I think a lot about riding horses. I think about all the inspirational quotes — the ones truly filled with wisdom — about riding horses. Words like, “Perfect practice makes perfect” (George Morris). Or my favorite, “The harder you work, the luckier you get” (Bill Steinkraus). But riding horses is not just about working hard, or working on myself, or trying to create an end-product of a perfectly rideable, athletic, and obedient animal. None of that matters if the relationship I have with my horse sucks. I can’t fight my horse for a better relationship with him, for better performance. If it’s my willpower against the horse’s, no amount of work or perfect practice will matter. I will not have a good horse.
But if I set my ego aside and try to listen to what the horse is telling me, things start clicking, and we accomplish more. We don’t end a ride exhausted — we end a ride after a success, no matter how small. So I try to remember things about my attitude and my riding that help me and Eli to have a good ride.
Yeah … I am not a patient person by nature. I am really more of a stubborn person by nature. But riding with a stubborn attitude is a quick road to absolute failure. Maybe what I am asking Eli takes him a second to figure out. He can have that second. He can have that minute, if he needs it. He ALWAYS pauses when stepping into the wash rack. It’s a step up, and he gets his front feet in and then just stands there. I cluck and pull the lead rope a few seconds later and he walks in. What if I were impatient in that scenario? I really don’t want to turn the wash rack into an issue, or a fight, or melodrama. If Eli needs a few seconds to figure out how to step up into the wash rack with his hind feet, he gets them.
This is a little easier for me to do — asking for the same thing the same way every time. Really, it’s so much easier to be consistent than not. When I go to pick Eli’s hooves, I start with the left front. Every. Day. He knows what to expect. Subsequently, because he knows what to expect, he meets me halfway and picks up his left hind after I put down his left front. Then right hind, to right front. This doesn’t just work for handling, but also for riding. I tend to be a bit uncoordinated in a saddle about some of the more complex things we do, like flying changes, so I am still saying to myself what I need to do and what order I need to do it in as I am trying to do it. Eventually it will become muscle memory, not just for me but for Eli, too. I am not saying I do the exact same thing every ride — it’s more like doing the exact same aids for whatever it is we are doing that day.
Or maybe just subtlety? No jerky movements, no big pony kicks, no yanking on the reins, no reliance on a back-up aid when the primary aid will do. Why yell if my horse can hear a whisper?
Riders strive to attain self-carriage in the horse, right? How about in their own riding? I cannot flop around in the saddle and expect my horse to be balanced. If I am trying to balance myself on the reins, I end up riding a downhill freight train. If I just teeter around trying to balance on the balls of my feet in the stirrup irons, what’s to keep my horse underneath me and going forward? I have to use my legs and my core to get Eli balanced, uphill, and carrying himself. Push, not pull.
I don’t keep track of how many times I pet Eli when I am riding him or handling him on the ground. But if he moves over, when I ask him, I pet him. It’s like saying thank you and you did the right thing. If he canters around for me, I pet him. He trots over a crossrail, I pet him. He looks at something he’s not sure about but stays still, I pet him. Every time he does something I ask, or makes a good decision, I reward him. It’s how he learns. I remember the first few times I rode him (like back in 2011-12 probably), I couldn’t even pick out his hind feet because he was so antsy and intractable in the cross-ties, and I didn’t want my face rearranged by his hoof. But now he’s damn near genteel on the ground (unless you have needles but he’s getting better about that, too). I didn’t get him here by smacking him every time he kicked out at a brush. I ignored the bad, kept doing the grooming routine, and pet him when he did something right, no matter how basic. Maybe that means it took a ridiculously long time to brush him off on some days, but he gets it now. There is nothing for him to fight.
It takes a lifetime to internalize these things. So until I’ve made it that far and no longer have to think about them, I will repeat these things to myself every time I interact with Eli. I think it’s working so far.
Also … my toe is broken! BUT nothing is displaced and the metatarsals are all okay so I will just ignore the toe from now on.