Guest post by our long-time student, Dr. Marcella Becker. Marcella assists in the teaching of our online courses, trains horses and riders, and teaches clinics in Germany and the United States.
Pretty much everybody that chooses to spend his time with horses puts their heart and soul in it. Certainly what motivates us all is the love of horses. Nonetheless, once we start getting really serious about our riding the entire project becomes at times laden with frustration. There is no rider who has not been at times (and this will happen again and again) right at the limit of their ability.
To develop a flexible and supple seat, to supple and straighten the horse, to come to a deeper understanding of movements, to work with the personality and talent and problems of the horse and of ourselves – all of that presents to the learning rider a multitude of challenges and certainly at times the experience of failure.
Here it is crucial to develop good strategies, so that the joy and the lightness in riding can be maintained.
Pretty much everybody involved in horses has been in situations – depending on one`s personality and character – in which we were not in complete control of our emotions.
This is human. Since riding does challenge the entire being in all aspects of body and mind, such emotions cannot be completely ruled out.
Why are we frustrated, impatient, miffed, disappointed, etc. etc.?
There are many different factors, some intrinsic to the pursuit of riding, some that intrude from areas of life outside of riding.
Factors intrinsic to riding and possible strategies
- Most riders that pursue riding for fun in their leisure time end up in the situation that they are ‘learning together’ with their horse. This is not ideal but it is common reality and so it can happen that totally normal (and to be expected) training issue appear at first as an insurmountable problem. In addition there is for many riders the worry to ruin their beloved horse.
First of all, the strategy‚ 'I do not want to make any mistakes!‘ is doomed to fail. Learning is all about making mistakes!
To actively take control of the learning process it is important to educate oneself further – in theory and in practice- for the latter one should seek the help of an experienced rider/trainer.
- Riding is about working on mastering complex movement patterns. It also has a strong psychological component. After all we are working on intensive communication between two different species.
It is therefore useful to see how to break down ‚the problem‘ which one is faced with at the moment into several small learning steps, making it easier to address it that way.
While a certain doggedness in the pursuit of riding excellence is of the essence, grimness is not a good approach to learning processes, because then we are just standing in our own way.
Small reviews of our development as a rider make the progress that we have already accomplished visible. There is something to celebrate then!
Challenges with the seat (common for most of us) can be worked on off the horse through a multitude of approaches and exercises.
- Difficult working conditions (lack of all-weather-footing in the outdoor or lack of an indoor arena, bad footing, indoor arena rather highly frequented, etc.) make happy and focused riding sometimes rather difficult, either because one is not able to ride with a certain regularity or only under conditions that eat up energy and focus that we would like to dedicate completely to our riding as such.
‘What can I change, what do I need to accept?’ – To make a clear decision between the two can save a lot of nerves.
If the money necessary for one’s own riding arena or for access to an indoor arena during the winter season (as this requires for many a drive with a trailer) is lacking, one can’t but to accept this situation for now. However, one can see if there is possibly a creative approach with which to finagle a better situation in the future.
If the indoor arena is highly frequented during rush hours one could try to use other times (as much as this is possible within the constraints set up by working and family life) so that – with a bit of luck – one can hit times when the arena is not so full in order to have a more peaceful riding experience.
Bad footing (up to the point of being dangerous) is a bit of a sensitive issue to address, especially when the owners of the barn are not riding themselves and therefore do not realize that here is a need for investment. If this is an issue, one can only work within the constraints given or move to another barn.
Depending on the possibilities for trail riding one can also do a certain amount of dressage work while out on the trails.
More often than not it certainly helps to remember and focus on the good resources that are available at this time. By practicing some gratitude we can then find a more relaxed approach to our riding and deal with our disadvantages in an emotionally more neutral way.
Factors outside of riding – strategies
- Difficult periods in life
Even though we do try and avoid this, but if we have a lot of stressful situations to cope with in our regular life it can be difficult to be relaxed and focused enough when riding our horses. Any kind of stress creates tension in the body, which then makes it difficult to accomplish a supple seat and exact aids.
In such a situation any kind of good stress management (without going into detail here) is paramount and will help to create a bit more space for successful riding.
It is highly recommended to step up on exercises off the horse to deal with seat issues and to dissolve tensions as much as possible.
It could be a helpful personal ritual to tell oneself on the way to the barn that this is an area of life clearly separated from the others, a quiet oasis away, so that the riding can be a source for our personal strength.
- Relationship issues between rider and horse
Problems in our riding can trigger feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and loss of control which we might have been confronted with in other areas of life. Since riding involves a deep relationship with the horse, this can – especially with our own horse – bring in unwanted relationship dynamics into our pursuit.
In these phases it might be really helpful to take an approach to riding our own horse as if it was the horse of another person. This can create the necessary distance.
Horses react to us, their environment and their own daily moods. They are always honest. We can trust that.
- Negative vibes at the barn
As in all areas of life the same unhealthy dynamics can happen at the barn: formation of in-groups versus out-groups, envy, different training approaches are being positioned against each other, personal animosities, and so on. This can poison the atmosphere.
Keep your cool and do not enter into confrontation. This is always a good piece of advice.
It certainly helps to be clear about being responsible only for one’s own actions, not for the activities of anybody else.
People who are being difficult and possibly aggressive could be in a rather difficult phase in their lives right now. Therefore, their way of dealing with us does not necessarily have anything to do with us.
Derogative comments about somebody else`s riding are a testimony to the speaker’s inexperience.
For any differences – even conflictive ones- between different schools and methods it should be clear that any interaction needs to happen with respect for the other.
Despite all the strategies one can think of, there will be days when it is the smarter decision to not ride and to give the horse a day off or to spend time with them without riding.
If the decision to ride has been made and one realizes that somehow there is no harmonious working together to be found, it is perfectly ok to interrupt the work session.
And it does help to be clear about that it is not helping us to hold errors and wrong decisions we have made in the past against ourselves.
In the end the horses are our best teachers in this aspect of riding as much as in all others. They live in the here and now, rooted firmly in the moment and they do not think about a messed up exercise of yesterday.
We can certainly learn from them. Our human language calls that then mindfulness and ‘staying in the moment’.
Therefore: Ride, ride as much as you can!
Every day anew, with focus, mindfulness, joy, appreciation and the curious question: ‘So, what can we do today together?’
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