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?

1. Love
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.

2. Dedication
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?

3. Self-preservation
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.

4. Ambition
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.

5. Work
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?


16 thoughts on “Commitment

  1. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    I did read a Denny post once that some kids like the competitive aspect, that is what they get out of it. They are usually ones that leave. It isn’t an enjoyment of horse, but an outlet of the need for competition and to beat others or be seen as successful. That really stuck with me and I try to look at riders and see if they have love, or just a drive to show off to others. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great point! I think this is also kind of what George Morris talks about — there is a difference between ambition and competitiveness and some riders may be great competitors but couldn’t assemble a bridle to save their life or would even know what a horse’s normal resting temperature is.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really great! I especially love the part about where do you get your emotional energy. I’ve come to realize my current work was taking all of mine out of me. Getting back into the swing at the barn helps me recharge now. It’s helping me finish this dang thesis (25 pages and counting)! Current weekday routine. Go to barn around 8, ride, come home around 1. Work till 8. Go to bed, repeat. Not quite working second shift, haha. But the barn gets me going in the morning rather than starting, bleary-eyed, at my thesis for an hour before I can do anythig productive.

    I never understood the people who just wanted to ride and didn’t want to learn or watch or do the other work. I could stand and talk training theory all day (and now I’m friends with the trainer at my new barn, we lose so much time doing that, haha). I’m also riding all the horses the teenagers think are “boring” and surprising them with what those horses can do. Those teens are still pretty dedicated, they’re just still growing up. They’ll learn 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. great post, lots of good thoughts here. i personally had to sort of go through a special circle of hell in being reminded of each of those various points and what they all meant to me last year, when things went south with my mare and i had to make decisions on next steps. esp bc it turns out that points 2, 4 and 5 are actually pretty important to me. it’s not just enough to love horses, to be around horses. right now, i want to put in that work and be dedicated to the sport such that i can see the progress in my own riding and skills and abilities – in partnership with my horse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it is in those times in between horses that can be the most polarizing, or most definitive for riders — where the decision to continue is prompted by an external force like what you went through.


  4. I am totally with you on the ambition part. I also thought it didn’t really apply to me, but it definitely does. I have a 5yo and a 3yo right now that both require a lot of patience and little goal checkoff lists for those “baby” days when nothing seems to go right, but by golly no one got bucked off. I would MUCH rather go home and ride/clean tack/clean stalls/wash tails etc., or better yet trailer over to my horsey bestie’s barn to ride, than go to happy hour or shopping or whatever else it is that people do when they don’t have horses.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: How much are you willing to sacrifice? | Phoebe the Freebie

  6. I struggle with dedication but I think my depression plays a role. Half the time I don’t want to do anything not that I just don’t want to do horses. It’s been really hard for me to decide if I should make something out of this lifestyle and turn it into my career or if I’m just not cut out for it


    • It’s a tough line of work. But at the same time, I don’t think you’d have to make a hard line decision about it. I know a number of people whose roles and level of involement in the horse industry have evolved over time.


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