The days spent with a new horse immediately after they arrive at your doorstep are some of the best. You see them get off the trailer, all bright-eyed and even lovelier than you remembered. You groom them, lead them around the property, start to spoil them, and have those first magical rides when the reality of ownership solidifies. Yes, they are here; yes, they are yours; yes, they are wonderful.
The honeymoon with new horses is usually short-lived, though. The reality sets in that your horse is at the beginning of a very big transition and has no idea that you’re their person. To them, you’re just one more new thing in a sometimes overwhelming number of new things. While you’ve already invested goals, aspirations—and sometimes a considerable amount of money—into your relationship with them, as far as they’re concerned, there is no relationship. At least, not yet.
So as much as my heart would love for Azul to be as instantly smitten with me as I am with her, my head knows that’s just not rational. I find that it takes about six months for a new horse to understand that my love is just a little bit stronger than that of others. It is time that, for me, is an exercise in patience, a letting go of expectations, and a willingness to take it slow to build a good foundation.
Which is a good thing, because this process with Azul is turning out to be just that. She’s a lovely, smart girl, who is very willing to please. She’s also a mare with opinions and is also an easily distractible baby. While I’m an experienced horseperson, I’m no longer a professional who does it day in and day out, and I sometimes fumble in my attempts to build rapport with her.
When she at first ignores my command to “trot” on the longe line, a part of me thinks, “You’re doing this all wrong and teaching her to ignore you!” When I come to a little jump and have a less than perfect distance, I think to myself, “You’re going to ruin her, and she’s going to start stopping!” In short, I think every mistake is another reason for her to not like me, not trust me or not bond with me.
Of course, that’s not really what’s happening, and there are always wins to be found in the process. She may not have listened to my first request to trot, but once she did with a stronger ask, she stayed trotting independently without any nagging. We may have had a few awkward jumps, but we also had some beautiful round, slow ones.
While it’s a struggle to make my Type-A brain forgive myself and let go, that’s ultimately what’s best for both Azul and me. I remind myself that the small mistakes I’m making in our first few months together will not be what defines our long-term relationship. Mistakes will always be made, but I try to handle them with the appropriate correction and move on in a positive way. And isn’t that what the foundation of any relationship is built on?
Before I step out of the car at the barn, I remind myself to trust that eventually the bond will come, not by Azul suddenly realizing that I am her person but by me consistently being the person she wants to have around: someone who doesn’t hold grudges, stays positive, keeps things fun and maybe gives her a few treats every now and then.
OK, a lot of treats—I am her person, after all.
Sophie Coffey grew up riding by the seat of her pants in Virginia hunt country, and she took a flying leap into the top levels of the sport through sheer will and luck after a cold call landed her a job at Hunterdon, Inc. She continued freelancing as a jack-of-all-trades through her 20s for some of the top names in the industry, getting the best education possible in horsemanship and larger life lessons. After leaving the sport to pursue a career in marketing, she returned in 2018 as an adult amateur, and is currently teaching her baby warmblood mare Azul the ropes. She resides in Richmond, VA with her fully indoctrinated horsey husband and several kitties. Follow her adventures between posts on Instagram @coffeyinthesaddle.