What does it take to stick with horses? Anyone reading this already knows how unforgiving, tragic, and even ruthless riding horses can be. Horses are, for one thing, expensive. They come with no guarantees. Too many times, riders end up with unsuitable horses, for reasons ranging from the horse’s soundness to the rider’s skill level to the pair’s suitability for a chosen discipline. The first obstacle to get across is very often a rider’s own ego. Get the right horse for the job!
This post assumes you already have the right horse for the job, so that rules out a lot of people to which this post would even apply. But let’s say you’ve got the horse and you’ve got the desire and horse and rider are well-matched. Success should follow, right? Nope, it’s not automatic. It takes commitment. What does it mean to be committed to horses?
If you don’t love horses, and love riding horses, why in the world would you do this? Perhaps another word to use for this feeling is passion. (Or possibly obsession?) You have to love horses to commit to horses. You have to love the horse sport, whichever discipline, to commit to the sport. You have to gain emotional energy from being around horses. Maybe you have a day every so often that horses drain you instead of buoy you, but on balance do horses lift your mood and your spirit? Even if things aren’t going your way? If you find yourself blaming everything on the horse, I personally cannot characterize that as love. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s toxic. Passion means putting the horse and the horse’s welfare first and drawing strength from elevating the horse above the rider’s circumstances.
Do you really want to do this? Are there days you think about quitting, only to resolve to come back the next day with a fresh mind and body? Do you think of yourself as crazy for spending so much money and expending so much emotional energy on an animal that just wants food, shelter, and amusement? An animal that is capable of very creatively injuring itself, sometimes catastrophically? An animal that can get sick with all kinds of things and may or may not recover? If you lost the right horse, would you lose interest in the sport or would you search for the next right horse? In the face of all this, do you remain determined to wake up every morning and ride?
Even on the right horse, running yourself into the ground will be more detrimental than helpful. First off, don’t practice so much that the horse starts to hate his job, or worse, starts going lame from overuse. You need to stick around to take care of the horse, so you had better take care of yourself, putting yourself in a position to take care of the horse to the best of your abilities. Don’t forgo safety precautions. Learn the proper way of doing things because very often it’s proper because it’s the safest way of doing things around horses, for both horse and the handlers.
George Morris often talks about how important ambition is in a horse sport. I used to think it didn’t apply to me, because I had no immediate goals of competing, moving up a level, or making a living out of horses. I have since come to realize ambition is much simpler than all of that, and does apply to me. Ambition is the desire to improve and the desire to do the things it takes to improve. The second part of that is key. You can’t just say, “I want to get better,” and proceed to do nothing different from the day before. And if you don’t want to do the things it takes to get better, you will not get better.
Attempting to stick to a rigid schedule in the equestrian world more often than not comes off as a joke. That doesn’t mean you can’t fit in the work. The days you can ride, ride. Practice what you need to practice, from serpentines to holding a two point to cavaletti and everything else you could possibly work on while riding. Be smart about it, and reward the horse for success. If Eli gets something right once or twice, I reward him and very often end on a high note such as that. If you can’t ride, there are plenty of other things you can do. Maybe your horse threw a shoe? Practice wrapping up a hoof. Maybe it’s raining? No doubt your tack could use a thorough cleaning. Maybe you’re out of town? Plenty of books about horses available, take a few with you and look them over during downtime.
Am I telling you commitment means adopting horses as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. How committed are you?