animal wisdom girls and horses horse wisdom horses wisdom of animals Mar 22, 2023
Two horses in a pasture

Ernie is a horse. As far as I know, he’s still a horse, and living in eastern Washington. At least that’s my hallucination, because I’m hoping he’s living out his days with the family who bought him from us.

Ernie came to live with us around 2003, and he was about 3 years old. We were renting our barn to a guy who bought and sold horses, and he brought in this leggy, skittish baby and said he was going to make a barrel horse out of him. Ernie looked as though that was the last thing in the world he wanted to do - so I bought him. 

There was a time when I liked leggy skittish baby horses. That time has long passed. And I was not a good horse person. I tended to let my ego get in the way of any progress. To say Ernie and I were a mismatch would be a huge understatement. The fact that I’m still alive is a testament to how forgiving he is.

I owe Ernie a lot. I was making zero progress with him, and I was desperate. So desperate that this pseudo dressage rider was willing to go to a clinic run by a (gasp) cowboy to learn about natural horsemanship.

That cowbody’s ideas were waaaay better than anything I had tried, and a lot of his techniques worked with me and Ernie. As I’ve gotten older and opened my mind (instead of being blindly loyal), I’ve found lots of ways to be with horses that enhance everything I learned during my beginning natural horsemanship days. A lot of the stuff that was between the lines, that I didn’t even understand or know was there, has been revealed. And I’m constantly learning. Beginner’s mind works in any discipline.

Ernie and I were crap with me in the saddle, but we got along really well on the ground. He would follow me around, and he’d circle me without anything holding him there, and turn and spin, walk, trot and canter on command. It was fun, and we developed a friendship. Sometimes he would break out of the circle and approach me, then stop well away from me and rear up. This horrified a friend who was a trainer, but it was Ernie’s way of joking around with me, and I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. I would laugh, and he’d gently come in for a nose rub.

Ernie was one of those horses who didn’t like change. At all. Trying to get him in a trailer was really painful. I had a trainer friend (who was well-versed in natural horsemanship and had horses to die for) try for three hours one time to get him in a trailer. When he decided something, he stuck with it. He must have had a really bad experience trailering when he was young, and I’m sure if it had been a priority for me and we had stuck with it, eventually he would have gotten over his fear and become adept at trailer loading. Because I didn’t care if he ever left the property, it was a non-issue for us, and we focused on other things.

As he got older and we had some other horses, I had less time to spend with Ernie, so we needed to find him a new home. Ernie did best when he was occupied. He was part thoroughbred, and needed to have a job. He was rideable, just not by me because I’m a wimp. There was a family who lived in eastern Washington looking for a trail horse. They planned on riding daily. They came out, tried him out, and fell in love. So off to eastern Washington he went (and yes, he went in the trailer without too much trouble - maybe he knew it was where he was supposed to be). As far as I know he’s still galloping around on the hills and trails over there, being ridden by someone who enjoys his company and has the energy to go for miles and miles.

If not for Ernie, I would never have opened my mind to possibilities with horses. He taught me it was okay to think outside the box, to take a look at what the horse needs, and to go with that. It was okay to not get on and ride if all it did was make me (and subsequently him) miserable. He was a challenging ride, and I wasn’t up to it. That was a huge lesson. I really had to let go of a lot of ego for that one. 

Because of him, I had a beautiful relationship with my beloved horse Wilma, who was the exact opposite of Ernie - she liked going slow, she was patient, she didn’t need constant reassurance that she was special, and we had tons of fun riding the trails around our home in western Washington. As she got older, we rode less, and she became my number one coaching partner. If Ernie hadn’t taught me that every relationship is different, I might have put Wilma in some sort of box, instead of appreciating her for exactly who she was.

That’s how I feel about Ernie. I love him for who he showed me he was. He was a great teacher, and taught me so much about myself and about what it means to be in a relationship. And then he got his dream job as someone else’s trail horse, because I was able to let him go be who he is, instead of trying to make him something he wasn’t.

I only have one picture of Ernie, and this is it. He’s on the right, and Wilma is on the left. I don’t know what they’re talking about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were gossiping about crazy humans.


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