If you were never going to ride, would you still have a horse?
Or would you feel guilty, or extravagant, or question the point of having such an expensive pet?
Have you ever even considered the notion of owning a horse simply as a pet; a companion to snuggle, to go for walks in the park, play games, smooch, run your fingers through soft fur and silky mane, listen to your problems and sorrows, press against you to soak up your tears, lie down to nap together and run laughing through the woods, jumping logs together?
Is that not enough reason/justification to own a horse? Must we really RIDE that horse or be viewed as failures, whackos, or eccentrics?
Here’s a new solution to the horse slaughter problem: Horses as pets! They are not pasture ornaments, hayburners, or other labels insinuating they’re a waste of money; they are beloved pets and members of the family. YES. You have permission. How does that feel?
When I got my Andalusian mare, Zorra, and I was developing a friendship with her, and waiting for her to ask me to get on her back (which took 6 months) I cannot count the number of times friends and family asked me, “So have you ridden her yet?”
Then I went and got 3 semi-feral horses – so they wouldn’t be slaughtered and I could keep them together as a family. Except it will be at least four years until their bones harden and I won’t ride any of them before their growth plates have fused. Well, now people’s eyes almost bug out, “FOUR horses?? Do you ride them?”
Why is it that the world at large assumes there is NO POINT in having a horse unless you ride it – regularly? When you see this man with his rescued lion, are you thinking: Does he ride that lion? No? Well what’s the point then? Who wants to keep such a large, expensive lion if you can’t ride him? NOT.
A Growing Trend
Former competitive jumper and endurance rider, turned equine behaviourist and healer, Sue Gardner says:
“There is a growing number of people who are more interested in just being with their horse on a more spiritual level. Also many people are too scared to ride their horse because the horse is deemed dangerous or is constantly un-sound, this is true, so they end up having a relationship based on very gentle in-hand work which leads on to liberty connection. And with the recent increase and awareness of Equine Assisted Therapy there are even more people understanding and wanting to connect in a way that is far beyond riding 🙂 “
The president of the American Association of Riding Schools, Colleen Pace, gave me a wonderful example of how riding stables can adapt to this growing trend/need and expand their client base:
“A number of years ago, I had an adult woman (early 40’s?) who was obese, and maybe epileptic, enroll in three-hour-long lessons. There was no way she’d ever climb atop a horse. She moved so slowly on her own two feet. Drove me crazy. Tested my patience. And, reminded me what it meant to be an earnest mentor. She stayed with me for nine months; until her mother had a stroke and could no longer drive her to and from the stable. She groomed, grazed, took lots of photos, and visited. The three-hour-long weekly sessions came to over $300/mo; and she thought it was worth every penny – because she could feel like she owned “Rosie;” my Percheron. So, you are right about non-riders at many levels.”
A friend of mine rescued 2 horses after watching me with my herd for a year. She’s not sure if she ever wants to ride. She just loves being with them, doing the chores, she even loves composting the manure! Her husband said, “These horses are the best thing that’s ever happened to Jeanette.”
Jeanette can’t believe how much healthier she feels from doing physical work outdoors in the fresh air every day. A life-long athlete, she marvels at the way her body responds to ‘farm work’ and says that being around the horses makes her feel so peaceful it really changes her day. She’s learning how to lead/handle them and looks forward to taking them jogging with her along trails in the park.
Exercise, Herbs & Adventure
Many people don’t realize this, but a horse can be a better running partner than a dog! Many horses just love to get in the park and GO. They can trot forever and they don’t ask to stop and sniff things, or want to chase squirrels into the trees. I’ve injured my knees from skiing and martial arts, so I mostly race-walk with my horses and they love that too.
At some point in your walk, jog, or ride, it’s a good idea to let your horse sample Nature’s Pharmacy – especially if you don’t have a selection of natural equine-friendly herbs, hedgerows or edible forage in your horse’s pasture. As Sue Gardner says:
“Horses are rarely being greedy when they try and get to certain plant life, most often it is because it is lacking in their diet and a couple of examples of that are Cow Parsley and Cleavers. So take the time to let him graze the mature herbs that have flowered, work out what it is that your horse is needing… often it is nature’s pharmacy that is not available to him in his restricted field.”
Remember that whether you ride your horse, or not, equines still need plenty of stimulation, exercise, games and most love adventures! Of course, they love THEIR idea of an adventure; for some an adventure could be exploring a new road, or jumping into a ditch, or maybe just getting to eat grass on your lawn while you sip a cup of tea.
If you tune into your horse and open your mind/heart to receive ideas and inspiration, you will realize that your horse is open to all kinds of 5-Minute Fun and other exploration.
Beyond Equine Therapy
Mary Rostad is a lifelong educator who has turned to the concept of using nature, fresh air, farming, art, yoga and hanging out with horses to facilitate connection in teenage girls with moderate to severe social anxiety, depression or isolation. She runs summer camps, individual sessions and farm visits.
This is not just about Equine Therapy. I invite you to pull back and take a much broader view of ALL the ways simply hanging out with horses is a valuable experience – as valued (to the client) as traditional riding lessons. Whether that’s for yourself, personally, or something you can offer as a sideline business, or to expand your existing business – just sit with that idea for a while and see what arises.
AND imagine what it will feel like to bring more freedom and joy to your horses! When horses are allowed to choose how and when they interact, that’s when the magic happens.
I’ve attended equine guided learning/therapy workshops where the horses were haltered, and I’ve had sessions where they’re at liberty.
When the horse is off-leash, in a large area (so he can move away if he chooses) the experience is far more powerful and authentic.
Nobody questions the value of dogs; as companions, as family members, and stats show they improve your health and extend your lifespan. Nobody expects you to ride your dog to prove it’s worth. And we all understand that dogs need to go out, explore, socialize, and get exercise every day. It’s about time that horses were similarly recognized for having the same worth and value (and the same rights) – whether you ride them, or not.
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
79 thoughts on “Horses As Pets – Why Not??”
Fabulous article – this will help so many of us who feel the need to justify our horse’s existence, to relax and accept that our horses are pets and have every right to be just that.
Yes, I agree, Cynthia: I am often ribbed about not riding my horse at the barn where I board. People are so unimaginative. What difference does it make if we are riding or not? The expenses basically stay the same (unless one could board at a cheaper facility if one doesn’t have a horse property).
Thank you for this. I am currently in Honduras, on the island of Roatan. I’ve snorkled with dolphins and, today, large rays swam beneath us. I think I’ve got a horse story coming out of this! It’s amazing how close we can get to animals when they have no need to fear us. Had this same experience in the Galopagos a few years back; when an adult sea lion swam up to my goggles. We quietly blinked at each other; then s/he swam away.
I’ve had lots of vacations where I interacted with manta rays, sting rays, sea turtles ( love!) whales from afar, Dolphins up close…….I have ridden horses in the rainforest, on the beach, in the ocean , and last month I actually got to ride to a beach, unsaddle the horse and ride bare back while the horse swam in the ocean in Grand Cayman. But having had all those amazing experiences, my dream is to tour Galapagos! Can you give me any insight based on your experience?
Sharon I’ve never been to the Galapagos, but I would type this into Google: “galapagos memoir” I’ll bet it would pull up some interesting stuff and maybe a different angle than the typical tours etc.
This is a subject matter that I have been wrestling with since taking responsibility for my first mare, 5 years ago. I dont even know what my initial intention was when we found eachother. I loved riding, of course, I loved horses and I was given the oppertunity to have one in my life so I took it.
She was very lame when I first got her. So riding was automatically out of the question, building a relationship and healing were the goals. Over the years she has become my best friend, spiritual mentor, healer, partner, disciplinarian, and family memeber. She has opened my heart and mended it, when I was suppose to mend hers. I may have never known horses were capable of so much depth if she was only just a sport.
Now, after years of healing and development she is sound to ride, which is just the cherry on top.
I been walking with my horse since i got him, first because he was a rescue and dangerous to ride and now , tho he can be ridden, i have come to prefer to walk beside him….many folk around here stop and ask if i ride him or if he can be ridden, or just say ‘shouldn’t he be carrying you’ I used to give this long explanation of him being a rescue and a bit broken, but now i simply say, with a great big smile ‘i like to walk along beside him as his friend’…and he loves his picnics in the hedge and has taught me about many many plants….and lots of other stuff too
I have very much enjoyed riding my horses for many years. I have also always had a strong interest in thinking about the ethics of how we treat our animal friends. Both my horses and I are getting older, and we also find ourselves in geographical and social circumstances which mean that riding out is not as much fun as is was in our previous location. I will admit that this has caused me some frustration, as I see us all getting older, and perhaps losing the last years of possible riding to these circumstances. However, at the same time, the enforced break has given me time to admit to myself, for the first time, that I do question somewhat the ethics of riding. At all. I’m questioning — that means I still don’t have an answer. I do still hop on bareback sometimes when my horses say “yes” and I hop off again if they say “I changed my mind”.
Nobody needs permission to keep a horse without riding. That much I know. However, whoever keeps horses does need to have a deep understanding of their ethological needs and the resources to provide for them. When I see how few people manage to provide that for their other pets, I have some concerns about popularising the idea of “pet” horses.
This was refreshing to read. I have four horses, only one of which I ride. Riding, to me , is only PART of the many activities I can enjoy with my horses. I told a friend that when I no longer can ride that one I probably won’t ride.
I have lymphedema in my left arm. A souvenir from breast cancer. I know that if I fell off a horse and broke that arm I would be having hell to pay the rest of my life. I have a beautiful mirror that I do trick training with, and liberty with. I taught her how to paint on a canvas, she fetches and retrieves for objects by name. I can throw all four of them on the ground and tell her which one to get. She gets it right every time. She walks it back to me and drops it in my hands. She bows, gives me a kiss on the cheek, and gives me a hug. She also loves nuzzling a keyboard, lol. We ho for walks together at liberty through the woods, around ponds, and enjoy hanging out together. I train her with Parelli for groundwork, and clicker training for tricks. I love just grooming her and turn that into total pampering and massage for her. She loves it. I am the horse photographer for the ranch where she lives with her herd of 40. Almost all of her training takes place wherever i find her on this big ranch on any given day. I am in heaven with our bond and do not need to ride her to be happy. She is amazing…
I can totally understand this. Just spending time with my horse when I have a bad pain day is just so therapeutic .
This is a fabulous post. I stopped riding after I got my first horse because I realized that loving him meant not using him. Being friends is more fulfilling than riding ever was. Along my journey, I have been condescended to, belittled and ridiculed by riders. Glad to read that this new “discipline” is a growing trend and that people are opening their hearts and minds to horses as friends.
I appreciate your comments, Monica; they really resonate with me! The description you use perfectly describes what I have been subjected to, so it is good to know that others have experienced this (although not happy that we all have had to deal with it). I often feel torn about the whole concept of asking something from him, which in traditional riding is just a given.
At last kindred spirits.
My two crazy thoroughbreds are my midlife crisis and very soon I realised that I didn’t want to ride them. It just didn’t feel right.
They are beautiful proud creatures and I love their wild,exuberant spirits.
They are very much a part of my family.
I keep them as naturally as possible . The stable doors are open so they can choose to be in or out.
I trim their hooves myself.
I love that they allow me to experience nature and ground me. That they can be so excited by a mere apple!.
It’s great exercise poo picking and mucking out and humbling.
There is no stress thinking they have to be exercised or kept fit. Taking them out in the rain or when tired or pushed for time. They can’t tell us when they don’t feel well.
I always say the day they bring me a saddle and beg me to ride them I’ll do it.!
I’ve been waiting many years!
I do ask them if they would like to go out for a ride as I climb over the gate and lean on them but the answer is always a definite NO way Hose!
This arrangement works for us,we are relaxed and happy. Win,win I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What a lovely article this is. As you rightly say, nobody questions the idea of having a dog as an animal companion, and yet I am constantly asked why I have horses if I don’t agree with riding them!
Having ridden from an early age and witnessed first hand the disregard that is felt by ridden horses, I now strongly believe that we do not need to dominate these beautiful animals in this way. There is a far better connection and relationship to be had by completely regarding them at all times and building incredible trust.
I never know what to say when people are all judgy about my having horses around which I am not riding. The most frequent thing people ask me, with eyebrows raised, is ‘…how many horses do you have’? …’and do you ride them’? I have historically thought that horses truly are not pets because they are large, strong, and can be dangerous. I no longer think that way. I now believe that friendship is foremost in my relationship with them. Riding, driving, and whatever discipline you choose are bonuses. I do not believe in exploiting the good nature of my equine friends by forcing them to perform unnaturally in situations that are frightening and potentially harmful to them. I love my horses as part of my family.
Glad to hear from all of you! And thanks so much for sharing your interesting experiences and perspective. I think that whenever people/riders see us walking a horse and enjoying it, even if they can’t deal with it at the time, it does go in. And it gives them permission to consider that as an option.
Sometimes when I’m riding Zorra in the park – bareback in a rope halter 🙂 – I will encounter the same group of riders and the next time they see me, I’m walking beside her. Again, YES, you can get on and off your horse as you feel. It’s okay – you have permission! Many of these riders have been told by their instructor to NEVER get off their horse, to stay seated no matter what happens.
As my 3 youngsters grow older, I look forward to seeing whether they want me to ride them, or not. Or how often, or where they like to go. CHOICE is the key. Both for the horses and for us!
As a later-in-life rider with my first horse (he’s 22), I know that his age-related conditions will predicate a natural end to our riding days. Rather than push my horse pasts his limits with unnatural means and medicines, I see us gently transitioning into non-riding time –which we already enjoy on many days when I sense he would simply prefer quiet time together. Horses as pets? Why not? I rather like the idea of growing old(er) with such a one who is as honest and kind as the day is long. I think the word “pet” is odd or off-putting to some because it seems to be reserved for our smaller/household animals. Perhaps horses as “animal companions” may offer a broader sense of the possibilities. Just a thought…many thanks for a wonderful post!
Thank you for saying what I have been feeling for quite sometime. I used to trail ride all the time then after having shoulder surgery I lost confidence. I decided I was done riding but was not going to give up my horse. I sold my trailer and enjoy just being home with her, hanging out spending time together. I added 3 mini donkeys for her to have company and I enjoy every minute I spend with them. If I decide I want to hop on her for a little trot around the yard then I do it but not because I feel guilty about my decision not to ride. The bond we have is amazing and I am thankful for being able to have her for a pet.
The other thing that happens when we are not forcing a horse to be ridden, is that we leave the horse free to say, “Hey, let’s go for a ride!” Then your horse can be a very safe place and I have had horses move under me to stop me from falling. I remember one time I borrowed a saddle and jacked the stirrups up to try riding like a jockey – my horse felt my balance tipping almost before I did and smoothly slowed to a stop while swinging her body towards to the side I was leaning/tipping, to bolster me.
The second thing that happens when you are in intimate connection is your horse is also free to say to you, “Can you get off now?” Maybe something has started to hurt, or something is scaring them. And again, because you’re leaving yourself the freedom to do as YOU feel, not as someone else has instructed you to, you get off! Voila, once again, you are safe and nobody gets hurt.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope you don’t let fear stop you from experiencing ALL the wonderful ways you can be with your horse. As long as it is consensual, a horse’s back can be a very secure place. So if you start getting the idea that the 2 of you would love to explore trails in nature again, start by just walking them together. And then get on and off as you FEEL, or as she suggests. It’s all good.
I really enjoyed your article. I adopted an OTTB three years ago. She was your typical hot TB, having come into the rescue with injuries from getting caught in barbed wire and trust issues. I had just started volunteering when she came in and because I am very overweight and move slower than most people I was told to stay away from her. They were afraid I would get hurt. For some reason I was attracted to this crazy chestnut mare. Soon I was tending her wounds and feeding her daily. As time went on, she became my project and we were taking walks and bonding. At one point, I was told she would be put down because she was deemed unadoptable. I asked if I could adopt her and after some time I was able to do this. It’s been 3 years and this “crazy”, “unadoptable” mare comes to the gate when she sees me. We just hang out, I groom and talk to her and we give each other love. Yes I would like to ride her one day but if that never happens that’s OK. It’s nice to know that instead of being weird or crazy, I’m a trendsetter. Who knew!
You go girl! And see my reply to Patricia… ya never know…
Thank you for a most refreshing perspective on being with horses, I think it is a bit brave to write about, just being with horses first as the core reason for having horses. I also think a lot of people who are burned out on riding horses, for whatever reason, refuse to give themselves permission to have horses but for any other reason than to ride/compete. So they quit on horses all together, when they could still receive the wonderful support of emotional healing from God working through these animals by just hanging out and being with them, taking care of them, sharing insights you wouldn’t dare share with another person.
I stopped riding horses a couple of years ago and this is after a 30 year span of all consuming quest of knowledge of being the best rider I could be. Through a series of life events and experiences that I won’t digress into this short post reply I lost my desire to ride anymore (which at first was horribly disturbing to me, but there is a reason for everything in God’s timing) and just found myself relearning how to enjoy my horse (and horses) as pure companions.
And guess what, my desire to ride horses again is slowly coming back but this time as simply an extension of the core companionship. And this time I’m not eager to ride again until the timing is right in my life when I can get “the” right horse as my riding horse. I know now that my present horse who I bought ten years ago to blast down the trails with, never wanted to be a riding horse for me, we really aren’t matched for riding but we are beautifully matched for companionship.
Thank you, thank you, thank you ! This is the most accurate article I have ever read regarding horse ownership. When younger I rode as often as I could and close to the age of 60 I bought my first horse. I can ride her but spending time with her has become far more important than riding. She is the light of my life and there is nothing nicer than jogging through the vineyards and stopping to allow her to graze on all the different grasses along the way. We are so blessed to have horses in our lives.
I still have one neighbor who teases me about all the work my husband does so we can keep our 4 horses despite very rarely riding. I’ve got a few disabilities which affect my hands (4 amputated fingers, 3 others permanently contracted) and my balance. I use a walker, and my horses are wonderful about me being out with them, very careful and quiet with me when I do make it out to groom and hold the lead from the trimmer. We feed round bales from our own hay fields, and the horses are out 24/7. Two of our guys are well-trained riding/trail horses, two have never been backed as they were only two years old and newborn when I started into the challenges to my health and mobility.
I love looking out my windows and seeing my colorful herd. We built our paddock in an L-shape around the house, so it’s easy to see them. I love calling out the kitchen window and watching the 4 heads pop up as they call back. I love how they all mosey to the fence whenever anyone comes within 50ft of it. It was my lifelong dream to have my own place with my horses home so I could ride whenever I had a free moment. So the plan isn’t exactly as I’d planned. ;o) Life is still great.
Simply adorable Shelley! You are one lucky woman.
Thank you for writing this! I quit riding a few years ago because of health reasons. I have three horses. I have wonderful relationships with them all, but it took quite a while before I quit feeling guilty about not riding them. We have fun and we enjoy each other’s company. They have taught me so much – riding or not. What could be better than that?
I’d love a horse as a pet but my garden is the size of a pocket handkerchief and I don’t have the financial resources. But it’s such a good idea. I was a nervous rider at best and could never get enough riding practice to develop any confidence. If the idea caught on it could mean more horses being adopted from rescue centres.
You could look into a half-lease on a horse Linden. Many owners would be thrilled to have someone who would groom and take the horse for walks. OR they would trade that time for chores. If you put an ad in your local paper or Craigslist saying you would feed and muck out in exchange for grooming, spending time with a horse, and taking it out for walks, you may be flooded with offers!
Or just stop by a barn close to your home! You would be amazed at how many owners would love to share their horses! !
I have a old Appaloosa gelding that is now 30, and I stopped riding him 10 year’s ago. He is my best friend, and miss the riding, but enjoy him even more as my companion. We have a strong spiritual connection. I rescued him 15 years ago, and saved his life, and 3 year’s ago he saved my life.
Beautiful. He will probably remain just as close to you after he passes from this world.
Hi this is lovely i have three and i love them all and due to time and a friend having a accident i havent realy ridden for a year so im questioned all the time why have i got them ?there to expensive to have and not, ride its not fair that i dont ride them there bored etc but i walk them sometimes all three together play with them i love its my time with my pets as i do with my dogs thank you for posting x
Great article. Thank you for sharing! I can relate to so much of what you say here.
As an older first-time horse owner with no real riding experience, I wanted to help horses and learn from them at the same time. When I retired, I began to take in horses that would otherwise have gone to slaughter, were injured, or whose owners could no longer care for them. Over the past decade I have owned 19 horses, nine of whom have passed due to old age, prior abuse, or other issues that caused them to end up in need of a home. I can’t overstate the feeling of purpose that caring for these horses has given me. I have grown so much, met many really good people, and had new and challenging experiences. (Caring for horses eventually brings sadness as well as joy.) Riding is just one way to enjoy horses. No one should ever feel inadequate for owning a horse and not riding it, especially when there are so many horses that are not suitable for riding yet need a home.
I’ve owned and ridden horses over the past twenty years. Many years go by between my riding events due to life. If I never rode again I would still keep the three horses I have today and if money were no object would get a couple more. I love just being around them.
Yes, being a herd member is a whole other form of enjoyment, I totally agree!
Lucy and Coral “the girls” are two crazy thoroughbreds who have enriched my life for 10 years now.
Lucy is 27 Coral 13.
It had been 20 years since a horse had been part of my life. Work and children.
A horse called Champ (poor fellow) had taught me responsibility and respect as a teen and I wanted to share that with my teens.
Lucy and Coral came together as a pair and were my midlife crisis. Totally unsuitable for me and my girls to ride and thank heaven for that.
The gift they have given me of friendship is far more precious.
Lucy was so damaged. Huge scars on her body but create ones in her head. Defensive and anxious.
Coral pure and innocent and full of spirit.
I tried to start Lucy again but she just wanted to be a free spirit,tired of being bullied by mankind.
Coral was unbroken and I’m ashamed to say I was instrumental in causing her trauma.
Going along with what is just simply accepted practice.
It just didn’t feel right.
I embraced Monty Robert techniques but even still its asking and asking until you get the answer you want. Slow bullying.
I no longer even try to ride them. They are clear they don’t want it. I get immense pleasure from seeing them happy,carefree and healthy. They have never had colic and now o trim their bare hooves myself no absceses.
They come galloping when they see me and want to be around for mutual grooming
I feel truly blessed and in touch with nature. The stable doors remain open and they have choice on how to lesd their lives.
I love that, “slow bullying”. Perfect description!
This article was WORD for me. You see I have been an amateur rider for 22 years. I am now 64 years old and and I have to go in to surgery this spring to replace my hip. I haven´t been able to ride on my horse since december, I have felt so guilty , every day. And this guilty feeling made me do nothing, but minimum with my lovely mare . I brush her, making the hoofs and she getsa daily check up ,some carrots and hug. And that´s it. Most day´s she goes to the gate when she hears my car , and I see the disappointment in her eyes, when I leave . Some days her bodylanguage says : I HATE YOU, YOU DONT CARE ABOUT ME ANYMORE!! Ihave been so blocked by that, you have to ride your horse or otherwise you sell it. Your article made me realise that it´s all in your mind. Thanks a lot, you made my day.
Maria Holmberg Sweden
That’s wonderful you are released from guilt Maria – YAY!! Here are some other blog posts about things your horse will probably love to do when you can’t or don’t want to ride:
And don’t forget to ask your mare for her ideas on what you can do together:
I absolutely love spending time with my horse and ponies. I no longer feel the need to ride. I bought an OTTB three years ago to ride, but knew he wasn’t fit well enough so stopped riding him and spend all my time (and money ) just connecting with him, giving him therapy, and doing some groundwork. I sense the time is coming when he will want me to take him out ridden but I am just enjoying the journey for now.
This blog post was one of the best and most sensitive articles on horses that I have ever read. It is wonderful to know that there are kindred souls out there (even one more like you means you are not alone)! I have ridden for decades, and taken all kinds of lessons, acquired certifications, did some local showing, and I feel now that almost everything I’ve been taught is all about vanity. If my horse looks scared, I’m less likely to push him into something, contrary to what popular horse trading and the common mindset thinks (“Don’t let him get away with that”, they sneer, or “He’s got your number” if I show concern and compassion for him. I am really tired of being dismissed like that.
Also, I do question what we ask of horses and how our culture is so focussed on competition, and domination, especially of animals. I’ve made a major shift to a vegan lifestyle just recently when I became aware of all the exploitation involved regarding eating and using animals. Even the title “Listen to your horse” is revolutionary because so much we have learned about animals is just telling them what to do, and being ridiculed if we don’t.
Thank you Jini for this great blog.
Coincidentally Mel, I just watched the film EARTHLINGS today, so am really feeling what you just wrote about ALL the ways we exploit other earthlings!
Love this, and shared it both on Facebook and via email. You make such a powerful argument, not only for being with horses as friends, but also for another cause I am passionate about, which is saving our rural zoning in and around growing cities like where I live. Urban/Human sprawl is not just decimating the last remnants of wildlife habitat and biodiversity but the last of our horse/hobby farm properties. Without these communities of horse lovers and equine-support systems, we risk losing it all. We can’t let sprawl squeeze us and our horses out of existence.
How are people to ride or even keep horses/goats/sheep etc., when there are no more RA-200 lands left, no hay fields and balers, tack /feed stores, no country /large animal vets, farriers or places to ride or walk your horse (or sheep, for that matter.) When city folk come to the country for ‘cheap’ ‘new big homes in new subdivisions (which builders profit from but which destroy local communities) that land is rezoned from AR-200 (ag/residential/horses permitted)to high-density or commercial/industrial zoning — no more livestock allowed. More roads built, more traffic, more and more rezoning.When people move into those new homes, they object to the smells, sights and activities of any livestock remaining on neighboring properties. Sadly they can, and have, managed to evict horses etc from around such new ‘upscale’ communities. They even evict people’s chickens!
I am in just such a situation, having been blessed to find and buy a pre-market short-sale just over 2 years ago, and at last have my own 4 horses in my own back yard for the first time (and I am near 60). To my delight, I found hay growers here, old country stores with farm supplies, horse vets, other horse owners and trainers (with my breed prevalent) and wonderful neighbors with llamas and goats and sheep and – I am in HEAVEN.
But – Already, within a year, it’s all being lost. I fear within 5 years my haven will be unrecognizable, our support system dismantled, and I will have to move again – IF I’m able. If not , I lose my horses and my family. This wonderful place will be destroyed. Not just for me but for all of us – And our horses stand to lose the most.
Here in the US, ‘progress’ and greed is consuming all.
If more people understood just what it is we’re losing when urban sprawl paves over once-rural properties, maybe there would be more people showing up at zoning commission hearings to fight it. Maybe county and city officials will finally ‘hear’ us when more speak out to stop this insidious cancer poised to take private horse keeping’ from us.
I believe your blog post can help! The concept of ‘pet’ or ‘companion’ horse-keeping negates the ‘snobbery’ frequently associated with the ‘horsey set’, bringing a friendlier, more inclusive face to it. Makes horse properties into community resources rather than intimidating places of exclusion.
More, (this from a response I got after sharing your post) if we can save/hold on to these horse-friendly areas, even America’s wild horses (many of whom are rounded up in controversial culls and adopted out or sold to slaughter) can find safe havens as companion-horses, rather than be forced into training or ending up as dog food. I can’t even imagine what lessons a rescued wild horse could teach us in relationship-building. Wow.
Thank you so much for this outstanding post!
Very well said! And you cover many important aspects of this issue. The land I currently have my herd on is owned by a fellow in Beijing, who’s never seen it in person. It is currently valued at $27 million. So as the development creeps out this way, this natural habitat for many creatures will fall under the bulldozer. I really think a viable solution for this urban spread is for people to run automated, internet-based businesses – then you can work anywhere in the world and are not tied to a location. So when the developers come knocking, get top dollar for your land and then go buy an even better place further out, or maybe even head for a better climate. This may sound pie-in-the-sky, but this is what I teach people to do over at http://www.ListenToYourFreedom.com
Where I live, there are no zoning meetings – the developers just hand the city officials a chunk of cash and poof, they’ve got their zoning.
I also have to say, that ‘rescuing’ my 3 semi-feral horses is the greatest privilege – I have learned SO much about natural horse behaviour I could probably write a book soon. And they have been “re-wilding” my domestic horse, who is also learning at an incredible rate. And yes, it’s all good! Did you see the film UNBRANDED? One interesting stat from there is that each wild horse kept by the BLM costs American taxpayers $50,000/year. So YES it would benefit all parties to see these horses adopted as companion animals.
I loved the original post as well as your response!
We live in rural oregon, hopefully far enough out from urban sprawl to not see our area ruined by “development”.
My mare will be 32 in June, and has not been ridden in many years. She is in great health, is still bright eyed, doesn’t seem to have teeth problems, and puts up with the goat herd she has to share the pasture with. She is a great pet! Getting her 20+ years ago was, I found out later, a ploy for us moving to our present location vs a city location when my husband got out of the navy. “We needed a place for a horse.” I’ve never felt guilty about having such a large pet: 16 hand warmblood, a granddaughter of Citation, her claim to fame. 🙂
Yeah I tried that – the ‘get a horse so we move to land’ idea – unfortunately it didn’t work out quite so well for me! But so glad to hear the idea wasn’t totally out in left field and it DID work for someone!
AND this is what I’m talking about! This lady in the UK is doing EXACTLY what I’ve written about above – and I love her site! Check it out:
Nicks has just launched, but once she’s rolling along, I’m going to interview her and add her site to the blog post!
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It has been so lovely to read through all these comments and hear what you all do in the company of your horses, how you interact and treat them with such respect. It is great to know that we are a growing number of people who see our horses as sentient beings who we can share our lives with in many different ways. We all need to be stimulated, we all need to enact out our innate behaviours and it is no surprise that we have many innate behaviours in common with the horse 🙂 My best wishes to all of you who have commented to the article, it is inspiring.
Thank goodness for social media, it is wonderful to see this way of thinking is not isolated to the local “eccentric ” horse woman, with her odd ways. I do love to ride but equally love spending time just being with my horse. And glad to have now found friends who feel the same. I have had many lovely walks with my horses in hand and my dogs and husband across the downs., although have popped on(with permission!) to go up a steep hill. Always met with puzzlement by other walkers and riders. Stopping for pic nicks. Also my friend I would regularly walk our horses out together in hand. Some days we ride some days we walk, some days a bit of both, depending how everyone felt on the that particular day! This kind of thing seems perfectly normal to me, and does open horse ownership to more then just one faction of the horse loving world. Better for horses and those owners feeling pressure and embarrasment if they are unable to ride because of lack of confidence, glad to hear the call for this being normalised. Hurrah!
I posted in this thread earlier but wanted to update you all that I have started a project called Horses Have Halos that explores the awareness of horses as spiritual beings and NOT riding them. I invite you to give my page a “like” or join the private group discussion (for a nominal monthly fee). We’ll be exploring spirituality and horses and sharing ideas for creating a relationship based on friendship, not training. Hope to see you on my page.
Absolutely love this article! My husband and I are retired with physical issues and have four horses. The guilt I feel over ” not riding them enough” is enormous, but they are our family and will always have a home. Comments from well meaning people are sometimes hard to handle.
Now you can just send all those well-meaning people a link to this blog post! People who make disparging comments also don’t realize the magnitude of the slaughter industry (Canada, Mexico, Japan, Europe) and that if those horses were not with their loving owners, there’s a good chance they would wind up in that pipeline.
Like “what is a horse for if you don’t ride it?” I get that one endlessly from horsey and non-horsey people alike!! I don’t even care anymore, I just smile and change the subject.
My horses became “pets” after many years of providing wonderful rides. I became ill with cancer and most of the time I am too weak to get them ready and go riding. I had them since 2002 and they are my family. At first I was feeling guilty about not riding them but I have come to realize they enjoy their life living here with their family whether they go riding or not. They are in great shape, love running all around the farm and seeing their humans. I am totally at ease about not riding them these days and I am so glad they are here to just to love. I wish I was well enough to take in a couple horses they are in danger of being slaughtered. I admire those who have!
Only us humans would manage to feel “guilty” about not making a creature work with heavy loads 🙂
I was so glade to know that I’m not alone I walk with braces will never ride but I’m up to 3 horses that I love so much ever time my family complains about the cost I just look at them and say horses mm$300 a month antidepressants 1200 for one month I think I’ll stay the natural way thank you want to drive me to the grain store I got money to spear for treats lol
Love it Cindy!! And oh so true – not even counting all the medical conditions that will RESULT from taking antidepressants, so just double that figure!
I have had two horses for pets for the last 10 years. One of them just passed away at the age of 33 after a long bout with an eye problem. I owned her for 20 years. Let me tell you to be prepared because they are extremely expensive pets. I can say though it’s worth it. There’s nothing like the love you get from this exquisite animal.
Yes it’s true – horse care is not cheap. But then neither are children. And as you pointed out, they are so very worth it.
Wow, great reading , I am not a horse person, but donated to a group of horse people who saved from the doggers , I paid for a colt the wanted to save , BUT got left holding the baby , found I owned not just unhandled but very fearful, reactive boy. Payed for 5 mnths training ,still fearful reactive, moved him where he got more , just hands on , was a little better .Me, a non horse person after months of just ;singing,talking ; to this boy , found the courage to go in , be his mate ; he sniffed, snorted rubbed his muzzle over my head, face , mouth -almost devoured me .I will never ride him , but I will love him, hopefully help him heal of whatever is making him fearful. Thank you for this wonderful article, and the responses -I am not alone !!!
Oh Mary you’re in the right place! As you’ve already experienced, “training” is one thing and maybe doesn’t lead to the best outcomes. But ‘relationship’ love, intimacy, trust, communication is all any horse (or being) needs. See if this helps give you even more freedom in your relationship:
Just found your site and blog yesterday and a friend sent yesterday’s post with this link.. Thank you so much for writing this. I have had this crazy idea for a while and recently as in last week just revamped my website and business to reflect my “pipe dream” of having people come out here to simply enjoy my mustang mare and my formerly wild donkeys and nature and also to do creative stuff and mostly just be. I did not know this was a “thing” and that it is valued as you have given examples in your piece. Delighted and infused to hear of kindred spirits out there…When my vision first started I had three mustangs. Sadly my original two haved passed away in the past two years. I am holding a vision for the best companion or situation for my mare. My website is http://www.foresthorse.com It is so new that very few friends have even been told about it YET. thank you for your writings and your compatriots’ writing as well!
Nice to meet you Kate! And each of the places/women profiled in the post are really great people, so don’t be shy to reach out for support or community. Your site looks great! I’d like to see more pictures though, especially of your donkeys – they’re so cutie-gorgeous!
I bought an 18 month old Piebald cob filly with the intention of keeping her as a pet and never riding her at any age. The simple pleasure of being near her in the field means the world to me!
She’s my personal therapy pony and has a sweet nature. I plan to walk on a lead rope on the country road when she’s a bit older.
I find so much pleasure in just watching my horses – their movement alone is so beautiful. And I think you will thoroughly enjoy taking strolls together!
Thank you so much for writing this. I am in my forties and have come to horses later in life. I initially was introduced to horses by getting riding lessons for myself. I found that I really enjoyed grooming better than riding, and so my instructor let me come any time to groom her horses. She suggested I get a horse of my own, and found a great beginner’s horse for me to buy. At the time we bought him, I had to board him at a facility, but I hated seeing the majority of his time in a stall, so all my daily visiting time with him was spent grooming and taking him for walks. That time was so wonderful, just bonding, and doing something for him. I did get pressure from other people, that would say, “you need to be riding that horse.” or “When are you going to start riding that horse?” I would be walking my horse when the other boarders were riding. I know they thought it was weird, but it was such a wonderful feeling walking side by side with my friend, watching him graze brought such enjoyment. I started this journey believing horses were for riding, but have totally changed my mind. Even though the home we own is on four acres, our HOA requirement was a minimum of 8 acres for horses. We were blessed with an opportunity to buy a 4 acre parcel adjoining our land, making it possible to bring my boy home. I have lost interest in riding, but I love my horse, and felt weird and guilty for having such a big pet that everyone expects should be ridden. When I tell people I have a pet horse, their first question is “do you ride him?” So, this article really hit home with me, and has made me feel better about having a horse as just a pet and a companion. He roams free on on his 4 acres with a donkey pal to keep him company. I love going to the pasture to be with him, and the feeling of being at liberty with him, especially when he choose to walk side by side with me, or follow me where ever I go. I love that he chooses to follow me without a halter. He uplifts my mood. My husband always noticed I was much happier after my visits to the boarding facility. Horse are wonderful, beautiful creatures, with endearing characteristics that can belong only to an equine. They deserve to be considered more than just something to ride. They make wonderful pets, and as long as someone realizes the extra care and expense that goes with them, there is no reason why someone can’t have a horse as “just” a pet. They have much worth and value beyond being ridden. Thanks again for this post.
Well said, Karen and thanks for sharing your story. I am still open to riding but only if the horse ASKS me to get on his/her back. I feel it’s similar to giving someone a piggyback – I would NOT be okay with someone just jumping on my back, or forcing me to piggyback them. But if they asked and I said, “Sure, I can piggyback you to the corner.” Then that would be okay. And of course, if I said, “Ugh, you’re really heavy, that hurts my shoulders, you need to get off.” Then I would want them to get off immediately, show concern for me and also be grateful that I piggybacked them as long as I could. Do unto others… right? I think most horses would be perfectly happy taken for hikes and on trails – walking side by side. Or meandering around the neighborhood. Everybody likes to get out and see new scenery, meet new people, or have an adventure 🙂
I ‘ended up’ with a young skewbald cob a few years ago to stop him being sold on after bonding with him. Never even though of owning a horse (love dogs) nor bothered about riding him but did break him and schooled him so far myself actually ride him bare back far better and he prefers it. Qualified as an integrative psychotherapist this year so hoping to use him to assist in groundwork and sometimes my bull terrier sits in on therapy sessions with especially anxious clients.
Hi Maz, that’s awesome! You may also enjoy the posts on this blog written by psychotherapist, Pat Rothchild. Here’s one to get you started:
And if you like that, more of her articles are here:
She uses both dogs and horses and has a few decades experience – with lots of good insights and “heads up” points 🙂
Love this article. I have a rare untreatable disease. I rescued my mare after she was abused, abandoned in the mountains with mustangs, and endured a horrific fire. She has PTSD, but I do as well. We have done amazing things together earning trust and being playful. I don’t think I’ll ever ride her, nor do I know if she will ever allow it by anyone. But she is my friend whom I love.
Trust, play and friendship – what more do you need? 🙂
Energy would be nice. 😉
Thanks Jini and everyone else here – for your kindness and compassion towards horses. And I when I was about nine or ten years old – a skinny little kid – I use to ride a horse bareback running wild in the Argentine pampas with my brother and sister. But as an adult I would never ever ride a horse because of the weight issue – and I don’t even think that an adult should ride a horse. And those metal mouth bits should be banned! How would a person like to be forced to have a metal bar in their mouth that is pulled tightly every time the rider feels like it?
It breaks my heart to see how heartless and cruel the BLM has been rounding up beautiful wild innocent horses, frightening the wits out of them, chasing them down in their helicopters – then with extreme brutality and savagery, beating them with clubs into trailers (Auschwitz for horses) and even breaking their legs and occasionally gouging out their eyes in the process. It is shocking and appalling that this kind of horrific thuggery is completely allowed by our government, paid for courtesy of our tax dollars. It makes me sick!
Then the wild horses are either dumped for weeks in a sweltering hot lot with no shade (no water and minimal food) or a freezing cold place to await their fate at auction – to be sold off en masse to some greedy low-life who buys them to send them to a slaughterhouse in Mexico.
And Sharon Stone (of all people! She unwittingly endorsed some movie about wild horses called Running Free (if I remember correctly) that sounds like something good – but it’s not! It’s about these cowboy thugs who work with the BLM to protect ranchers who don’t want the horses grazing on land that is public land. But it doesn’t even belong to them! It belongs to the public – it belongs to the wild horses – who should have just as much right to live as a person. But no. All these ranchers, cowboys BLM care about is money. And Sharon Stone did NOT do her homework when she endorsed this film about murdering wild horses. She was pictured online with this hot-looking cowboy with his arm around her – so that’s probably all she saw. Hot-looking guy making a movie called Running Free – hey this must be OK. But it was not. At all.
Yeah, horses and dogs and elephants and parrots and dolphins and on and on are more sensitive than most people. Animals are better than most people.
It’s time most Americans woke up to see the beauty and sweetness of animals and how we must confront meanness ignorance and stupidity towards animals, especially when it involves physical and emotional abuse.
Please sign animal rights petitions (change.org; care2.com and lots of other sites) as much as you can and send them to people you know. I have signed probably several thousand petitions for animals over the past fifteen years.
I wish I had land – I would save as many horses and dogs as I could. But I live in a shared house on a tight social security income budget.
Very good points Gloria. There’s still great work to be done by people who don’t have land though… as you pointed out, get active. Sign petitions, volunteer at Rescue centers, fundraise for Rescues, use social media and comment on blog posts (as you’ve done here) to help educate people, register at smile.amazon.com to support the animal rescue of your choice (.5% donated from every purchase you make). If we turn our sorrow into action, it won’t eat us up inside. xo
Jini i kinda agree with you but i do not fully agree i own 8 horses in total and i did buy some of them for just riding as i work at a stable and we have many kids who like to ride i also do lessons so those horses are there for that the same horses are also family to me and my husband so please do not say anything i do understand that and where did the lion shit come from?
Sure Mokoaa, you do you. If it feels good to your soul, that’s the important part. The lion comparison highlights what many/most people say to horse owners who don’t ride their horse: “What’s the point of having a horse (large, expensive animal) if you don’t ride it?”