Hoofbeats magazine - It's okay to own a paddock ornament. By Andie Wyatt

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by Andie Wyatt Keeping horses without using them might seem wasteful or pointless to some, but there are many ways and reasons to have horses in our lives without there being a saddle in sight. In an achievement-driven society, those who own horses but rarely if ever, ride them, can feel challenged or criticised by their peers. To some riding friends, and even non-horsey ones, not using your horse for ‘what it was made for’ is seen almost as a ‘sin’. Often, a subtle criticism goes with the challenge of, “When are you going to start riding that horse?” Genuine and well-meaning riding friends, keen to involve the non-rider and guide them into their wonderful world of riding, may offer help, suggesting lessons or coming for a quiet ride. They may even offer to start working the horse to make it easy for the non-riding horse owner to climb aboard. Some riders may not appreciate that, for others, merely coming home to see the horse grazing in its paddock, gives untold pleasure. Or that the smell of a horse and the feel of that warm breath and velvety muzzle is enough to transport the owner to an June/July 2017 - Page 30

instantly relaxed state and forget their work worries. And that is what they want from their horse. Not everyone starts out with the intention of being a non-riding horse owner. There are many and varied reasons why Australian pastures are dotted with ‘paddock ornaments’. These could include: injury to either horse or rider; age - children grow up and their beloved, elderly equine deserves a comfortable and happy retirement; it’s unintentional but life gets in the way; the owner enjoys caring for rescued, neglected or unwanted animals and loves having a horse in their life… Anna Blake, an American coach, author and horse advocate speaks eloquently of the many reasons why not riding is sometimes the right thing to do. “Maybe it’s you that is having a hard time; your past injuries are catching up and it’s hard to get comfortable in the saddle.

Going for a relaxing walk with one’s horse, grooming and talking to it, or just reading a book out in the paddock may be the perfect no-stress, mutually beneficial relationship for a human and their horse.

The pressure on non-riders is sometimes self-inflicted and increases when their own inner voice, or a partner, questions the expense of keeping a horse without riding.

Hearing continual comments from others can make the nonriding owner sensitive to the issue. Comments such as “Horses get bored standing around in the paddock all day; horses were made to work; they are healthier and live longer; they get naughty and suffer health problems if left in a paddock all the time,” etc. etc. They are lucky enough to have a horse - a dream of many who are unable to do so – and may question themselves as to why they aren’t riding it? Ah, guilt…that uniquely human emotion that can ruin the most innocent of dreams.

There is something to be said for giving an animal a job to do. All creatures are happier when allowed to fulfil their natural instincts, but a horse’s job is to find enough food, water, shelter and companionship. It is not born with the instinct or desire to get high scores in dressage or win the Pony Club bending race.

Maybe you are a certain age and your ‘courage hormones’ have abandoned you. “Or time makes you rush too much. You have a list of all your lists and so many people depending on you. You burst into the barn and ride fast, but you’re still late. Your horse behaves like the victim of a drive-by assault. It’s an honest response and you’ll deal with it when you have more time.” The conflict the horse owner can feel is immense. “You feel obligated. You feel like a loser. You’re too old or too busy or too frightened. You’d hate to think what people might say. You’d be letting your horse down. But in the quiet, when you listen to your heart, you know. “Humans seem to put so much self-judgment on whether they ride or not. I see it every day, as an instructor. Riding is wonderful; I’m glad I’m still in the saddle. But the longer I’m around horses, the more I believe that they don’t care if we ride or not. Relationship, as it relates to herd dynamics, is what matters to horses, and that isn’t defined by our altitude. Maybe it’s time to re-invent ourselves and up the conversation. Wouldn’t it be ironic if no longer riding meant that our horsemanship improved?”

Riding is not a natural function of the human body, which is why many riders struggle to do it well at a higher level. By default, their horses struggle, too. It is also riskier when there’s a lack of confidence. The keen and ambitious enjoy the challenge; but now that horses are no longer essential to human endeavour, riding is a desire, not a necessity. In an article he wrote in 2009, British psychiatrist and drug dependency expert Professor David Nutt cited a condition he called Equasy: Equine Addiction Syndrome, a condition ‘characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences, especially the harms from falling off/under the horse’. More than slightly tongue-in-cheek, Professor Nutt defined equasy as “an addiction that produces the release of adrenaline and endorphins and which is used by many millions of people in the UK including children and young people.” On a more serious note, “The harmful consequences are well established – Continued

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It’s OK to Own a Paddock Ornament continued...

Julie Johnson, horse enthusiast and past rider from NSW, has a story similar to many: an injury precluding her from riding sent her equine interests in other directions: breeding and showing. “I was fortunate to own a lovely Arab stallion. The passion for horses doesn’t go away, but it changes.” She recently started up a Facebook page catering for non-riding horse owners. (https:// www.facebook.com/Horse-People-Who-Dont-Ride). “Some riders do come down hard on non-riders. I wanted to create a safe (non-judgemental) forum for people who don’t ride, to seek advice and support one another. It took on a life of its own. There are a lot of non-riding horse enthusiasts out there.” So long as the owner spends time with their horse, ensures it has everything it needs to thrive and be happy, and doesn’t spoil its character or health with the wrong kind of love, horse ownership without the activity of riding may be highly symbiotic and rewarding for both parties. Going for a relaxing walk with one’s horse, grooming and talking to it, or just reading a book out in the paddock may be the perfect no-stress, mutually beneficial relationship for a human and their horse.

about 10 people a year die of it and many more suffer permanent neurological damage. It has been estimated that there is a serious adverse event every 350 exposures and these are unpredictable, though more likely in experienced users who take more risks with equasy.” He compared the love of horses to an unhealthy drug dependency to make a point to law-makers, but Professor Nutt raises a pertinent point. Addiction to adrenalin or success, flirting with death and the desire for long satin ribbons may be complications of some riders’ attitude to horses and riding. While not considered an extreme sport where danger is a key element in its attraction, the risks associated with horse riding put it at the top of the dangerous sports list. People die and are permanently damaged from falling – with neck and spine fracture leading to permanent spinal injury (Silver and Parry, 1991; Silver 2002). Head injury is four times more common though often less obvious and is the usual cause of death. In the USA, approximately 11,500 cases of traumatic head injury a year are due to riding (Thomas, et al., 2006), while in some shire counties of the UK it has been estimated that riding causes more head injury than road traffic accidents (Nutt, 2009). While we would never suggest that people give up riding because of the possibility of injury, the key point here is that many riders are forced to stop because of injury or loss of confidence. Does this mean that they should give up the pleasure of owning horses, entirely?

With evolving understanding of horses’ minds and appreciation of their innate qualities on the increase, there are more ways than ever for those who opt not to ride to enjoy horses in highly interactive and rewarding ways. The amazing results that in-hand training can achieve, is an example. June/July 2017 - Page 32

With way too many horses being bred, and consequently, so many in need of loving homes and care, those who love horses for their own sake and decide (or have the decision thrust upon them) to have paddock ornaments, who feed, love and care for them without a blue ribbon in sight, may rank right at the top of the leaderboard with the best horse owners there are.

Andrea - I have three ornaments; one mini company, and two retired. They all have taught me everything I know today and help me deal with my youngster that I have now. I don’t get rid of my family just because I can’t ride them. They show me kindness and teach me every day. I’m so thankful for them all - till death do us part. Anita - There is so much more to horse ownership than riding. I keep trying to explain that to others. I do ride but also enjoy my horses for companionship. They do groundwork, go for walks, mow my lawn... provide me with so much pleasure. Kate - My Mum is in her 80’s now and has always been around horses. She can’t ride anymore but has four horses on her property that live the life of luxury. They keep her active and I believe that’s the reason she is so healthy in mind and body. Ann - I always wanted a horse, rode as a child but never had the property or money to own one. I moved to Australia 1999 and bought land, and in 2012 got my first horse, Eddy, at the age of 53. Sadly last September I fell off, badly injuring myself, so haven’t ridden since. I love my boy so much and haven’t given up hope one day I may get back on. For now, we spend lots of time together in the paddock and have created an amazing connection. He has helped in my healing process, we do groundwork together and I can spend hours watching him in the paddock with his two donkey companions. I wouldn’t give him up for the world. Libby - Rode and competed for many years, then life changed. After a long gap, I’m in the country with a small property. No longer ride but my horses are my family. Twelve horses and two ponies - all rescues of various ages and breeds and issues. Couldn’t be without them.