We were once visiting a state park with our horses and overheard a little girl who was there saying, “I think I would like to have a pet horse.” More power to you darling, I am all for it. Just who is to say you cannot have a horse as a pet? I am here to defend all of those who are prepared to think of horses as pets. I know calling a horse a pet would stick in the throats of many serious and traditional horsemen and horsewomen. Making a large animal into a pet might be a dangerous precedent with who knows what consequences. Worse yet, what happens if the horse realizes that it is a pet? Would any self respecting horse be able to hold its head up high with the realization that it was a mere pet?
A friend once arranged to take lessons on one of our horses. When I collect a horse from the field I am in the habit of giving the animal a small treat of some kind. I figure that it functions much the same way as does a tip to a good waiter. The horse comes right to me and you do not spend an hour chasing it all over God’s creation. I have also been there and done that. Thinking about it, occasionally I have had the very same kind of experience with waiters. On this occasion, I was rather surprised when the visiting riding instructor chastised me in no uncertain terms that I should in no way ever give horses treats when I am getting them. My attitude is that if I want to give my horses treats, I have every right to do so and if she does not, well, that’s fine also. My horses are my horses and hers are hers. I would point out to her that even German equestrian legend Waldemar Seunig concedes that sometimes a little homme mangeoire, as he calls it (in other words a reward), is necessary to keep an animal from souring during training.
This all goes beyond this word “pet.” It is a question of what manner of relationship you wish to have with your horse. You can love your children and not be a permissive parent. You can relate to your horse as a pet without surrendering your authority over him as his rider. As I have said before a horse is looking to you, the rider, for leadership and finds it disconcerting when he does not find it. It cuts to the tenor of the relationship. Are you prepared to acknowledge the animal as a being with its own heart and soul and develop a bond with it, or do you think of it as just another thing to be put to your own uses? I believe that horses know if they are treated with affection and are capable of reciprocating. I believe that they feel happiness or sadness just as acutely as do we humans. If I can bring a little happiness into their lives, then I am the better man for it.