mirror mirror

This post seems especially pertinent coming on the heels of SprinklerBandit’s treatise on behavior and communication, and Saiph’s thoughts about animal behavior. It’s been percolating for a while.

My trainer has always maintained that long-term horse and human partners are a lot like one another in personality. I agree, as I’ve seen it so many times in the people around me. Stubborn, sassy people and stubborn, sassy horses. Quiet, steady horses and their quiet, steady people. And more subtle similarities: hiding anxiety in bravado, or masking mistakes with annoyance. Weirdly overreactive, explosively opinionated, slightly crazy with a penchant for cheekiness… nope not talking about anyone specific here. My trainer and our friends always tease me about it when Murray and I are clashing, or when we’re at a show and I’m like “I can’t eat I’m going to puke” and Murray is all “DON’T ANYBODY TOUCH ME I’M GOING TO EXPLODE”.

And then when talking about making a match between a young horse and prospective buyers, my trainer dropped another bomb on me. With young horses, she hypothesized, they become like the people who ride them the most. They take on aspects of their human’s personality. Trainer smiled apologetically at me while she said it. At first I was like “no WAY did I make Murray what he is, he was always a beastie!” but then I stopped to think about it.

IMG_3745Oh I would never flip someone off thusly….

Research suggests that we tend to get along with people that we understand, and we tend to have friends that have similar personalities to ourselves (this is a whole chapter of my thesis, just trust me on this one). Sure, we have friends with complementary or differing personalities, but the vast majority of literature suggests that similarity attracts in terms of friendships.

But research also suggests that as people spend time together their personalities may converge. Are long-time friends similar because they were always similar and that’s the strength of their friendship, or are they similar because over time they became more and more like one another?


Maybe this is like astrology. Maybe if you are just broad enough in your statements there’s enough similarity between any horse-person pair that you can make this statement true. But I’m not so sure. The similarities between me and Murray are what make us a great pair. He’s silly and ridiculous and a little bit naughty – and I can appreciate that. I like to be silly and ridiculous and a little bit naughty myself, so how can I fault the guy when he is? When he’s overstimulated and just needs quiet time, well, more often than not I need some quiet time too. I can’t eat anything more than goldfish crackers at shows, and Murray breaks away from the trailer. We both have a problem with waistbands: I habitually eat too much and need to undo my pants – even in pubic – and Murray hates having a girth put on. And we both love a little Biggie Smalls for pump up music.

Silly superficial similarities aside, sometimes these things are what make us clash so strongly. If I’m being a little bit lazy and not riding quite right and Murray isn’t responding to me, it’s because he has taken the opportunity to be a little bit lazy too. And when I stubbornly insist on doing something my way and only win half the time, it’s because someone just as stubborn insisted that we were going to do it his way instead. I don’t mind too much. Most of the time, it’s a flattering mirror I look into.

Let’s take my RBF (riding best friend!) and her new baby horse, G, as a case study on changing together. When RBF and I went to meet G he was still a colt, and he was sweet and kind and goofy. RBF was coming out of a really hard failed vet check on the horse she’d just been trying, and wasn’t quite herself. Once we moved him over to our barn and started to learn more about him, G proved himself to be the happiest horse I’ve ever met – he’s seriously never had a bad day. As RBF got happier, so did G. Did his cheerful personality help her? Probably. But if she weren’t inclined to smile at his silly horse antics they wouldn’t have worked anyway. G likes to play with anything and everything, and is brave to a point. Even if he doesn’t really understand what you’re asking of him he’s willing to give it a go – and when our trainer tells me RBF to do something she’s a little doubtful of you won’t hear her saying “I can’t” or “no”.

gplayInvisible jumps!

Recently, G discovered that he looooves to play under saddle. Not all the time, but especially out on cross country where the blood is up and excitement is high, G has decided that he’s more than happy to throw his athletic “little” body around for fun. RBF has a great sense of humor, so when G plays around and rolls his back and broncs a little on cross country, she just laughs it off. After all, what does a little play hurt anyone if you don’t have another fence rushing up? I would even go so far as to say my RBF enjoys the playful antics, as an expression of G’s joy.

But what if RBF had more workmanlike goals in mind and didn’t want the play? Probably she’d shut it down fairly quickly and move him along to the next thing. G is a smart boy. He’d learn pretty quickly that RBF doesn’t enjoy his playtime and that one little leap or buck of amusement is all he could get out of her.

12033249_10152970267496568_1851465552_nPure joy. I would have uploaded videos but WP said no.

Taking it even further, if G’s playing around made my RBF legitimately uncomfortable, even just a little bit? When she stopped him from playing, it might be with just a little more force than was necessary. And G might learn that cross country fences are a little more scary than he originally anticipated. Probably they would be fine for a while, and for the things they are both confident about, everything would be peachy keen. But when G felt like celebrating, he’d be told in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t. RBF would get anxious that he would celebrate, and G would get anxious that he couldn’t celebrate. And then suddenly that anxiety would always be there.

It may seem a little farfetched, but I’ve watched it happen to a couple of horse and rider pairs. I’m sure it could happen to an older horse too, with enough time, but young horses are probably more susceptible – and you notice it more. Probably some personalities are more susceptible than others. And on the other hand, think of the good things your horse might impress upon you. I, for one, have learned not to give a fuck where I shit.  Trust, for a start.  If Murray can lay so much trust in my hands, then I ought to be able to do the same for him.  He makes me brave when I would otherwise not be, because he remembers how to do something even if I don’t.

Good or bad, day/month/quarter/year, my horse is a mirror.  Whether I want to or not, what I’m getting from him is a reflection of myself.  So damn if I’m not going to work to make sure it’s the best reflection I’ve ever seen.

horze1Paragons of beauty and talent.

8 thoughts on “mirror mirror”

  1. I see this ALL THE TIME. Two of my good riding friends and I comment constantly about how alike we are to our horses. But, were we attracted to our horses because they were like us from the start, or did we all become more alike as time went on? Chicken or the egg? I know Dino is the spitting image of my own personality in equine form. He gives me a new appreciation for what a pain in the ass I am. Great post!


  2. love it. isabel and i have definitely changed each other over time (tho quite frankly we HATED each other for maybe the first 6 months of the lease lol). obviously i don’t think i’m responsible for turning her into a rock star – no no she was born that way – but i like to believe that i’m helping to put her in the optimal conditions for her to be her best. and she certainly calls me out when she thinks otherwise…


  3. I agree that with you that a horse is a reflection of ourselves, especially a young horse. I have not liked some of the qualities in horses I have made in the past, but try to do my best with Simonpants.


  4. I find that different horses suit me in different times of life.

    And sometimes the horses that suit me are the ones that are the hardest to understand, which is really, really frustrating (Because think what that says about me!)

    Anyways. Excellent post and very good thoughts.

    I also loved the tie in from Racing to Ride, where she said something like “remember that where you’re sore after a ride is the same place your horse is sore”.



  5. I love this, and when I think about it, it is totally true!

    I’ve always noticed it in myself: I am quick to pick up the speech patterns and mannerisms of people I spent lots of time with (probably because I want to fit in) and eventually find myself with many of the same habits as those people. I’ve never thought about it with my horses, though!

    Totally rings true for me, who I have had for a loooooong time: we are both happy, cheerful people persons/horses. I dread dressage because I don’t enjoy it THAT much and feel like Moe is bad at it. Moe probably dreads it because I don’t like it and it makes me ride him differently than I do in a jump school or hack!

    Maybe Gina can sense that I am disappointed she didn’t turn out to be a great eventer and that’s why she’s always so grumpy. 😛


  6. Great post 🙂

    I think what you’ve said is totally true, especially of Roger and I. I’ve only been riding him for 5ish months now, but the second I got on him the first day, I was hooked…the same way 2 people meet for the first time and instantly become best friends. Roger has a giant heart and always wants to make his rider happy, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and exploring the quirks of his personality (we won’t speak about licking his stall door…).

    Driving to the barn every day makes me happy because riding Roger makes me happy, so I can absolutely relate to your RBF and G. While I don’t think Roger and I have the same personality (he’s a super fast learner and I’m….sometimes not), I do think our personalities mesh really well and I love the team that we’re becoming.


  7. This is so true omg

    I feel like Rico is a great mirror of myself when I was younger. He has a “make me” attitude and is generally overconfident in himself. I don’t think I scream confidence in myself outside of horses, but on a horse I feel pretty competent/confidence. I was also kind of an ornery and lazy kid.

    I’ve already noticed TC’s changes. He is a thousand times more confident and is now a lot more curious about things that scare him. From what the trainer who started him says, he was extremely nervous and skittish when she was working with him and slowly gained confidence over time (she is very confident too, I’m lucky that he’s never been handled by someone who was afraid of him). He is pretty serious about his work but loves his job. I’ve been pretty serious about getting a good base on him and I love riding him, which I think is causing him to reflect that.

    So cool!


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