Sometimes, you just don't experience love at first sight with a new horse. What can you do when you aren't bonding? Find out in this episode of Barn Stories.

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[Christine] What can you do when you aren’t bonding with a new horse? Find out in this episode of Barn Stories.

[Laurie] Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I'm Laurie Prinz, editor EQUUS magazine.

[Christine] And I'm managing editor, Christine Barakat.

[Laurie] This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.

[Christine] We've searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you're new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share. 

[Christine] Having a deep connection with a particular horse for many happy years is a gift. It’s also a bit of a curse in that any horse who follows will have a lot to live up to. It’s not surprising then, how many riders struggle to connect with a new equine partner after retiring their older horses.

[Laurie] The essay we are featuring in this episode tells the story of one such struggle. The writer, Cathy, fears she’ll never connect with her new mount, Jackson, as well as she did with her old horse. Her frustrations grow until she realizes that she really hadn’t been giving Jackson much of a chance to win her affections. So, armed with just a grooming kit and a resolve to see the best in her new horse she sets out to win him over.

[Christine] Let’s find out if it worked by listening to “Love the One You’re With,” written by Cathy Erickson and written by Taylor Autumn.

[soft music]

[Taylor Autumn, story reader] Jesse was a legend. He was a halter champion, a winner in dressage, a bombproof foxhunter and an undefeated trail challenge champion. More important, he was the sweetest soul. He loved people, he loved to train, he loved to travel, he loved me. I bought him as a yearling, and I held his head in my arms as he died at 32.

Jackson, on the other hand, has had to follow in Jesse’s footsteps. I wanted my next horse to be a bit smaller, and I wanted another buckskin, so when this cute, 4-year-old, 14.3 hand red dun popped up in my Facebook feed, I thought I’d go take a look.

It was not love at first sight. But I thought the little gelding had potential. Plus he wasn’t too expensive, so if he didn’t work out I wouldn’t get hurt financially. So I brought Jackson home when Jesse was 30. The process of bonding with Jackson was slow at first. It probably didn’t help that I was just getting to know Jackson while still doting on Jesse. My older horse’s every need was met immediately and he got the “special” hay and all the attention he wanted and then some.

Meanwhile, I started riding my new horse, but after more than two decades on Jesse, the adjustment was harder than I expected. I had to develop a new sense of balance and rewrite my muscle memory. The first time I took Jackson down a dicey hill I thought I was going to fall right over his head. Jesse had a beautiful, long body and knew how to sit back going down a steep slope. My new horse was much more compact and wanted to charge down hills. This took a toll on my body and confidence. It felt wrong.

Jackson was a choppier ride, too. I missed my old, reliable champ and I’m guessing my feelings showed. While Jesse came running at the sound of my voice, Jackson seemed uninterested---he even walked away. I missed being adored by my horse.

Finally, I realized something that I had forgotten after 30 years: Even Jesse wasn’t “my Jesse” at first. When he was a yearling I had spent hours practicing for halter classes, brushing him and fussing over him. Our perfect partnership developed only with years of work, lots of time at shows and many shared experiences.

A bond with Jackson would require a similar commitment. I needed to start over. Instead of just grabbing Jackson out of the pasture to ride, I started spending more time with him, leading, brushing, hand grazing, bathing and just generally hanging out. Jackson hadn’t been doted on as a baby, and he had never really had his own person, so I had to show him the benefits. Little by little we made progress. In time, Jackson didn’t always walk away when I appeared at the pasture gate, and he started to relax during groundwork. He was deciding to trust me and, as a result, become more engaged and predictable.

Jackson and I have been together for four years now, and our partnership isn’t perfect, but we continue to make progress. He makes me work harder than Jesse did, but at least it’s work I enjoy. Jackson may not be Jesse, but he sure is a fun little cow pony in his own right. And how lucky am I to have that?

I’ve come to realize that it’s not about finding “the horse of a lifetime.” It’s really about taking the time to make a life with the horse you have. And maybe you’ll find that another special horse was right there all along.

[Christine] Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you'd like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at EQUUSBarnStories@gmail.com.

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The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network.

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