If you stay in the horse industry long enough eventually you will hear someone use the term “heart horse.” It’s passed around in conversation and floats around on social media as a hashtag. The term is typically meant to distinguish one horse in particular over all the others an individual has had a partnership with during their riding career. But going back and looking at the horses that have received this honor, my recently retired event horse included, there’s a great deal of variation in the horses themselves. So my question is: what is the definition of a heart horse?
When you search #hearthorse on Instagram or Facebook the results flood your screen with pictures of everything from backyard trail partners to four-star eventers. Some of these horses are running barrel patterns while others are prized pasture ornaments. Many have lots of ribbons and awards to their name and just as many seem to have never set foot in the show arena. Occupation or performance doesn’t seem to play much of a role in a horse earning this title.
Perhaps a horse’s personality makes them a heart horse. While it would be easy to expect a heart horse to be sweet and loving and look at you with adoring eyes each time you set foot in the barn, I can use my personal experience to prove that is not necessarily the case. There were days that my horse would be personable and affectionate, but more often than not he was your stereotypical OTTB with sensitive skin and enough personality quirks to make up for every mild mannered horse I’ve ever come across.
I’ve watched a friend and their heart horse begin to reach for the upper levels of competition only to be met with set back after set back and struggle to regain confidence at the lower levels of their sport for the past several years. But the horse remains my friend’s heart horse whether they finish in the ribbons or they finish on a letter. This same person just before they acquired their prized pony was competing and winning all over the country on a different horse and yet that one never earned the title of heart horse.
A heart horse isn’t always the obvious choice. No one else may understand the connection; as my mom always told me “It’s a good thing you love Louie, because no one else would.” But these horses that earn the title of heart horse are perhaps a different creature than the horse you might call your best horse. They aren’t necessarily the horse you can trust with your life or put even the smallest child on for a hack. A heart horse doesn’t always give you piles of ribbons or make all your riding peers envious (sometimes they make them pity you). They aren’t always the most consistent horses and heaven knows they aren’t always the bomb proof ones.
A heart horse may not always give you an easy ride, but when they do they are the sweetest experiences to revel in. Many times a heart horse is intentional, purchased to be your next great partner and selected with the upmost care out of hundreds of others. But I’ve also seen many heart horses that were accidents: a horse to ride while you’re in between horses, a flip project you just couldn’t bring yourself to sell, a horse someone gave you because they had nowhere else to go.
So what is a heart horse? As best as I can understand and put into words, a heart horse is a horse whose soul compliments your own. When you are in sync they make you feel like you can conquer the world. When you walk out to the barn they are the first pair of ears you want to see. They may not be the easiest horse in the world, but when the chips are down they will give you everything they have. I find it easy to fall in love with horses, I always have. But the heart horses are the ones that give you their heart in return and those are the horses we cherish above all others.
Do you have a heart horse? Tell us about them in the comments!