Ride-oritize : The Horse Comes First
Do you remember how you became involved with the equine species? Or more importantly, why? Think back to this time – if anything like me you were curious, excited, a little bit intimidated… mostly enchanted. Becoming a horsewoman meant delving into an unknown world of adventure with a four-legged animal that would become eternally rewarding.
But somehow, sometimes, we each become preoccupied and lose direction. No longer mindful of this relationship we are very lucky to have, not to mention the responsibilities that come with it. I strongly believe that progressing in this sport (professionally or recreationally) requires a commitment; one to the welfare of the partner that will carry you through endless obstacles. You are fortunate to be an equestrian and your horsemanship should show it.
We’ve all been guilty of it at one point or another whether for convenience, laziness, competitive edge, economy or simple miseducation. Personally, to keep my practices as humble and realistic as possible I regularly complete a simple exercise (mentally or on paper) to remind myself of the privileges my horse provides me. Look to riders or professionals whom you respect, they should be setting great examples every day for the physical and emotional welfare of their horses. When I see top-condition horses and empathetic riders, I make it a point to discover what they are doing – perhaps there’s a way for me to improve by borrowing their tactics.
Below is a guideline, by no means exhaustive – just to get the mind jogging about your own priorities and actions with your equines. Try to score yourself from 0-10 in all categories and evaluate where you might consider improvement.
Understand the basic needs.
On the subject of simple physical and biological needs, are they met? Could you keep your horse somewhere healthier for him even if were less convenient for you? Have you spent time educating yourself on subjects of nutrition, veterinary care, equipment fitting, etc? Pick one category you could learn more about and read a few books – For example, at the moment I am trying to decipher clinical lameness.
Respect their nature.
Do you realize that your 600 kilogram animal is a herd-bound mammal with strong flight instincts? The more you learn about the psyche of the horse, the better rider you will become. As your sensitivity to his emotional needs strengthens, his willingness to perform will only grow. Something as simple as daily turnout with other horses can contribute to a more consistent result since your horse has an outlet for energy and time to ‘just be’.
Remember what they give you.
How many times have you blamed poor performance on your mount? Have you ever tried an exercise 99 times, only to finally feel like ‘he got it’ on the 100th try? Take a step back and evaluate how you could get better too, after all the daily ‘training’ is for both parties and you are 100% responsible for how you treat your horse. He is kind enough to carry you around day after day and will appreciate your efforts to reciprocate.
Put their physical needs before your emotional ones.
Do not compete your horse if you suspect he might be off. Do not upgrade the bit because you cannot yet achieve the connection you desire. Do not work your horse into the ground just to earn the next ‘notch’ on your proverbial equestrian belt. Do not force a horse into a discipline which he is completely and obviously unsuitable for. Do things for your partner that you know he will desire and you are much more likely to be satisfied with the result.
Be honest with yourself; and don’t forget circumstantial and external factors which you absolutely cannot control. Prioritize any changes you’d like to make by fairly assessing what resources are available to you and request the help of a knowledgeable horseperson when needed. Every informed decision you make to improve life for your horse will reward your riding development in ways that cannot be measured. Nobody is perfect and of course we do our best, but in order to achieve new success you have to challenge yourself to be even better – every day. Your horse will thank you, I promise!