As riders we always strive to make ourselves and our horses better athletes and competitors. We save up money for lessons and other training opportunities. We manage our diets and our horses’ diets so we can be at our best. We set goals for each ride and horse show.
But, let’s be honest, sometimes all of that pressure to get better actually inhibits us from feeling successful in the saddle.
We work our butts off and feel like we aren’t seeing any real results. We practice the right lead canter departure from the walk for 20 minutes straight and we still always slip in a trot step. We practice the same line of canter poles for two weeks, but it seems like no matter what aid we use or how hard we try we just can’t add another stride. Pressure to see improvements in ourselves and in our horses takes away from the reason why we all started riding in the first place: for the fun of it!
It is easy for us to forget that in the middle of show season, when we are knee-deep in debt and still not seeing the results we want. But we all started riding because when we threw or leg over a horse’s back for the first time, we felt a happiness that could never truly be described. It might have been a pony ride at a fair or petting zoo as a kid, and you might not even remember the color of the horse or how old you were, but I guarantee you remember the feeling of your smile or your laugh.
“I made a vow to myself and my horses that the minute they become a means for me to get my paycheck, I will quit riding.”
It is that feeling that we have to hold onto when we find ourselves on a plateau where our training feels stagnant and unproductive. Maybe you just came off a great month of lessons where it felt like each time your trainer set up a new exercise, you and your horse nailed it. Or, you and your horse finally had a breakthrough when it comes to accepting contact. But now you feel like you haven’t see any progress at all. You need to remember to feel proud of yourselves and your horses when you see any improvements—no matter how big or small. And you cannot let a slow week or even a slow month put you in a funk or in a place where riding becomes a chore and is no longer fun for both you and the horse.
When I first turned in my amateur card, I made a vow to myself and my horses that the minute they become a means for me to get my paycheck, I will quit riding. The moment riding becomes work and I can’t look at my horse and remember that happy feeling, it is no longer fair for me to ride. We ask so much of our horses —so much of what we do with them goes against their fight or flight instincts — so we cannot forget to be grateful.
When you feel like you are in a funk, take a break from training and remember why you love to ride. Maybe you need to take a “reset ride” where you ask for nothing but a ten-minute flat hack on the buckle, or a trail ride on a beautiful day, or maybe no ride at all—just a day or grooming and doting on your horse. We are the lucky ones because even though we can’t explain the feeling, we all know a happiness so unique and beautiful. Let us not forget that feeling.