How does one achieve a deep and fulfilling bond with a pony? What are the necessary ingredients? I don’t consider these questions particularly easy to answer. After having more than two dozen ponies pass through my life, though, I have formed some opinions.
Someone suggested that having a pony from a foal was the key. I understand this thinking; as a breeder, there are indeed foals who capture more of my heart than ponies who’ve been with me for many years. On the other hand, though, I know that there are some foals that I never bond with at all, and I’m thrilled when I find them a home where they can be loved and appreciated in a way I never could provide.
I also know that I am not alone in finding a pony-of-a-lifetime in a mature animal. One of my strongest bonds is with a pony who was seven years old when she entered my life. When I think about my bond with her and about the other ponies with whom I have bonded most strongly, there is a common ingredient that has nothing to do with age at time of meeting. It has to do with my temperament and theirs.
There are a number of equestrians these days who have defined systems for categorizing equine temperaments. The one that makes the most sense to me so far has just four categories. Perhaps it makes sense because the first time I was introduced to the idea of categorizing temperaments was in a system that also had four quadrants. It was when I worked in the high tech industry, at a time when it was fashionable to train people about how to work well with other people. When one of my co-workers returned from a class, he told me which category I fit in. I found the information helpful, as was the advice he offered about working better with our teammates.
On the other hand, of course, there are pitfalls in labeling ourselves or our equine friends. None of us is unchanging, for instance. And we all want and need to be treated as the individuals that we are. Charlotte Angin’s critique of labeling or typing also makes a good point: “[It] may also be a trend that can limit our awareness of the subtle play of energy between our horses and ourselves.” (1)
Nonetheless, there can be helpful information in systems of equine categorization. The one that I’ve found most helpful has two axes. One axis has thinkers at one end and feelers at the other. The other axis has busy feet at one end and quiet feet at the other (these are my simplifications). The two axes make four quadrants. I tend toward the thinking and quiet feet part of the chart. When I look at the ponies with whom I have the strongest bonds, they tend toward that quadrant, too. So, in my current position in my equine journey, I have the opinion that the strongest bonds are possible when my innate temperament and my pony’s are similar.
That, however, is not the full story. My friend and colleague Doc Hammill has said that the strongest bonds he sees are those where a person has a single equine (or maybe two) and they can give lots of time and attention to developing that one relationship. Perhaps I am biased, but I think this is particularly true with ponies. Many of my ponies ask for more time than I am able to give them, and when I do give them more time, they give more back to the relationship. The first pony that I bonded strongly to was my only equine for over a year, and I invented ways to involve her in as many of my activities as I could. It’s really no wonder, then, that I can do just about anything with her and I hold her up as the example to which I want all my other ponies to aspire. Of course they’re just waiting for me to show up!
My current opinion that what makes for a deep and satisfying bond is a similarity in temperament may be incomplete in another way. As a breeder, I have a responsibility to train the equines I bring into the world until they go on to their next home. There is no question that it’s easiest for me to train ponies that are in my quadrant, but that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with the others. I have to have skills that enable me to train equines in other quadrants even if that’s not natural for me. I suspect it’s possible that a deep and satisfying bond could be established with a pony of a different quadrant for whom I learned the necessary skills. I will be finding that out, as I have retained a filly that I’ve bred who’s a thinker like me but has busy feet.
Of course the key to matching our temperament to a pony’s is to be able to honestly assess our own temperament. It’s harder than it sounds. Back when I was in high tech, the work environment valued getting things done, so being in the ‘get things done’ quadrant seemed important to catching management’s attention for raises, promotions, and other perks. My co-worker, however, identified me in a different quadrant, though he acknowledged that my back up mode was to get things done. I think it was easier to hear that information from him than to have to evaluate myself. Today, being busy seems to be high on the hit parade, and if we’re not out there on social media, we’re considered odd. Yet for many of us, quiet time alone for thinking is what suits us best. Admitting it can be challenging.
If we are honest with ourselves about who we are, then we may have a better chance at choosing an equine partner with which we can have a deep and fulfilling bond. As a breeder, my best buyers are those who see a picture of a pony and are immediately captivated, not because my pictures are artful but because I try to capture a pony’s essence and communicate it in a photograph. I know how rewarding a deep and fulfilling bond is, and if I can help another person achieve one, that’s pretty rewarding, too!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014
If you enjoy ponderings like this one, you might also enjoy The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, available by clicking here.