Choosing a horse and choosing a man have more similarities than you might think. When I met my horses, I wasn’t specifically looking for them. In both cases I took them on because their owners needed a good home for them and I’ve learned to love them warts and all. Would I have chosen them anyway? Knowing them as I do now, definitely I would, but the journey to establish a harmonious relationship hasn’t always been easy. And I’ve certainly learned a thing or two about choosing men from learning to get along with Penny and Jester.

There is an old saying that you can tell a gelding, but you have to ask a mare and negotiate with a stallion. So unless you are planning to remove the testicles from your human stallion, and I have found most men have an objection to this, choosing a bloke you can negotiate with is pretty critical. Having a horse certainly hones those negotiation skills.

There is always a honeymoon period where the horse behaves quite well while they suss you out and then they start pushing the boundaries and testing what you are really made of. You can try out a horse a thousand times but you don’t really get to know its personality until you live with it. Same with men. He might look fantastic, move beautifully, be sound in wind and limb (the wind might not come out for a while, but it definitely will eventually!) and pass the initial vetting from your girlfriends across the bar. That does not mean he is The One. Caveat emptor applies with both horses and men. Handsome is, as handsome does!

Horses, like humans, have their own identity and personality. They are who they are and you can’t change their core self. You can’t do it with men either. Learning to live with their oddities and love them in spite of or even because of them is the best course of action with both men and equines. So choose a chap whose oddities you can just about live with.

The stubbornness of mules pales into insignificance in comparison with the stubbornness of men and mares. I’ve found loading a horse that doesn’t want to go in the lorry is very similar to trying to get a man to do something he doesn’t want to do. Nigh on impossible! You might get them to do it eventually, but is the frustration and the tears worth it? No! Give it up, it will save you tons of heartache. Take a negotiation refresher course instead.

I’ve learned in the communication game with both men and horses, they are much more willing if they think it was their idea. Enabling them to think that and take the relevant credit leads to a much more harmonious relationship, and gets you the result you want – eventually. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, get a dog.

It took me a while to learn to listen and hear what my horses were saying to me. They don’t speak the same language, but they do communicate very, very clearly. A rapid plunge into the ditch and a scrabble back up the bank, accompanied by snorting and wild eye rolling is a pretty clear indication that my horse is not keen on wandering the lanes.

Now men do a similar thing, and they are actually much more honest than we women give them credit for. It’s just that often we hear what we want to hear; we interpret their words with the slant we want to give them. So he says ‘I don’t want to get married (again), ever’; but we hear ‘I don’t want to get married again, until you persuade me that it’s a good idea and I’ll then want to marry you‘. No wonder he leaps into a ditch, snorts and rolls his eyes wildly when the word ‘commitment’ is mentioned in virtually any context. I’ve learned to listen to the subtle and not so subtle messages from the horses and the men, and take heed! There is no point choosing a commitment phobic man, or a tractor phobic horse, if you really want to get married or only hack around country lanes.

This leads me on to asking the right questions. Horses don’t lie and men might try hard but they are useless at it. The truth will out in both cases. If a bloke says don’t call him out of office hours, or he always insists on calling you, this is telling you something – i.e. he isn’t single. If you send him a birthday card but it’s not on display when you visit his house, this is telling you something: he has at least one person who visits the house who he is hiding you from. An appropriate question might be, ‘is there someone else in his life?’ If you are ever unsure whether your man is lying, stick him the stable with the horse and then ask him to tell the truth. If your horse rolls his eyes with that ‘oh pleeese!!!!’ expression, your suspicion is probably correct.

I know I haven’t asked enough of the right questions in the past and it has landed me in much heartache when I discovered the answers, too late, that I wished I’d known at the outset. I was lucky with my horses, I knew them well before taking them on. Not so with the chaps. Blokes get a hard time for not being honest, but if we girls got much better at reading the signals that are there, rather than the signals we would prefer, we would be so much better off in the relationship game. It’s not just the questions you ask of him that matter, it’s also the ones we ask of ourselves (like why do I put up with this?).

Another thing I have observed is the female tendency to fall in love with a rescue case of either species (and often both). So many women take on an ex-racehorse without checking its full background. Race horses are bred, born and trained to run. Some men, likewise. Some, under expert training and very confident riding, will become superb and trusting partners. Some will always have disturbing and confidence-shattering tendencies, often through no fault of their own. My advice to any woman taking on an ex is check out where he came from – not just the last person to train him, but his family history. It will tell you heaps about his imprinted behaviour which you will have to learn to live with – or not. Choose your ex wisely.

There are certain advantages a horse has over a man. If the relationship really isn’t working you can sell it or shoot it and neither will get you into trouble. You can also take out loss of use insurance on a horse in case it can’t perform the job you bought it to do. I don’t know of any insurance policy that covers a bloke for that. You can of course trade in your chap for a different model, but sometimes it’s better to learn to manage the devil you have than to start the learning process all over again!

I still consider myself a student of horsemanship and men. I feel there is an awful lot to learn. I’ve steered clear of the dating scene for a bit, while I hone my negotiating, listening and honesty-detecting skills and the skill of asking the right questions at the right time.

Probably the most important thing I have learned though is to know myself and to be true to myself; to know what is really important to me in all aspects of my life and to know the deal-breakers. With horses and with men, if your own values are constantly violated it does not make for a happy relationship; but (and this applies to all parties concerned) when your values are honoured and respected, when you are loved for who you truly are, warts and all, when you communicate clearly and honestly with no agenda except the greatest good for both of you, then you can start to come together in a delicious, harmonious dance of truly unconditional love. I’ve found that with my horses, now where is my man?

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