Remembering why we ride...
Whether you are a backyard rider, competitive or somewhere in between, I think sometimes as humans we tend to lose focus on our initial reasons of riding and spending time with horses… Of course all of us have different definitions of “fun,” I for instance found sheer joy in jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 13,000 feet, someone else you probably couldn’t pay to do the same thing! So too it goes with the horse world. Some riders just want to have a confident partnership with their horse, while other people spend hundreds of hours fine tuning their skills in preparation for competition.
Wherever your enthusiasm falls on the scale, the truth is, we ALL share the underlining factor that too many times horse professionals, whether through lack of understanding, ability to communicate, or what I more often think is the case in the USA, don’t really prioritize teaching their students to address ALL aspects involved in riding. In my opinion this includes, horsemanship, physiology of the horse, using anatomically effective aids, and encouraging an awareness in the human, but also a respect for both their own and their horse’s mental and emotional state.
Too many times, I think an instructor feels “pressured” to get their student or the horse to accomplish or achieve a specific task by a certain time; all too often the expectation and sole focus of accomplishing a scenario winds up inadvertently creating a lot of “new” issues. So at what “cost” should it be that we can achieve our goals with our horse? In my mind, there should be no cost. There should be no trauma, drama, anticipation or ongoing stress in either human or horse.
As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, if you expect the “perfect” ride every time you sit in the saddle, you are probably in the wrong sport… To me the excitement in working with the horses is the journey of ongoing learning; there never is an ending point, and I get motivated by the quest of continually learning, thinking and expanding my knowledge, understanding and perception.
We are our own worst “enemies” in terms of the ability humans have to play mental games, even if unwittingly doing so. The negative scenarios are almost always remembered and “hung on to” far longer than the positive ones. What we can’t yet accomplish tends to be focused on, rather than what we can currently achieve with our horse. We allow ourselves to be influenced by others or psyche ourselves out with a long list of why, what and how we are going to have a problem with our horse. If we believe something is going to be an issue, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy , and of course it will become an issue.
And yet, with all the fear, anticipation and negative feelings, we continue to ride. I won’t even diverge into the professionals who use their authority to degrade their students or their horses, but that too can open up a whole other can of worms.
For most people riding began as an emotional “outlet” – whether they started as a child clinging bareback gleefully galloping through the fields without a care in the world, or they became involved with horses later in life after their children have left home, careers have been established, and now have the time and money to fulfill a lifelong dream of having a horse. Yet all too often because of idealism and/or lack of experience, a novice horse person often winds up in a scenario whether caused from being over faced with an inappropriate horse they have acquired or from an inadequate information “source”, and fear begins to slowly become an issue in their relationship with horses.
I am always amazed how many people continue to be involved with horses after serious fear based accidents or issues with their horse. More often than not, the person’s insatiable desired emotional fulfillment associated with achieving an accomplishment or task with their horse tends to often override the “common sense factor.” This tends to create dangerous behaviors and can be a recipe for long term fear issues.
I believe your horse is usually a pretty honest reflection of your emotional and mental state; most people don’t always like what they see in the “mirror” their horse presents. The ability to have a mental clarity in order to offer positive, effective and confidence building leadership starts with you.
So whether you are a complete novice or an experienced horseperson with years in the saddle, take a moment to assess the CURRENT “fulfillment” factor in your horse experience. If you find that there is a lot of “gray” areas, take the time and effort to figure out how to eliminate those, whether it be finding new or different instruction, ideas, theories, etc. There is nothing wrong in saying, “I’m not sure what to do.” I tell people when they ride with me, the longer you operate in the gray areas, the less confidence you give your horse, the more your riding will evolve into “survival mode” rather than pleasure mode. So if you’re at a plateau, or have clear “issues” with your horse- do SOMETHING about it.
For your horse’s sake, for your own physical safety and for your future emotional satisfaction to put the fun back into riding. Doing nothing, accomplishes nothing. The more you take a proactive approach in all aspects of working with your horse, the more empowered you will feel, the more your horse will enjoy being with you, the more your emotions will be satisfied and you will start to find that “fun” factor again.
Western society presents all too often that things should be “quick and easy.” If that is your approach to horses, you’re probably in the wrong sport. It is going to take effort, energy, research, open mindedness and time for you to become educated, understand and learn. BUT by doing so, you’ll be achieving far more in your ongoing journey rather than resorting to the latest “quick fix” gadget or trick.
One of the most rewarding experiences I can have as an instructor is at the start of a lesson when discussing with a student what they worked on in their rides between our sessions, and listening to a student as they relay having had experienced a “light bulb moment.” Usually the sudden clarity occurs at a time when they are nowhere near their horse. A person will be sitting in traffic, doing chores, etc. and they will be reviewing in their mind an idea, concept or theory when there is suddenly the connection made between the idea and the actuality of a physical aid which in turn affects the horse’s brain and then physical accomplishment of a task presented. The student’s newfound clarity evolves into being a viable tool they can use in “real” time, thus improving not only their overall communication with their horse, but building a trusting partnership because the rider has become believable, clear with an aid, and honest in what they are asking of their horse.
These scenarios excite me because when a rider can start committing to raising their awareness towards the horse at times other than when they are sitting in the saddle, the “doors” in the person’s mind open allowing and ease and fun feeling as they make progression towards their goals. Suddenly there is a flurry of positive energy the rider feels once they BELIEVE that THEY CAN influence and achieve a change in their horse! The ability for a rider to realize they can make a change within themselves in order to influence a change in their horse is what brings the “fun” back to riding.
So whether nothing “bad” has ever happened with your horse or not, whether the ride is always sort of “okay,” or whether you’re just not sure “what to do next,” perhaps the best thing you can do is devote some time, effort and energy into varying your current exposure and ideas; not so much to “fix” what you currently believe is a “problem,” but perhaps for a different perspective on things that you may not realize might contributing to undermining the fun in your riding.
As I remind my riders constantly, keep SMILING- inside and out!