Here in the Pacific Northwest many horse owners are lucky enough to keep their horses at home and have the opportunity to “just ride” whenever they would like; though the ease of accessibility is awesome, it can often become an “isolated” experience without other equine enthusiasts to share ideas, thoughts or experiences with.
For horse folks that are not competition motivated, or are not focused on basic education with a young horse, I find that sometimes those who ride for pleasure experience a “gray area” in regards to the direction they are taking with their equine partner.
A person’s lack of direction can create patternized routines and rides, which is when a horse learns what to expect with each human interaction. This can lead to resistance from the horse the day the person decides to “suddenly” change the routine. The routine can also lead to boredom for horse and human; how many times would you be interested in doing something over and over again? Without intention and clarity in a person, it is difficult to create a quality partnership with their horse. A person’s lack of mental presence also conveys to the horse that he is “own his own” as far as leadership goes. This can lead to problems and unwanted behaviors in the future.
At the other end of the spectrum sometimes “overly” participating in large group gatherings can be overwhelming for a rider and their equine mount. In trying to expand their equine associated acquaintances sometimes busy social activities may not be appropriate depending on a horse and rider’s experience and abilities.
So what can you do? Here are a few ideas…
1.) Every two weeks “add” one small new concept, idea or thought to YOUR knowledge base regarding anything equine related. This can be read, watched, and/or heard. You don’t have to “totally get it, understand it or want to use it.” But it will be something new for YOU to think about. It can take a long time of “mulling something over” before you can have an opinion about it.
In this day and age media allows us the opportunity to see, hear and read things we would never have had access to in the past. Take advantage of it. It could be as simple as watching random amateur horse videos on YouTube, auditing a local competition or volunteering at a horse related gathering.
2.) Take a lesson (whether focusing on ground work or riding,) or better yet if you can, first audit a lesson with a QUALITY instructor. Remember just because someone can ride well, does not mean they can teach well; take your time in finding a suitable instructor.
Lessons sometimes have the stigma among pleasure riders that they are only needed if the person/horse is “having a problem.” Instead they should be thought of as a great opportunity to get an equine professional’s assessment. The instructor may offer appropriate and specific ideas and suggestions for future improvement in you and your horse.
To get the “most” for your money, find someone to video you (have them practice filming moving horses ahead of time. The video should be recorded in close proximity to the instructor so that when you watch the video later you can hear what the teacher is saying in relation to how you see yourself riding. Being able to review the video multiple times may help you better recognize problems, and continue to improve upon them in the future.
3.) Find a riding buddy. I don’t mean someone you will brainlessly gossip with when you ride out on the trail, but rather someone with similar horse related interests, approaches and goals who you will ENJOY spending time with.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times when a client is explaining a past scary or dangerous riding incident, in hindsight folks realized that the manner in which they “handled” (or didn’t) the unexpected scenario was partially or completely based on feeling “pressured” from direction and instruction by good intentioned but not experienced enough fellow riders.
Find a pal to who shares your equine related approach, enthusiasm and goals to help you both stay motivated and safe. There are always notice boards at the local feed store, Co-Op and online are plenty of websites (horse and non horse related) where people can search for others with similar interests.
It might take a little time and effort, you may have some “misses” in searching for potential riding partners, but eventually you’ll find at least one person who will share your enthusiasm.
4.) Sometimes especially with younger horses and older riders, owners tend to send their horse away for a spring tune-up, which can definitely be helpful. BUT I also try and explain to folks that if you are not on the same page in understanding how your horse is being worked and how the trainer uses their aids to communicate, even if the horse returns home “tuned up,” you as the owner often are not.
Sadly every year owners invest a lot of money into their horse’s training thinking they will have a “finished product,” not realizing that they too must learn what their horse is learning. Otherwise within a few days often there is miscommunication, frustration and deterioration in the relationship between human and horse.
Hopefully these ideas can offer you realistic, attainable and affordable options to help jump start to your riding season and improve the partnership between you and your horse over the long term.