‘People ride with too much emotion, you need to let that go!’
I’m paraphrasing that quote but i initially heard it from George Morris as I watched a master class of his. He was giving young riders a lesson in the Simmons Court arena at the RDS Horse Show back in 2011 at the time. All these years later I think back on that as one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard!
If you keep adding tension to tension, something will eventually snap
The fundamental basics of working with horses is to establish rhythm and relaxation throughout everything we do. Those are the first two steps of the training scale and we often only attribute those to the horse. However the very same goes for the rider. If we ride without relaxation, we are adding tension. That may be physical, mental or both. When we are tense in either aspect it will often ‘feed’ to the horse we are working with. If you keep adding tension (human) to tension (horse), something will eventually snap.
As much as we humans are smart and as much as we can act off logic and intelligence, we are also very emotional beings. You can see this emotion come out all the time around horses from both amateur and even professional riders. Whether you get frustrated during a session or even in some cases I’ve seen, getting angry, it really has no place in our work with horses.
It’s no easy task and it won’t happen over night. We’ve all been there when it feels like nothing is going right whatsoever – Even though we know it can go right! That makes it even more than frustrating! It’s how we act in these moments, whether good or bad, that can leave a long lasting mark on a horse.
As riders and trainers, it’s vital to be level headed and not let things escalate. It is easier said than done but it’s not impossible. It isn’t even that we have to be emotionless, but we have to learn how to control that emotion while on horseback.
The next time things don’t go right for you, instead of being flustered or angry about it, try the following…
Breathe! That thing that just went wrong 5 seconds ago is now in the past. It went wrong and you can’t change that. Take a deep breath and have a think about what happened. Think about what you did or didn’t do. Think about what the horse did and move on to the next step.
Try again. Think about what went wrong initially and keep it simple in the correction. Don’t overreact or over ride, focus on giving clear and firm aids. Sometimes we get complacent with our signals when we need to be clear. Horses aren’t robots and we should never assume they’ll just do the exact thing we want them to. We are riders, not passengers.
If it still goes wrong, take another breath and think about what else you can try. Don’t revisit the same method over and over because that will only frustrate both you and your horse. Look at what happened, assess what you did and look at your options. Even if it means thinking outside the box, it’s important to find relaxation and calmness again before continuing. Avoid adding tension to tension.
Don’t be afraid to take a break from the troublesome task and work on something else in the meantime. Find that happy place again. You can always go back and work on the issue once you find that relaxation again. We all try not to leave an issue unaddressed but sometimes you have to step away and establish the basics before trying to ask for more.
Working with horses is extremely trying at times. It is frustrating and when you’re passionate about it, it can be emotional. The foundation of everything we do is rhythm and relaxation. Just remember it’s not only for the horse, but it’s vital for us as riders too – Rhythm and relaxation.
Written by Scott Barnes