Some of us climb into the saddle and have all kinds of crazy dangerous things happen–right out of the blue. We didn’t do anything at all, and for no good reason, the horse came apart.
Some of us are almost okay in the saddle, carefully moving along until it happens; the horse jerks, we lose balance, and jerk back. It happens so quickly that we scare each other half to death.
Some of us think of our horses as therapists. When we’re cross or out of sorts, all we have to do is go to the barn, climb into the saddle, and in no time at all, we’re feeling better.
Finally, some of us, the very luckiest ones, have horses especially interested in teaching their riders some energetic tidiness.
Right about here, I’m going to stick up for horses. They don’t come apart “for no good reason”; they don’t have some sort of vendetta to hurt people. Short of a bee sting, or some other sharp pain, they give us a series of warnings that things aren’t right. About the time we notice them, we flinch and get defensive. It’s just common sense that losing confidence makes us insecure. So we ride with timidity or bravado and not all horses, especially those with confidence problems of their own, tolerate it well.
It’s an unpopular thought but just because some horses seem good at dissolving our negativity, is it fair to expect it of them? How does the therapist part of his job affect the other work he does?
In these examples, the rider’s mental awareness limits the horse’s behavior options. We all acknowledge that the most challenging horses are the ones who teach us the most, but can we articulate how they do it?
As a riding instructor, I think about it a lot: What does it take for a rider to improve? Sure, there’s always technique involved. Balance and communication in the saddle is crucial. On the mental side, it’s all about energetic balance. If a horse is nervous, do we get scared or become Zen masters. If the horse is dull, can we lift our energy a bit to aid them? The bottom line is we must admit the impact our mental state has on our horse at any time.
We all know that horses sense our fear but it’s more than that. They sense confusion, distraction, and all sorts of lesser emotions. They can even mistake anticipation for anxiety–just like us. That last situation happens while riding with other people and at shows.
If our thoughts and emotions are running like a rat-on-a-wheel we aren’t much of a leader. Again, just common sense. The difference between riders who continue to have the same tense ride year after year and those riders able to progress with their horses boils down to mind control.
No, there is no way you can exert mental control over your horse. No way to control the environment, either. The only thing that will ever be within our control are our own thoughts and emotions.
The first thing to know is that a good rider doesn’t just ignore her fears and concerns. Denial is how most of us got in the nervous hole with our horses in the first place.
It’s a positive action to choose your state of mind; to discipline your thoughts to stillness. Think of it like picking up your bedroom. Put your fear and drama away in your underwear drawer with your flimsy doubt. Close it. Check the floor for stray socks, expectations, over-wrought dreams, and thoughts about aging; those all belong in the hamper. You can do the laundry later. Might be time to get rid of that Megadeath poster…
Now straighten your shoulders as if they’re sheets on your bed. Smooth yourself out. Then open the closet and take out a clean outfit of calm-listening. Accessorize with sparkling intention. Settle your intelligence and awareness inside a helmet and breathe. This is energetic tidiness. You’re ready to ride.
It’s hard in the beginning. Giving our horses on our best parts takes focus. Use kindness to spur yourself to understanding. When a bit of doubt crops up, kick it under the bed, and take another breath. Let your horse see your peace. Even if it’s fragile right now, hold it to the light and let him reflect it back to you. It’s no different from learning to keep your heels down. Repetition builds habit.
Being committed to listening in your inner stillness is wildly attractive to a horse. Horses recognize it because it’s how they are, too. There is strength in vulnerability.
When I look back to my own furious efforts to improve, I’m sure I drove my horses nuts. I wonder at their tolerance. Trying too hard, even to improve, looks exactly like anxiety and pressure. Luckily, horses read the quality of our intentions as clearly as our fear. It’s here that positive change begins.
Soon enough the rider begins to find a tidy and still place inside her horse, too. It’s the place we always dreamed of, that we obliterated searching for, and now we find it, in plain sight. It was that rat-on-a-wheel self-criticism that made it harder than need be.
Eventually a day comes when your energy becomes an aid to your horse. You can share your energy if his is lagging. You can comfort his pain with breath instead of worrying him with baby-talk. You can lift him with compassionate strength in a way that you didn’t always know you could.
I’m not saying that horses or people will ever be perfect. Every relationship is a negotiation: some days they carry us and some days we carry them. If your overall tendency is fine with you, then be grateful. If you think there’s room for improvement, then commit to change your mind about horses.
Know that riding starts deep inside of you. It’s always you; the leader is the one who goes first and shows the way.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm