I have had some wonderful horses and mules in my life—some were a good match for me and others were not. My first horse, Fancy, was a Wood pony, and she basically “ate my lunch!” I bought her from a neighbor with my baby-sitting money and I did not think I needed any riding lessons. I loved horses and was sure if I loved Fancy enough we would have a wonderful life together. She, however, was much less enamored with me and bucked me off every chance she got. Of course I never mentioned the bucking to my parents, but one day a neighbor saw me limping down the road in pursuit of Fancy and she took the initiative to call them and suggest a horse trainer.
With the trainer’s help, I was able to trade Fancy for a Tai Yang (Water/Fire) Thoroughbred mare, named Myriah. I still had few horsemanship skills, but Myriah was much more forgiving. Despite the fact that she never took a single walking step while I was on her back, we managed to compete fairly successfully at local jumper shows. I took Myriah with me to veterinary school so I would havean outlet for relaxation, but she proved to be worthless as a pleasure trail riding horse. I bred her to a nice Quarter Horse stallion hoping to get a quieter riding horse out of the match.
I was not disappointed. Myriah proudly produced a wonderful Yang Ming (Metal/Earth) colt who I named Frijole because his sire’s nickname was Beans. Frijole never gave me a bit of trouble in his training even though I still had not developed many horsemanship skills. The only challenge I ever had with him was entirely my fault: I had him tied up and he accidentally stepped on my foot. I slapped him, and he set back and broke his halter. Instead of acknowledging that he had not meant to step on me, I simply caught him and tied him back up. He was still feeling pretty insulted so he promptly set back and broke another halter. I promptly tied him again with a rope around his belly to show him that he had better “by God” stand tied. The final result of all this was that Frijole did not speak to me for over a month and would turn his back on me whenever I walked into the pasture. He was never dependable to tie for the rest of his life but was otherwise a wonderful horse, and we were a good match.
Since Frijole was exactly what I wanted in a horse for myself, I rebred Myriah to a jack, thinking that I would not be tempted to keep her second foal if it was a mule. Well this strategy failed miserably, and it was love at first sight when I first saw Myriah’s little Jue Yin (Wood/Fire) mule filly who I named Tess. Tess was much more challenging than Frijole—when I attempted to restrain her when she was only one day old, she sent me flying out of the stall. She was unbelievably strong and opinionated. With Tess I had to get professional help in training her, but it was on-again, off-again, and so she remained unpredictable.
By the grace of God we survived each other until Tess was 19 years old, at which time she started bucking me off. I think the years of inconsistent training had taken their toll, and Tess simply could not cope any longer. At this point I was finally able to connect with a natural horsemanship trainer and began learning methods of horse training that were more suitable for Tess. During the first session the trainer did nothing with Tess but work with her tied overhead to a tree limb. She explained to me that Tess was so tense she could not move her feet smoothly, and this was what was behind the bucking. Tess loved the natural horsemanship methods, and we had several wonderful years of riding together until I retired her to all but an occasional light ride at 26 years of age.
Tess’ successor was a Wood mule named Jake who I bought as a weanling. I could tell that Jake had a pushy streak, but I was just sure that with my newly-acquired natural horsemanship skills I would be able to handle him and turn him into a prize mount. It was during my struggles with Jake that the concepts of constitutional personality types really began to make sense to me. I kept thinking that Jake’s behavior would improve as he got older, but instead it got worse and he eventually hurt me. I was lucky enough to find him a wonderful home with a trainer who specializes in mules, and under his handling Jake has excelled. In hindsight I realize that Jake and I would never have been a match because he needed someone not only with more skills but also with a totally different personality to match his.
With Jake’s departure I found myself humbled and horseless and so set out to find a horse that was a match for my personality, skills, and riding goals. I really needed a horse I could trust and who would want to please me and be a partner. After studying all the different constitutional types, I felt a Fire horse would be perfect for me to help regain my confidence. Cerise, a 14.3 hand, 11-year-old Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse mare fit the bill perfectly. Cerise is extremely sensitive and wants more than anything to have a good relationship. We are alike in that way. Cerise had some physical problems that set us back in our training schedule, but now she is fit and eager to learn.
Cerise is a great pleasure to work with because she tries so hard to please. If she is not performing well then I know she is either hurt or I am not presenting the task in a way she can understand. If she feels we are not communicating well enough to work through an issue she will stop eating and lose weight. Once we work through the misunderstanding she goes back to eating and gains her weight back. We are learning now to barrel race, and although this is not a sport that Cerise is naturally suited for, she has stepped up to the plate, been fun to learn on, and seems to really enjoy it herself.
Remi is my new Yang Ming (Metal/Earth), 11-year-old Quarter Horse. When I realized that Cerise was not the physical type to hold up well to the rigors of rodeo barrel racing, I bought a horse who is much more suited for this kind of life. Remi has ranch horse breeding, has worked cattle and been used for roping, in addition to having been barrel raced. He had some injuries to his muscles and joints from years of hard work, and very contracted heels. I found that trying to ride him lightly during his recovery time did not work because he became worried that he was going to be asked to do a job that he was not up to. I decided to simply turn him out to recover fully and he loves the time off. His overall attitude has relaxed, and his muscles are getting less stiff. I know that, as a Yang Ming type, Remi will work even if he is in pain, and I will not ask him to do this. I feel once Remi heals and learns that nothing will be asked of him that he cannot deliver, he will make a perfect barrel-racing and pleasure horse. His Yang Ming characteristics, like his predecessor Frijole’s, are another great match for my needs and personality.
Through my own experiences as well as my clients’ struggles with horses who don’t match them or the sport they are competing in, I have come to appreciate the many benefits of learning horses’ personality types. While it is certainly advantageous to develop skills in working with all types of horses, it is unfair to the horse to expect him to be only what you want him to be instead of who he really is. By the same token there are many horse-loving people who have given up on horses altogether because they have never been matched with a horse that was a good fit for them. I hope that by writing this book I can help more people and horses who are a good match find one another and enjoy the harmony that is possible in a great human-equine relationship.