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An Equine Attitude Adjustment

Could a spoiled and stubborn horse teach her something about relationships?

By Susan Federici, Vineland, New Jersey

As appeared in

Smoothie tossed her mane and snorted as I came to her stall. She stepped back and forth in anticipation. “Be patient, girl,” I said. “I’ve got a carrot for you.”

I reached into my pocket, but apparently I was moving too slow for Smoothie. She tossed me into the back wall of the stall with her nose and roughly searched my jacket pockets. She’d torn my pocket half off before finding what she wanted.

I got out of the stall and shut the door behind me. Smoothie munched her carrot happily, but I was at my wit’s end.

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Fifty-two and new to riding, I wondered if I’d made a mistake thinking I could handle this beautiful bay quarter horse, my favorite at the stables. When her owner offered to give her to me it seemed like a dream come true. Now I wasn’t so sure.

I wanted to give Smoothie all the love she deserved, but she wasn’t making it easy.

Love, I thought. Was it ever easy? I’d recently ended a long-term relationship, one I’d hoped would last forever. There too I’d done everything to make it work: I was supportive, loving, cared about this man’s needs above all else. Wasn’t that how love was supposed to work?

Well, for me love didn’t work. I locked the stall door. Lord, I’m throwing in the towel where men are concerned.

Smoothie stuck her nose over the stall door and pushed at me just as the trainer at the stable happened by. “What’s going on?” she wanted to know.

“I’m at a loss,” I confessed. I told her about Smoothie’s behavior. How she wasn’t like this in the beginning. What had gone wrong?

“Sounds like that horse is spoiled silly,” the trainer said. “Starting right now, no carrots for a month. And no riding. We’re going to work on Smoothie’s ground manners.” No carrots? Now Smoothie was really going to be mad at me.

As I walked her out of the barn she searched my pockets and snorted. I walked her around on a lead. When she tried to pull away, the trainer had me pull her back into line.

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No matter how much Smoothie tossed her head or stamped her foot, she didn’t get her way. I hoped she didn’t hold it against me too much!

Smoothie stayed angry for the next couple of days. Then one morning when I walked into the stables, Smoothie lifted her head. She was looking at me instead of my pockets. It was a lot easier to walk her on her lead when she didn’t have her head stuck in my clothing.

“She’s learning to respect you,” the trainer said when she saw us. Was that what this was, respect? It certainly felt good.

That night in bed I thought about how right the trainer was about Smoothie. I’d given her carrots to show her that I loved her, but instead of becoming more affectionate, Smoothie became more demanding. Giving her everything she wanted hadn’t made her love me.

Not unlike my relationship that had just ended, and all the relationships I’d had in my life before that, come to think of it. I’d let men walk all over me. Whenever I had a man in my life, he became the center of it. Whatever he wanted, I jumped to please him.

In return, just like Smoothie, he came to see me only as a giver, not as someone with needs of her own.

I stuck to my guns with Smoothie. When I saddled her up again, she obeyed me, she was affectionate, and now that a carrot was a special treat, she appreciated it. Smoothie had taught me what not to do in relationships with horses or human beings.