Horses are like men…only better!

I got kicked in the leg today. I also had a chunk bitten out of my shoulder. I came home bone-tired and reeking. It was a good day. No, actually, it was a great day!

The relationship of women (especially little girls and ponies) with horses is a much talked-about topic. Why do women have such an affinity for these creatures of the equine nature? I don’t think we will ever fully understand it and I don’t think we should try too hard.

As I recently wrote, I have a rather complicated situation on my hands. Horses don’t usually get a say in where they live or who gets to ride them, who owns them. What if she doesn’t like me? But then yesterday, for the first time after months of working with her when she saw me approaching her paddock, she nickered and met me at the gate – she was really happy to see me!

Of course today she decided she wasn’t happy when I did her girth up and sank her teeth into my shoulder. I shouted at her. She looked a little bewildered. But then, she let it go. I got on and we went on to have a wonderful ride.

That is why horses are better then men. You never have to wonder how they feel, because they will show you. When they are happy, you know it. When they are angry or hurting, they show you. And they don’t stay angry. They don’t hold grudges. They live in the moment. They get pissed off and then they let it go. They don’t get to choose their circumstances but they always make the best of it. I spend a lot of time looking at horses wondering why on earth they do the things we ask of them – for no reason other than the fact that we asked!

Our relationship with our horses are only as complicated as we allow them to be. They don’t ask for much and they give everything they have. Perhaps this is why horsey women are so hard to get along with. Perhaps we expect people to be too much like horses? I mean, if a man had kicked or bitten me, I would have been a whole hell of a lot more angry and would never just have laughed it off!

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We learn nothing from easy horses…

“Horses come into our lives for a reason.” someone said to me not so long ago. There is a lesson to be learnt from every horse that cross our paths, but some teach us more than others and leave deeper hoof prints in our hearts…

Twenty four years ago, I received a phone call asking if I wanted a companion horse for my then riding horse. This one had a particularly heart-breaking story. She was rescued from a state of severe neglect and possible (read probable)  abuse. These are the warnings that came with this particular horse: “You will never be able to ride her.” “Don’t take the head collar off because you will never get it on again.” “She kicks.” “She needs to be sedated for the farrier.” “You can’t pick her back feet up.” “She hates men.”

I didn’t particularly need another horse and I am sure my parents didn’t really want another mouth to feed, but the minute I saw this little red-head, I knew I couldn’t leave her. In another blog post, I detail some of our history, but tonight, I am saying goodbye. Yesterday, that beautiful soul left this earth and I can only hope that I did good by her.

In all of the 24 years I had her, I actually only rode her for three or four…And in those few years she taught me more than any other one horse ever did. I had no previous experience with difficult horses and I had very little help (although, I did get help in from experts when I got stuck).

Blaze arrives on 14 May 1993


When she first arrives, it takes me 30 minutes or more, every time I want to catch her. When your hand reaches for the head collar she rears up. Hold on to it, and she swings around and gives you a double barrel! (Learnt that one the hard way.) But eventually we can remove the yellow head collar that has been on her head for many months and catch her again.

26 April 1994- on board for the first time!

Less than a year later, I sit on her the first time! And very shortly after that, we attend our first little training show.

In the tickets at Pretoria Show!

In August 1995 we go to the Pretoria Show ( at that stage in my life, this show was a big deal!)

Another year later, we are flying! Sadly, in the next summer she contracts the dreaded African Horse Sickness, but survives. When I go abroad to work for a year, I send her to live with a horsey friend of my mother’s where she contracts some other mysterious illness, but pulls through again! During my years at university I do ride her quietly and she is quiet enough for me to even put friends on her who have no riding experience whatsoever.

By the time I move to the other side of the country (ten years after I first took her on), the farrier can come in on his own and do her feet and my mother (who is terrified of horses!) can groom her. She lives a quiet retired life for the next  14 years but I do always wonder if she misses our glory days the way I do.

Photo: EQUERRY Photography

In the few years we rode together we had more fun and more memories than I can recall in one blog post. She was a tricky one. She kicked, she reared, she panicked in a big way. I fell off her more than I care to remember. But she will forever remain one of my life-time biggest achievements and the grand mistress of everything I know about training horses. I salute you my Crazy Blaze.

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Before you get involved with a horsey woman…

14079883_1793484610931525_3355577061828467367_nI always say that there should be a support group of sorts for the husbands of horsey women. There are certain woes that only men involved with horsey women could understand. We shouldn’t generalise, and of course there are as many personalities among horsey women as there are horsey women, but I do like to think that there a few things that the majority of us share.

First off, we are selfish. But not in the way you think. Because we do not care only for ourselves; it is just that we have taken up the responsibility that comes with riding horses. Horses did not ask to be in our lives- we made that decision for them and we are therefore responsible for their health and well-being. Horses need commitment and time. A lot of it! Much, much more time and commitment than you can even begin to imagine.

When we are at the stable yard, time works differently. I can’t quite explain this phenomenon – stable-yard-time stands still while that in the outside world may keep moving. Five minutes with our horses is possibly equal to 2 hours out in the “real” world. (Some clever physicist should probably look into that – it could potentially make time-travel possible!) This means we are often late coming back from the yard. You should probably learn to cook. And possibly eat alone.

If you do not enjoy the smell of horse-sweat mixed with leather, dirt and hay you had better learn to like it because our cars, our living rooms and very likely our bedrooms will always be filled with variable horse-related paraphernalia, horse hair and strands of hay. If we like horses, we are more than likely also lovers of many other animals and in addition to the above-mentioned, our houses will be filled with furry creatures, great and small.

In most cases, we will have been involved with horses way before you came along and after you leave, it will be their manes we cry into. They are our friends, confidantes sports partners, teammates…I could carry on, but you get my drift. When we say we will choose horses above you, please believe us. This is not a joke and it is not about to change. Ever.

No, not even when babies (should we be willing to give up riding for a time to even have babies!) come along. Once they can hold their own heads up, babies are perfectly able to be put on a horse. As they grow older we will teach them to ride, love horses and double your trouble! Loving horses teaches responsibility. Yes, they will inevitably fall off, and we will make them get back on again. Perseverance builds character, after all!


We are strong women. We sit on the back of 600+kg animals and haul around bales of hay that is equal to our own body weight. We can take you…but we are also strong, emotionally.

We do not need you in our lives and the fact that you are in it, means that we actually want you there. If you cannot live with any, or possibly all of the above, then please move along swiftly before we get attached. For we are not heartless. On the contrary; we are very emotional creatures, with big hearts and a vast capacity to love. We are passionate about our animals and about our sport. So if you are lucky enough to have the love of a horsey women, you should feel very privileged indeed!

Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and, once it has done so, he will have to accept that his life will never be the same. – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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It’s Complicated…

In the horsey world, there are two kinds of people. Those who have their own horses, and those who don’t. Whenever you are talking to a newly-met fellow horsey person, the question will inevitably pop up in the conversation: “So do you have your own horse?” I have been one of a very fortunate few who have had my own horse since the age of ten.

The last two years, since having had to pts my riding horse, have been tough on me. I have had a variety of answers to that question. from: “I am leasing a horse at the moment” to “No, but I am riding a horse for so-and-so, or for such-and-such”.

Now, no matter how you look at things, when you ride a horse, and work with it for any amount of time, you build some form of relationship with it. And when a horse does not actually belong to you, you only make the mistake of falling in love with it once. After that, you have learnt your lesson and you keep a safe emotional distance for fear of having your heart broken. You can’t help it, but the relationship is just, somehow, different.

At the moment, however, my situation is rather a complicated one. Although I do not currently own a horse, the plans have been made and put into place that I will own one in three month’s time. I have been riding said horse for the past few months already and now I am just saving up to be able to buy her. But she is not mine just yet…

Every now and again, I feel a bit like a baby goat when the first rains of the season fall. I feel like jumping around and shouting with glee: “I have a horse again!!” and then I remember, that, actually, I really don’t. Not just yet.

But slowly, the relationship is changing from “a horse I ride”, to something more. I have allowed the barrier to weaken just a little, but at the same time don’t want to seem presumptuous or to step on toes…which makes the answer to: “Do you have a horse?”, well, complicated…


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Breaking the mold

Contrary to what non-dressage riders think, there is a lot more to it than just riding around in circles and boring the horse into submission. It is hard to describe the levels of unison one reaches with a dressage horse. Years ago, I did ballroom dancing and when you are “dancing” with a horse, you reach a level of communication that goes even beyond what two humans can achieve. I love my dressage, I really do.

But sometimes, you have to break the mold a little bit, let loose and have some fun! So today, I did just that! I was supposed to interview someone for the book I am writing on the human-horse relationship and have been struggling since the end of last year to get hold of her. Today, I finally got to meet her and you won’t believe it, I never got to do my interview! Instead, I relived a little bit of my crazy youth.

Since I can remember, my mother has drilled into us: “Always take something warm, even in the middle of summer, because the weather can suddenly change and you don’t want to be caught unprepared!” Visiting horsey people and places I have been caught unprepared too many times, so now I am in the habit of carrying a bag with riding gear in my car wherever I go. It came in handy today.

While we were supposed to be talking about the relationship between equines and people, she was trying to organise a ride for some horses over some cross-country jumps. I don’t normally invite myself along, but without thinking I heard myself say: “I brought riding gear.”

Let me just state that I have not jumped a cross-country fence since the year 2005 and since I have had kids I have jumped nothing higher than my knee! But I went out there today and jumped bigger than I have ever jumped in my life. A few times I thought to myself: “Shit, I think I might die now.” The great thing was though, that I didn’t spend too much time overthinking anything and decided that if the horse was willing to jump (and she was very willing), all I had to do was stay on top. I managed to do that and live to tell the tale! Afterwards we took all the horses to swim in a dirt dam to cool off. I haven’t done any of this stuff since I was a kid.

These are the sorts of things my friends and I did when I was little. We would spend all day out on our horses, jumping anything we could find and them take them for a swim in a dam. (Any damn we could find, really!)

I was a great day and it felt good to break the mold a little bit! But tomorrow it’s back to my 60×20!


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Feeling grim

Today I decided that human beings are deep down, basically shit. The friends that make promises don’t keep them. The people that are there for you when you actually need help are not the ones that have claimed to be your friend and have your back. They are the ones that happen to be around you and can offer help because it suits them at that particular time. No-one will actually go out of their way and inconvenience themselves for you. No. You can’t count on anybody!

Yesterday I dropped my son at school and arrived to find three 6-year-old girls in the midst of histrionics. One had called the other “the ugliest person in the world.” What on earth causes a child that young to want to inflict so much pain on someone else? I am not a psychologist, so I don’t actually know, but I know that if someone that young is doing it, there must be some part of that type of behaviour that is simply in-born. It is just our nature to be cruel.

A couple of weeks ago, my son came home and explained how he and his friend (The only one he has made since going to school. Yes, he still cries every Monday I drop him off and sometimes he even bursts into tears on a random Thursday, because he really just doesn’t want to be there.) are gathering some seeds from a certain tree at school, the friend is making them into bracelets and he (my son) will paint them, and then they will sell them and share the profit. I even spoke to the other boy’s mother and told her how clever I thought our boys were. Today, we arrive and that same boy is selling bracelets. He has decided to cut my son out of the “business” and go it alone.

Once again, my heart breaks for my little brown-eyed boy who puts so much trust in what other people tell him they will do. Because it is a lesson we must all learn at some point, I suppose: that we simply cannot trust the word of other people and that they will hardly ever do the things they promise, if it means sacrificing something of themselves. But I thought six was a little young to learn such a hard lesson…

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Learning and growing all the time.

Once in a while, you have a ride that reminds you how far you have come and how much you have grown not only as a rider, but as a person. Yesterday was one of those days. It was an uncharacteristically rainy day for summer in the Western Cape. The horses were feeling frisky and bouncy as we are in the middle of a drought and it is only natural that they would be “happy” about the rain.

I was riding a young thoroughbred off the track. We were the only ones riding and we barely got around the outside of the arena when all the horses in the paddocks decided it was time for a run to show their glee with the wonderful cool weather. The horse I was on, being a trained race horse, and with that the only thing she really knows how to do, decided that she needed to be running too. If we could have had a conversation at that point, it would have gone something like this:

“Oooh, the other horses are running! I should be running!”

“No, I think we should just keep walking”

“But that is what I was taught, I know this one! We have to go, lady!”

“NO, I think we should slow down and talk about this” I pull on the reins for a slow-down.

“No, no, NO! You are starting to get in the way of what I know I should do and I don’t like it! In fact, you are trying to stop my feet from moving and it is making me downright panicky! You are acting an awful lot like a predator on my back and I am starting to think I should get rid of you.” Horse gives a little buck.

Some people I know, and myself included a few years ago, would have just sat the bucking horse and ridden her through it, thinking that getting off would teach her that every time she misbehaves, the rider gets off. In some cases this may still be true, but in this particular case it wasn’t. If I had had a strong enough relationship with her, I might still have tried to lean on that and asked her to ignore her instincts and listen to me. The point is, we don’t have that strong a relationship and she was starting to get panicky. And the chances of something going horribly wrong were escalating exponentially.

There are many permutations of how things could have happened from there on out.  No matter what I chose to do, if that choice involved staying on her, she was going to be more frightened by the end of it. I chose to do an emergency dismount, lead her to the lunge ring and did some long-lining instead. Even from the ground it took a long time to get her to settle down and listen to me. But, I did get her to stop and pay attention and there were no big frights involved. I patted myself on the back.

Instead of thinking:”I will sit on this horse and we will go for a ride. She will learn to deal with someone on her back no matter the circumstances.”, I managed to choose the compassionate and less egotistical way around it that would in the end serve the horse and her education better. She had a workout and her trust in me is a little more, because I removed her from a situation that she deemed threatening.

Perhaps next time, I will take the weather into account from the start and begin in the lunge ring!

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