When Should I Quit Trying to Fix a Problem Horse?
If you work with a particularly difficult horse for several weeks and see little or no progress. . .if your trips to the barn turn into occasion for dry mouth and palpating heart. . .and your rides are always more work/challenge than pleasure/fun. . .ESPECIALLY if you find yourself becoming a fearful rider. . .then please do consider buying an animal that is temperamentally more suitable for you.
Too often we become emotionally attached to animals that are simply not a good match for us, and refuse to acknowledge that's the case until we get hurt, or develop a deep fear of riding ANY horse. We keep thinking we can work things out, and try this and that--and of course sometimes the process works great and makes us into better horsemen. But too often I see and have experienced the opposite, where nothing is ever going to change the horse enough to make it a pleasurable and safe mount for its current owner. In our hearts we know if this is true within just a few weeks--but keep rationalizing our fears (good sense) away rather than accepting our limitations, and those of the animal, and moving on.
One acquaintance of mine rode a bad actor for over 15 years, and I seriously doubt she never once had a truly enjoyable, relaxing ride on that horse. Those of us who rode with her grew to dread the experience, as we never knew what to expect from that stinker from one day to the next, or if she--or another horse or rider--would end up getting hurt. It seemed as though she had to prove, to herself and/or others, that she COULD ride this gelding, and not give up. But there's no shame in being aware of what's really working, and what's not. That's called Wisdom.
As for the ill-suited horse: there are always other horsemen out there who are a more appropriate match for any given animal. I've ridden and trained horses that some of my friends would never have ridden, but who simply didn't bother me and in whom I had confidence. I've also had three different animals who very effectively taught me my limitations. Each one ended up in more appropriate hands--unfortunately two of them didn't move on until I'd learned this particular lesson the hard way. When the third one came into our barn, I knew within a matter of a couple of weeks that someone else would have to work with him. At this stage of my life I am definitely no cowboy--and that's OK!
This process of becoming an accomplished horseman ('horseman' being gender neutral) should be challenging at times--but it should also be FUN. No matter how 'gorgeous' a horse may be, or gentle when being handled on the ground, it is not worth getting hurt over. And NO horse should be allowed to rob us of our peace/pleasure in the company of horses.
Best wishes, and many happy–and smooth–trails!