When you don’t love every ride…
Have you ever had seasons where you had a string of rough rides? The ones where you and your horse just don’t click. Where you get into fights, don’t get along, and go back to the barn grumpy and not liking each other. It’s like you get stuck in a rut and it’s the same story for a couple weeks, maybe even months.
I’ve had plenty of those seasons — they are no fun. I’ve felt as though I lost my entire skill set overnight; like my horses’ personality was swapped out for an entirely different animal. Like the bad-ride gremlin’s were haunting the riding arena. Little did I know part of the problem was how I approached my horse with my mindset. And that there was something I could do to stop the crazy cycle before it started.
The Crazy Cycle
I was in the middle of one of these seasons when I had an epiphany. I remember driving to the barn on a normal day, already getting anxious about what loomed ahead. My horse and I had not been getting along for a couple of weeks; I don’t remember what we were working on, but it had exploded into a huge issue I was struggling to get us around.
Then it hit. I didn’t even know I had been thinking it, but it had been affecting my actions and mindset. And I finally realized it on that drive. I had been thinking: he’s a bad horse.
In general, I believe “bad horses” are very few and far between. I’m of the mindset that horses are like humans, with their own personality quirks and idiosyncrasies. I believe it’s all about approaching training the right way for their unique needs. But somewhere in that two-week period, I had stopped believing that. Under the surface, I thought my horse was just. being. bad. As though he had an intentional bent to get on my nerves and be difficult.
We have to remember how horses think. Most horses are eager to please and some even want to have a job — something to focus on. But in the terms of mental development, I’ve always likened them to a 3-year-old. A nonverbal, huge, strong and fast 3 year old. And no matter how you dress them up or train them, at their core they are still a horse. So they are going to act according to the instinctual nature and look out for themselves. It’s not wrong, just part of their design.
With that in mind, it’s our job as riders and trainers to check our mindset at the gate and approach our horses with the right attitude.
You are what you think
The funny thing about when you believe something negative — about your training, abilities, or your horse – your brain starts looking for ways to prove it’s true. It will even omit the good, positive things and focus solely on the bad and negative. The longer it goes on, the more destructive your thinking becomes and it is harder to break the crazy cycle.
But it’s not just about trying to “not be negative,” or even adopting a neutral mindset. There is nothing neutral about horse training; after all, you’re doing something you love, with an animal you at least like. You’re not objective; there are very strong emotions, reasons and theologies behind what you’re doing. So give yourself the best opportunity to succeed by thinking positively.
For me, I had some back-tracking to do. So the day I had the epiphany, I started by getting to the barn, going in my horses’ stall, hugging his face, and telling him he was a good horse over and over. That was my start.
My next step was to go back to the basics and take it one small chunk at a time. I was looking for positive things and started building on them. It’s really easy to focus on weaknesses in our attempt to round-out our horses’ education (and our own), but try instead focusing on the strengths. What are your horses’ strengths? What are yours? Build on those for a while until your foundation is strong enough to make the weaknesses look smaller. Constantly seek to create situations where your horse has the best opportunity to succeed. And only approach their weaknesses on days when you and your horse have the best mindset.
And let’s be honest…
…bad rides are going to happen. If you’ve been riding for any amount of time, you know both you and your horse have good days and bad days. Enjoy the good days, have fun, learn. On the bad days, remember the struggle and give your horse — and yourself — extra grace. And most of all, whatever happens, don’t take it personally.