If every ride was perfect, riding wouldn’t be the difficult sport it is. But nonetheless, perfectionists are drawn to riding like moths to flames and we take each ride personally. Cue tears, frustration, and major waves of self-doubt. What we forget is that everyone, no matter what level, has bad rides. Everyone has been on the verge of tears in the arena, has fallen off, or hasn’t been able to get control of their angsty horse. It’s easy to let these bad rides get to you. It’s harder to let them go.
Walk it out. Don’t just end a bad ride or lesson by getting off and walking away. Walk around the arena until you and your horse have cooled off. Ask your trainer to hold your horse so you can stretch out on your horse so you can become better aware of your balance and body in the saddle. Don’t get off until you’ve had a good few laps around the arena at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. Remind yourself that it can be done.
Spend extra time with your horse. After your lesson, take extra time to groom, bathe, and hand-walk your horse and let him graze. Just spend time together so you can both get to know each other better and bond not just as rider and horse, but as human and animal. Remind yourself why you got into riding in the first place: because of how much you love these beautiful, brilliant creatures even when they ignore everything you ask them to do.
Use that lunge line. Before your next ride, see where you and your horse are at mentally and physically. Lunging before a lesson or ride can help warm up your horse and burn off some pent-up energy. Or, ask your trainer for a lunge-line lesson to help you rebuild your confidence.
Break out the wine. When all else fails, coming home, pouring a glass of your favorite drink and let go of the day. Like I said, everyone has bad rides and I know how hard it is not to take it personally. Maybe it was because something you did, or you started to ask your horse for new movements that they’re not getting. If you don’t drink alcohol, try some stress-reliever teas. Anything that’ll help you let go of what happened that day.
Try again tomorrow. We say it a lot: don’t bring yesterday’s baggage into today’s ride. So drink wine, get some sleep, and go back at it with a clear head. If you need to, start slow and work your way back up to what you were working on before. Head out on the trail instead of working your horse in the arena. Even if you go back to working on the same things you were last ride, what matters is that you literally got back on the horse.
Bad rides are part of the business. Any time you think you’ve got a handle on your horse or your skills, something will happen that will make you check your ego. But having tools in your arsenal on how to get through them will help you not just survive horse world. They’ll help you thrive.