Last week I stumbled across an article posted by Horse Collaborative called “What Makes A Stiff Horse Stiff?” Almost immediately it struck a chord with me. In many ways, it sounded as if they were describing Justice.
Allow me to elaborate. While Justice doesn’t have any glaring physical issues I’ve been aware from the beginning that he travels in a very tense, hollow way. Just viewing many of his ride photos before I ever met him a person gave me the (incorrect) impression that he had something of a ewe neck.
His old owner rode him in a running martingale at many events, probably to keep him under control. I personally don’t like to use tie downs or martingales if it can be helped so I haven’t considered one myself. Instead I have been working on getting him to loosen up and relax under saddle. Given that Justice has some dressage training, he gets the basics of collection and extension and has been making slow but steady progress.
But beyond physical stiffness, I have recognized from the beginning that Justice is very emotionally stiff. “Stoic” is the word I’ve used many a time to describe him.
Like the horse in the article, he has always been gentlemanly and well mannered, but is quite bland personality wise. I think this can be accredited to his past. One of his old owners (R) was able to provide me with his history. He is out of a well known Morgan Stallion (JJ Ebony Gold) and a Morgan driving mare. He was destined to be a driving horse….except he hated it. He spent the first few years of his life with little human interaction before being sent to 2 different driving trainers. He would predictably act out when harnessed, however, and his owner became fed up and elected to send him to New Holland. Days before the auction, R learned of his predicament and being that she was an admirer of his sire, paid what the kill buyer would have paid for Justice and brought him home. However he proved to be a handful and just too much for her. She sent him to a western trainer one year and a dressage trainer the next before opting to rehome him. Enter M, who took him on as an endurance mount to replace her other aging Morgan. Justice did well in endurance and ctrs, but would act up and buck at the start of rides. M kept him for 4 years (and employed multiple riders to compete him at a number of events) in the hopes that he would eventually settle down but finally lost patience and decided to rehome him. Which is where I came in.
As the author says in the article; “Horses have a survival instinct which is second to none. They are well aware that success in the world, on a certain level, is judged by performance, and they know the bottom line is their survival is subject to their performance.”
While some horses have no problem being ridden by any number of riders throughout their lives, I suspect Justice is different, and that whatever he went through during his time in “driving school” had a big impact that has left him emotionally distant. It may sound like I’m anthropomorphizing a bit and maybe I am. But horses are much smarter than we give them credit for. Granted their thought process is different – I don’t believe they worry about the future nor do they reflect on the past – but that doesn’t mean that what has happened in the past hasn’t shaped or changed their reactions and personalities over time, or that it has no effect on the present.
Therefore my goal with J is consistency. I think we have already taken a step in the right direction by introducing him to a place where he has room to roam, and company – where he is part of a herd, and as close to his natural environment as any domesticated horse can be. But part of that also entails that he will forever remain MY horse. To be ridden
and handled solely by myself. I want him to come to trust me. I don’t think he does just yet. But everyday we’re a little bit closer.