Stop looking for your unicorn...
Unicorns don’t exist.
I see it a lot. “ISO UNICORN” Facebook Ads are everywhere you look, listing perfection after perfection — paired with a list of imperfections that will absolutely NOT be considered. No greys, no mares, no stop, no buck, no this, no that, no personality, no emotion, no, no, no…
Taking budget out of the equation (which is a whole other conversation in itself), does anyone else get slightly confused why animals are being held to such a high expectation of perfection? We as humans are flawed in every way, shape, and form but we expect animals with literally NO control over their instincts to be mindless, perfect “unicorns”. My trainer in Wellington put it best: “they are slaves to the system.” You know what I’m talking about, the dead to the world, emotionless horses that are “so bomb proof” because it’s been so engraved into their lives to have no personality that they are some weird empty shells that just stand there without blinking. Like hello? Is there a horse in there? Are you okay bud? Do you feel ANYTHING?!
We all want our horses to behave, we want them to be good, but at what expense of their personalities? I’ve always somehow found myself with the “quirky ones”. We actually joke at our own barn that a lot of our client-owned horses are just plain weirdos. The ones that are just slightly “off” with their unique personality “flaws” as some people might call them. They are almost reliably, consistently quirky, you learn what sets them off and what makes them happy. You learn that they are not always going to be perfect, and they are going to have bad days — but so does every living being that’s ever existed. You learn to sit that occasional buck if their fresh, or make hand walks with a stud chain a MUCH better idea.
And, almost without exception, they’ve taught me the most and made me grow as a rider more than any unicorn could.
My own personal weirdo…
Sometimes the “strange” ones are the ones with the most heart, that try the hardest, and end up changing your life. I can almost bet that some of the top horses going in our industry all have “something”, a trick up their sleeve or a certain thing they do that their top riders looked past because they could see the diamond in the rough. One of my favorite example is Nicole Simpson’s horse Akuna Mattata, a very unique personality mare that Nicole has ridden to top placings in competitions around the US. She’s anything but a slave to the system, but Nicole has harnessed that “opinionated” behavior to create a fantastic mount that wants to win.
I think the modern day hunter expectation does create a vacuum of Unicorn ISO posts, they’ve glorified the idea of slaves to the system, but it’s not just the hunter world. Jumpers are also expected to be dumbed down, expected to be quiet but quick enough to win. Expected to NEVER stop but be the carefullest freak to ever exist. Have a motor but NEVER buck. Must cart around my 12 year old kid but can also jump 1.40. Must need barely any leg but never ever pull. Automatic lead changes — heck, it better find the distances for me! Must need all of these things while being a great mover and pretty to look at because GOD FORBID they are ugly… Oh, and if it has X-Rays that don’t look like they were approved by God themselves, we WILL pass so don’t waste our time. Even that 14 year old packer we want for our daughter, they better look perfect because we aren’t paying for maintenance like ever.
I mean I get it, it’s a huge investment. You can spend your money how you like, but when it really comes down to it, how many amazing horses have you passed because it didn’t pass the perfection radar? Sometimes that pretty, perfect mover, amazing jumper slams your kid into the jumps. Sometimes that ugly looking mare with some slight changes on her x-ray but has never been unsound jumps the moon for your kid and wins EVERYTHING.
Unicorn’s don’t exist.
For all those quirky, “unmarketable” horses out there, stop trying to make unicorns a thing. Give horses a chance to be horses, and they will give you their best in return. Stop looking for your unicorn, and start looking for your partner in crime.