One of the hardest things as riders that we need to learn is when to say “uncle”. We tend to think that we have to always be tough and work it out, and we are driven to succeed and feel like we just HAVE to “end on a good note” or “keep working until it’s perfect”. As we gain experience and emotional maturity, we learn that sometimes for the best of all concerned – the horse or the rider – we just need to stop, step down, and run up our stirrups. This too, is a learning experience.
Take time to process what just did or did not happen. As working adults, there are days that you just are not going to be in the right headspace to have a good ride. Horses KNOW when we can’t turn off the office background noise. You are distracted and not focused in your intent. They find that just as unsettling as you do when you swing your leg over their backs.
When your horse is distracted and unsettled what do you do? Sit softly, sigh, take a deep breath, pat them on the neck and say “everything is fine, it’s all good”. Then you toss today’s riding plan out the window and focus on one small thing at a time. Let’s just walk three steps then turn right, then four steps later we will turn left, then walk a 10 meter circle.
When you are unsettled and distracted, what do you do for yourself? How do you leave your day at the barn door? Since I have my horses at home, I am usually bringing them in and feeding dinner after work. I can then go drag the ring and do one of the other 7 million farm chores I need to do to settle my brain.
For me, it’s better to just chuck my original riding plans and take the pressure off. Maybe I’ll just ride for 10 minutes and just do some walk-halt transitions. As I relax and start to come quietly into focus, we usually end up having a nice ride. But, hey, there are days when I am just not able to fix my head, so I don’t ride. Other days it’s the riding itself that centers me. Find what works for you!
If you are riding with your trainer, TELL them you are having a crap-tastic day. You would be surprised how much help they can be when they KNOW what is going on. A skilled trainer will try to help you work through it, by changing up their plan for you or suggesting a different plan for that particular ride. Learning how to recognize and re-focus your negative energy is an important part of becoming a better rider. Find what works for you and use it! It will come in handy when you suddenly have a minor panic attack as you trot down centerline or when your normally quiet horse starts to unravel.
My riding history spans over 50 years. I have had a LOT of experiences both good and bad on horses. Some things I have learned are:
1) Kinder is better. A quiet mind and gentle manner can settle a nervous horse (and rider). Make your corrections from a place a kindness and try not to be harsher than the situation warrants.
2) Fairness counts.
3) Praise is the best teacher. Be generous with the praise when you horse makes an attempt at something new.
4) No one makes good decisions when they are really angry. This is most often when things go really awry or someone gets hurt.
5) Your horse’s needs always come first, period.
6) Asking for help is a sign of maturity and not failure.
7) You can learn something from every trainer even if it is what not to do. It is always great to have three different approaches to the same problem because not every horse responds the same way to things.
8) Opening your heart to your horse lets him open his to yours and that is where true understanding is born.
9) It’s ok to cry into your horse’s mane no matter how old you are.
10) Your horse has no training goals and no timeline and is totally happy to eat grass and hang out with friends all day if you just need to spend the day watching him (or her) eat, that’s cool too.