Riding is Hard, but it’s not a Battle

Maybe let’s not even quite so much attack the jumps, either, Eli. (SGL Photo)

To make up for losing a Saturday to bad weather, I schooled with my trainer Wednesday afternoon. It. Was. Difficult. Eli and I warmed up fine, but we struggled with pretty much every part of the jumping portion. We had to regroup on the flat a few times in between fences. I felt frustrated at times, but also very happy with my horse when we did get what we were going for. There was a lot of circling and transitioning, and at one point I even said I was having a bad day! The wind wasn’t helping either — it was hard to hear my trainer sometimes.

But, never once did I see the struggle as something my horse was causing. Never once did I have thoughts assigning blame to my horse for things going wrong. Never once did I see the struggle as a battle between me and my horse. We may have been challenged by the deceptively simple the fences, but we were in it together.

Did I have to halt hard a few times? Yes. Did I have to pony-kick with my right leg once or twice? Yep. Did I make many, many mistakes? Abso-effing-lutely. Were Eli and I on the same page all the time? No … but we got there eventually. Isn’t that the whole point of a lesson? Learning from mistakes, correcting what isn’t desirable into what is? Achieving the goals for the day by the end, even if those goals seem simple? My trainer is teaching both me and Eli. I am working on NOT sitting two strides out from a fence. I am working on transitions with Eli to get him lighter in the bridle through the corners. Eli is as responsive as can be provided I ride him correctly. We still have light years to go until we can be consistent over a course of jumps in the hunter discipline. But we are getting there. If I stop sitting on him and just wait, he stops rubbing the rails. If I keep my hands forward, he carries us down the lines easily. If I use my right leg AT ALL he doesn’t drift. This is a lot of work and there are no short cuts. There is no bit that will make things easier and Eli lighter, and my hands most certainly fix nothing if I pull–pulling on a TB is pointless unless you are looking for heavy on the forehand. There is not a helmet that will endow my brain with timing. It is all practice, seat, leg, practice, leg, leg.

So peaceful as to allow birds to dine with him at his feed box.

But a battle? No. Eli is NOT my adversary; he is my partner. I can not understand when riders use language like “battle,” or “bad,” or “fight.” What exactly, are you fighting? Your horse? To get results? Think about what a battle is — conflict, violence, terror, death — is that what you want to experience while riding your horse, to get those things as results? Is that what you are experiencing when you’re riding your horse?

When I ride Eli, I am reinforcing the results I want by rewarding Eli: a cookie, a pat or scratch on the neck, a walk break on a long rein, dismounting after desirable behavior like getting a lead change without a thought … if he reacts in a way that I am not looking for, I question myself first, and usually find my answer. A horse and rider should be in harmony, a tête-à-tête in pursuit of a bigger jump, a more powerful medium trot, a gallop that feels like flying, or a consensus that today is a good day for eating grass and sitting in the sun. It means a lot of self-reflection on the part of the rider.

Riding means A LOT of self-reflection on the part of the rider.

18 thoughts on “Riding is Hard, but it’s not a Battle

  1. Ugh. It’s all SO true! They are our mirrors. Coco has challenged me a lot in this regard. She’s a much different ride from Sterling and I sometimes *think* we are in a fight when in reality I’m just not communicating very effectively. I’m envious of you for being able to get lessons weekly. I have to haul out and our truck has been down for over a month (the problem with having a spouse as your mechanic is that everyone else’s broken cars get fixed first…..). But we have 200 yards of new sand in my riding area so I’m looking forward to better practice in better footing SOON!

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    • That’s awesome about your new arena!

      I have definitely had rides where things go wrong very quickly, but if I stop myself and think about what my body is doing, I realize I can make things right. Or at least, less wrong. Eli’s sensitivity is good incentive to keep getting better, lol

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  2. So true. I’m lucky enough to have a very relaxed horse, so I especially know that anything less than prompt obedience is definitely due to something I’m telling him incorrectly. Every single time I’ve ever said “Frankie isn’t good at XYZ” I’ve had to eat my words, since inevitably it turns out that I’m mucking it up and he’s just waiting for me to realize it. Keeping that perspective is what makes training fun- we work hard, but we are always always on the same team.

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    • Yes …. I have been experiencing the “Eli isn’t good at lead changes” and eating my words because he does them if I ask correctly. oops. BUT it makes me think what else can he do if I ride everything else better, too?

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  3. Well said!! I totally understand being frustrated, but do NOT understand riders who attack their horses for it. I am like you- I make soooo many mistakes. If I don’t ride perfectly, how can I expect Rio to go perfectly? I always have a mentality of he is trying his best, just like I am. And just like me, he isn’t perfectly fit, and doesn’t always make the right decisions. But we PROGRESS. and we both have a good attitude about it, which is the important part!

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    • Progress is key! We can really achieve perfection over night, but I will take incremental improvements over stagnating and blaming my horse for everything that goes wrong — like you, I do NOT understand riders who think that way.

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  4. so now i have Love is a Battlefield in my ear. Thanks for that. LOL why I went there I dont know but ha ha ha.

    Yes nine times out of 10 it is my fault and the 10th time still usually is not Remus fault. UGH. I hate when my brain doesnt think correctly.

    So glad you and Eli are learning together. And honestly if it was easy would we even put in the time? 🙂

    Eli is so cute over the jump. EARS UP MOM!

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  5. It really bugs me when I read about what a “jerk” someone’s horse is, or how bad the horse is, or whatever. Like. We all get frustrated sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit it. Have I lost my temper before? Sure. And I regret it. Like you say tho. As riders we have the opportunity for introspection and reflection. And it’s up to us to bring a positive attitude to the saddle.

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  6. My horse is a reflection of me — that’s my mantra right now. If I’m soft, my horse is soft. If I’m concerned, my horse is concerned. It’s ALL ON ME, which is a lot of pressure… but also kind of empowering because I know how to work hard to improve. So now, it’s just putting in the time to do so!

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  7. I love this! Because at the end of the day, how can you build a partnership if you’re fighting all the time? That’s not a good relationship to be in. A horse and rider should be a team that tackles challenges together. LOL it sounds like I just described a marriage.

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