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Leading horses to water

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THE saying ‘You can lead a horse to water, but can't make it drink’ is apparently the oldest English proverb still in regular use today. It was first recorded as early as 1175, and it is still as relevant now as it was more than 800 years ago. It essentially states that you can show people how to find something or how to do something, but you can't force them beyond this point.

We've had personal experience of this recently . . . or very nearly. I acquired a small chestnut pony last year, and since then we have spent many jolly weekends at local gymkhanas, partaking in a variety of classes such as jumping, showing and dressage, all of which are as fiercely competitive as only amateur events can be.

However, one of the most keenly contested, albeit unofficial, classes (as you'll never find it in a show schedule) is the ‘Get your horse back in its box’ competition. Traditionally held at the end of the day, it is the one event that we always win hands-down. Our food-motivated pony scampers up the trailer ramp with the certainty that a large bucket of food awaits her as soon as the rear door is securely closed behind her. But as I survey others around the showgrounds, it is all too obvious that we are very much in the minority. In other words: you can lead a horse to its box but you can't always load it.

There are inevitably assorted, unfortunate souls who actually spend longer trying to get their mount back into its transporter than they spend in the show ring. And while our only worry is that we may be knocked down in the rush as our pony charges into the trailer towards the feed bucket, other owners are reduced to cries of dismay and tears of exasperation as their equine dithers, rolls its eyes and even bucks wildly at the notion of going back into the horse box – despite promises of food or the threat of a broom on its backside. Some desperate people even resort to using a lunge line in an attempt to corral their beast into the box, a move that usually serves only to make matters worse, and I confess that we start the engine and depart for home with smug expressions on our faces, leaving others to struggle on as twilight falls.


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However, life has a habit of evening things out and to make me feel less smug the shoe is on the other hoof when I'm back at work. How many vets feel a surge of irritation when a client admits – no, openly and proudly proclaims – that they have not finished the prescribed course of treatment because it didn't suit their dog or caused their cat to froth at the mouth or made their rabbit moult excessively or whatever? Worse, perhaps, is the client who assures you that they have indeed given their pet all the medication, but as the consultation draws to a close they inadvertently let slip that they have six pills left, while you know full well that if the directions had been followed correctly the tablets should have been finished two weeks previously. Never mind tears of frustration . . . if repeated several times in one day, this scenario is enough to make most vets bang their heads against the consulting table and wonder aloud as to how we can make clients follow simple instructions to the letter.

Given the regularity with which this happens, I suggest that we simply bow to the inevitable and accept that some things are beyond our control entirely. We might even consider the possibility that, in time, a new saying may evolve: ‘You can give clients medication but you can't make them give it to their pets’.

If this idiom does catch on, I think there is every likelihood that, unfortunately, it will still be in use 800 years from now.

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