfect for me.... that's what it's all about! Kinda like a marriage.


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