Why Do You Have Him If You Can’t Ride Him?

pookatongue_200It’s amazing how many times horse people are asked some form of this question. “Why don’t you take him to shows?” “Why aren’t you working him?” “Why is he just standing around eating his head off?”

Horse people themselves are almost as prone to this as non-horsepeople. The presumption is that a horse is a riding animal, a using animal: transportation. A horse who doesn’t “earn his keep” is not worth keeping.

So why would anyone keep a horse she doesn’t ride?

To stay on the negative side of the ledger, maybe she’s afraid to ride him. Maybe he’s too much for her. Maybe she’s had a bad experience, or more than one, and she can’t bring herself to get back on. So he sits around. Eating his head off. (Horse heads appear to be extremely easily removable by the application of food.)

Or maybe he’s too much horse for anybody to ride, even a professional trainer. Maybe he’s not safe, through physical or mental issues. Maybe he’s so damaged by prior trainers or owners that being ridden causes a monster attack of traumatic stress. Which can put his rider in the ER, and him on the kill list. He can’t be sold for fear he’ll damage his new owner, and that supposes anyone would dare to buy him in the first place. So he adorns the pasture, and his owner gets The Question.

He might be retired through age or injury. He’s given at the office, and now he’s done. He gets a well-deserved rest, and if his owner is the right kind of horse person (and can afford it–finances are a tough one as always), she lets him relax and just be a horse.

Then again, maybe he’s too young to be ridden yet. He may be a strapping youngster with a mature look to him, but he’s only three or four or even five, and he’s still growing. He’ll get to work when his bones and muscles are more developed and his mind is more ready.

So what good is the non-rideable horse? The young one might get a pass, since the point is to train him when he’s old enough, but the healthy horse who isn’t ridden, or whose mind or body won’t let him be ridden, is useless except as a lawnmower or a companion for a more useful horse.

Or is he?

What can a horse do besides be ridden or, more rarely now than in the days of horses as main means of transport, driven or worked in harness?

You might be surprised.

How about: yoga instructor/equipment/guru:

yogajenny1_bvcMassage therapist:

teamyoga_bvcInterspecies communicator:

yogapup_bvcWalking buddy:



Pooka_Hug_200Artistic inspiration:

PookaGarland_bvcThere’s a lot a horse can do besides pack a human from here to there. He can be a therapy animal, a massage and bodywork instructor, a mentor for a young horse or human, a companion, a friend, a bodhisattva.

Carrma, April, Pandora_200Riding is just the beginning of what a horse can do and be.



Why Do You Have Him If You Can’t Ride Him? — 12 Comments

    • You’re welcome. Far too many people do dump them in auctions (where they often end up in slaughterhouses), or sell them on and on until they can’t go any more. Black Beauty’s story still applies in too many cases. But if you can’t keep your retiree yourself (for lack of space or funds), there are retirement homes for horses, too: places where you can send your horse to live, where they’re kept on pasture and tended by people who know how to care for geriatric or injured horses.

      • Senior horses can still have a good life. I have an old mare, Prize, who is 29. She’s retired from giving lessons now because she’s going blind from cataracts and is hard of hearing. Her limited sight makes her a little too jumpy for new riders. She has the body of a horse half of her age and is mentally sharp.

        She’s everyone’s best bud when they need someone to groom. The barn owner loves her and calls her “my good mare”.

        She has a lot of people who love her and now she gets to spend her senior years being a pampered pasture pony.

  1. Oh yes. They are beings in their own right, and become part of the family.

    I can’t help but wonder if some of those who ask might share the attitude of “This puppy is no longer cute, I’ll dump it at the pound.”

    • “We’re having a baby, we’re dumping the dog.” “This cat’s old, he needs vet care, let’s dump him in the shelter.”


      See comment to Paul above re. people who dump their “useless” or unwanted horses on the meat auctions.

    • Oh, for sure.

      My “homework” for this year is to stop and breathe regularly, and spend time just being with horses, instead of being all gotta-do-stuff. It’s a challenge.

  2. Maybe he can just be a horse. Lots of people just sit around and eat their heads off. And most of them are far less comfortable to be around than the horses I know.

  3. My 34 yr old Morgan mare is now gone. She spent 33 of those years with me and the family on many riding/showing/4H-ing and raising three babies for me. (One not hers). My neighbor encouraged me to dump her the last 4 yrs of her life. “Get something that can pull it’s weight” Now I’m being asked to find him a safe riding horse for his retirement to just ride around the pasture. I know what would happen when it gets arthritis. Same thing that happened to the other 2 horses he has owned. No way I’m going to help put a horse on his property. Great article. Love it.

  4. Indeed. My confidants, my teachers, my dream-speakers, my partners. Good one, and love the pics. Although I am a little biased. A good year to slow into subtlety, methinks.

  5. I don’t ride my mare much because I have disc degeneration in my spine
    And if I can’t sit properly in the saddle it not good for her. Sometimes
    We just walk but mostly she’s my buddy, my therapy, my baby. I promised
    Her a forever home and won’t give her up. My grand children enjoy
    grooming and feeding her.