Thursday, May 28, 2009

Creating A Heart for Humans

I have another horse project at my house that is dear to my heart--my Jasmine project. She's a pony, so you could call it my pony project.

Jasmine is a beautiful, small-sized pony I received from my friend almost two years ago. We don't know anything about her history really, except what we've tried to do for her at our homes--and that she had to have been severely mishandled when she was young. We've all had varying degrees of success.

Tina did a lot for her--a teenage girl did a lot for her--I've done a lot for her, there have probably been other humans who tried to heal her along her path, but I think it's safe to say that none of us have won her heart.

It's disappointing.

But I won't give up.

You know, what's amazing about her is how obedient she is and also how gentle she is. She wouldn't kick or bite a person to save her life--literally. When she's on a lead rope, she's excellent. She picks up her feet nicely, too.

But all you have to do is look in her eye to see that she does not love us. She doesn't really like us.

Now, my old horse, Red, when we first got him--he didn't have the look of love either. He was Mr. Obedient--which really got me thinking--which is most important? Obedience seemed pretty darn good, that's for sure! I had other horses with big hearts toward humans that weren't nearly as obedient as my stoic Mr. Red. In what I imagined of my perfect horse world, I guess I wanted both.

I think it took about five years for me to see what I would consider an attachment to us. It was after my colt, who he was surrogate dad to, died. I used to go stand out in the pasture where they had stood and tell my troubles to Red. He seemed to understand me, soften toward me, lean in to me, and since that time I feel like we've had a real relationship--above and beyond obedience. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me. We have a true friendship now.

Horses say a lot through their eyes, don't they?

With Jasmine I've thought a million things at different times--I've even asked myself the question--does she have a sight problem or a true mental problem? Basically, could there be a physical issue at play? But then, I watch her with the other horses--who she really does love--and she is a vital member of their herd. She developed a strong attachment, like they all do, to Red--they ALL love Red. Her eye is soft and receptive to them.

So, how do you turn a horse's heart toward humans? How do I get toward us what she gives so easily to others of her kind?

Beautiful, a wild Mustang, was easy to turn. Having not really seen too much bad from humans, she was quick to accept us when she understood we humans put horses on a pretty high pedestal. All we want to do is feed them, clean up after them, pet and groom them, and eventually ride them. Beautiful figured out pretty quick that a life with humans was a life of being treated like Royalty.

Not so with Jasmine. She likes our food. She likes the comfort of her herd. But she has yet to seek me out on her own.

Each day, now that the weather's nice, I go out and sit in her area. She goes away from me and watches and watches. Her full attention is always on me until I leave. What I want is for her to come to me willingly. I want her heart.

I don't know how long I'll have to wait to get it--another year, two, three, four, five?

This is a subject for which I welcome any and all advice and your own experiences with winning the hearts of your horses.

And, if you could only have ONE thing--complete and total obedience--a push-button, respectful horse--or the heart of the horse--which would you rather have?


  1. Jasmine looks so sweet, but so sad. When you left a comment on my blog today, I thought you were referring to Beautiful, whose heart already belongs to you, it is so apparent in photos. This one is so different in her expression, her connection. I know you love your horses, and I'd say just keep on loving her with much, much patience. And have your camera ready for the day she comes to you, ready to share her heart.

  2. Linda - you have done alot with Jasmine. She looks really good and I am glad you decided to keep her that day. I really think she will come around but as you know it takes time - her time as much as your own. Thank you for giving her a wonderful home!

  3. Joanne--Jasmine is sweet--and I guess that's why I felt she was worth investing in. I had the camera pretty near her face, though, so that was probably part of her worried eye there. ;) If she ever does come to me willingly--you better believe I'll post a picture--and I want everyone to send me a medal. :):)

    Tina--The day she broke out of the fence and I couldn't catcher her, I seriously considered rehoming her. Katie even found a perfect match--a woman who wanted her to be a companion horse to her horse. I know she would have been good at that because she loves other horses, but I wasn't ready to quit yet.

    Today I gave her a bath--she was pretty scraggly looking and dirty--and I fly sprayed her as I did all the rest. I'm going to spend lots of time with her and treat her like a BIG horse! I don't know if she's enjoying it, but it's fun for me. :):)

  4. Interesting post, good topic. I feel for you trying to win this pony's heart. I hope she comes around! It might take a lot of time, or she might just be too damaged, it is not a reflection of you and your effort.
    My horse was very "obeidiant," introverted, anti-social, and not so friendly with humans when I leased him. There are good points to this, he knew his role as a horse, not an over-sized lapdog. Then he became mine, and I am affectionate and spoil him and want to bond. Well in the past year and a half, he has changed, even my sister and her boyfriend noticed it. He's friendly, more curious, yes, slightly more extroverted (but not ill-mannered, I do keep that in check!) It's been fun to see his personality come out. I do feel he knows me, and is most comfortable with, me. He is a one-person horse and I feel we will grow even more closer in the next few years.

  5. Pony Girl--what you said about him knowing his place as a horse rather than an over-sized lap dog is interesting. There is something to respect about that, isn't there? It's interesting that everyone has seen the change since you started bringing out his personality. You may have the perfect thing going--a well-trained (started) horse who you get to work on the heart. That was my situation with Red. It seems, more often than not, people buy horses who love humans, but lack manners--a more dangerous and difficult position to start from--and their foundation isn't as strong.

    I had a trainer once tell me she'd rather have a horse that had never been touched by humans than one who had--to start with--she gets those trained right faster. (I don't know if the way I wrote that makes any sense.)


  6. Can I add another thought? I also think that once you turn their heart toward you, you get it forever. A horse's heart is loyal and their memory for you, long.

  7. I just came across your blog and you've asked some very interesting questions! For me, I don't expect the horse to respect me unless I respect the horse. Obedience due to coercion or fear is only that - it isn't the partnership I want to have with my horses, where their willingness to try to do what I ask and my willingness to try to be clear and consistent and to listen to what they have to say to me is all part of the package. That said, I don't treat my horses like house pets, but as the magnificent and powerful (in body and spirit) animals they are. I don't expect them necessarily to be affectionate, but to have enough confidence in me that they can say what they need to and know that I will listen.

    I have a somewhat different relationship with each of my horses. My current riding horse, Maisie, came to me in a depressed, shut-down condition and didn't want much to do with me for a long time. She had to learn to trust through experience. With our big alpha mare Lily, we need to be equals - we don't try to dominate each other, but Lily understands what is acceptable behavior and what isn't, and I treat her with the respect her personality and status deserve. We also have a pony, Norman, who like your pony was clearly severely mistreated before we got him. It took years for him to settle down and trust us enough to not attack whenever he felt worried. He'll never be completely safe - you have to be careful in his stall and not to startle him - but he has improved. If your pony can have food treats, perhaps some simple training, such as clicker, with treats, could get some interest and interaction going. That said, some horses may never trust people enough to "come back".

    Sorry for such a long comment!

  8. Thanks, Kate--actually, I prefer the long comments--and having read what you wrote at Cheryl's site, I think you know what you're talking about when it comes to horses.

    You make good points--one I found especially interesting was how you treat the alpha mare--with the respect she deserves. I agree--each horse is unique.

    My alpha gelding--the head of the herd is well-trained, but because of his status, if he's out untouched for a long time, he'll try to assert himself over me in tough situations. He's not my riding horse--he's my husband's--so we don't have a good working relationship--but still, I have to move him around the pastures, so I've had to get on him a few times.

    Red is very noble and also one of the alpha types, but he knows humans are at the top (always has) and I don't have to do much with him--small reminders sometimes.

    It's interesting, too, how the babies change--our filly Cowgirl went from a baby mode with us (like Beautiful is in now) to the alpha mare position.

    What you said about your pony--is also very interesting. Jasmine, oddly enough for how fearful of humans she is, never shows any aggression--never--even when she's trapped. So, in that respect, my job is easy. You said it took you years though, and that's what I'm starting to think it will take for me.

  9. Hello,

    I just stumbled upon your blog while wandering around the net enjoying other people's horses.

    I recently saw a horse training tip on another blog that might help Jasmine to connect better with you. Very sorry I'm not clever enough to embed a link, but you can find it in the 2nd comment by Deer Run Stables on this post:

    The tip involves hiding food and then taking the horse for a walk and "finding" the hidden treat. After a while the horse will start to think you are a very clever leader.

    Best of luck with Jasmine!

  10. Linda, I enjoyed reading this post.

    When I brought my then 6 yr old Bo home, he was very stand-offish. He seemed to not want to give in to the attention we gave him. I don't think he was mistreated, but something was kept him at a distance for about 3 years. He was always obedient and mannerly. Finally, the past year (it's been 4 years) I have seen his eye soften toward me. It's as if before,he just didn't trust the good to stay. Like you mention, it was the eyes.

    Now, my younger guy, Spirit, was 2 when I brought him home, from the same farm, Bo and Spirit were herd mates, he seemed to trust up quickly. He's always been the accepting one.

    I have heard mares are harder at trusting but when they give it, it's forever to the one they bond with. I think Jasmine will eventually come around and I think you'll be the person to prove to her she can trust a human once again.

    My goal has always been to win the hearts of my horses as well as respect. I think the two come hand in hand. You get what you give!

  11. Thank you, Jackie B, for the tip. I'll have to give it a try.

    Leslie--That's encouraging to read your story with Bo. I've also heard the same thing about mares. More and more, I'm hearing that taking years to get some horse's hearts is not unusual.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.