Consistency in All the Right Places.

In the winter months, below-freezing mornings make for stiff joints and a cold bit; midday riding is the best. As summer comes and it’s in the nineties before the horses have finished breakfast, get up before dawn or wait for the sun to cool. Just get to that routine and it seems to get dark about ten minutes earlier every night; no more rides after work. Spring is anyone’s guess. If only we could all schedule our ride times first, do the rest of the work as we get to it, and just ignore what we miss.

Maybe you have access to an indoor arena, and now the weather doesn’t matter. But your kids get sick or your parents need help. You have a project at work or you’re retired and somehow busier than ever. Then a health issue of your own pops up. Just when you are as bored and frustrated with your own excuses as you can stand, your horse is a little off on the right front. Intermittently. But consistently.

Can we all stipulate that we can’t ride as much as we wish we could? That we are all busy people and life is complex? Now can we let that be okay? Because you don’t do your horse any favors by showing up at the mounting block stressed out.

Horses need consistency, everyone agrees. If it’s your goal to take a long trek in the summer, you both have conditioning work to do. If it’s a goal to compete at a level higher in dressage next year, again, some training commitment is required. And if something gets in the way, we push harder. We aren’t quitters, so we double down and get tough… with soul-killing consistency. Yay.

What if it’s more mundane than that? Everyday life conspires to mess with your schedule enough that you’re sometimes at the barn every day but then a week passes with no visit. Do you fear your inconsistency is hard on your horse?

There was a time when the theory was we needed to train six days a week, push hard and get it done. As if a horse isn’t capable of remembering training if he gets a day of rest. What good has ever come from repetitive drilling? Lameness, yes. A horse shut down or bored, of course. When hours in the saddle become routine, without variety, each of you moving like zombies, brilliance becomes impossible. Is control really what you love about riding?

Maybe you think the one who rides the longest or the most has the best horse, but riding has always been more about quality than quantity to horses. Horses care profoundly about consistency, but it isn’t about adding up time in the saddle.

What does a horse need most consistently?

Most of all, horses need consistent good care and management. Whether your horses are at home or boarded, horses need to live as close to their natural way as possible. Free choice hay is a requirement. They need a social life with other horses, and as much we’re flattered if they nicker when we arrive for a couple of hours, the majority of the day should be spent in the consistent company of their own kind. Sorry, they need horse company more than ours. (Besides, you don’t want your horse in solitary confinement while you are waiting all week for the dryer to get fixed.) The best horse owners consistently challenge themselves to improve the lives of their horses when they aren’t being ridden.

Horses need us to be consistent about who we are when we’re with them. Our emotions impact them and although we might like to say our horses are healers, should they have to deal with our depression or anger? Our impatience or even our besotted passion? Do we have any responsibility to bring our best selves to ride? To be positive and focused on them? How do we impact their confidence when our partnership falls short? We know horses read our emotions, but it’s usually said in the context of fear. What if we made our emotions good reading for them? Consistently positive and optimistic, powered by a genuine smile.

Then the flip side, we need consistency in the way we see our horses. Do we doubt them, making jokes belittling them, or do we see them as always trying hard to do their best? Horses become the stories we tell about them, they return the trust we have in them. We make a choice every day about whether we ride the good horse or the bad horse. Even if we resent their flaws or worry about their health, can we accept them for exactly who they are and call it good, whether they are competing well, or spooky on the trail, or it’s time for a peaceful retirement? Can we remember how lucky we are every day and just say thank you?

The consistent reality between a horse and rider must be an engagement that is fresh and interesting, even between long-time partners. It takes lively mental energy to connect and let work be made light. Let the reward be larger than the ask because the rider has developed the habit of being consistently generous with praise. That we are ready, each time we ask a horse for something, to offer even more in return. That partnership means giving first; leading in such a way that a horse chooses to follow.

Consistency isn’t about a schedule. Horses don’t count the days we miss or forget how to wear a saddle or how to pick up a lead. They don’t need cookies every day and they don’t hold a grudge. We make that up.

Whether just starting work under-saddle or retired from carrying weight, horses are capable of so much more understanding and intelligence than we give them credit for. It might serve them better if we worried less about training them and more about working on ourselves, so we can offer them the safety and trust of our own consistent good character.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Clinician, Equine Pro

39 comments

  1. Thank you, Anna, you nailed it again, giving voice to my thoughts that I can never manage to get to congeal into something coherent to be able to express to anyone. With your words so brilliantly making sense of what we want from horses, and more importantly – what our horses want from us, and the magic of technology I can share your writing, hoping to benefit at least one more horse out there. That last paragraph should be a sign hanging in every barn. Thank you, Anna, and Sugarfoot thanks you too for all you’re helping me to realize and learn.

  2. Exactly, I try and be as consistent as possible with all my animals and my life! You hit home on so many fronts, but then you’re a great writer and a great rider! 😀 Thank you for your EXCELLENT posts, and I know I’m not alone with some inconsistencies dealing with my horses, like they could be in better shape or I want to ride everyday even if it’s for 15 minutes but life gets in the way. I try and give my horses horse time together as I know they enjoy this the most. I’m glad I found your blog, EXCELLENT read! ❤️ -Diana

  3. I just had an epiphany moment after reading your blog. My horses are in my life fully, not part time. What I mean is are my dogs in my life just to protect our ranch or take to a dog meet up? Are my cats in my life just to catch mice and other critters or look pretty on the windowsill? No, of course not. Then why do I think if I didn’t do something with my horses, i.e. ride every day or “teach” them something new, then somehow I have failed as a horse owner. The consistency I do give my horses is my presence in the best way possible, no matter what form it is. Phew, I’ve been too hard on myself. Thank you for the wonderful reminder Anna. As usual, your blog is a wonderful read sitting down with my pup and drinking my morning coffee.

    • I have a barn full of un-rideable horses. It’s heartbreaking that they seem to survive just fine without me teaching them anything! Us humans, scheesh. Thanks, Pam. Glad to share coffee with you and the dog.

  4. Thank you for this, Anna. I have ten horses and seem to spend all my time feeding, mucking out paddocks and grooming. I rode my beautiful big boy (a six year old gelding) for half an hour yesterday – the first ride in two weeks. He’s very green so I have to do deep breathing before i get on but he was wonderful – as he usually is. I thought retirement meant more, not less, time. So reassuring to know I’m not alone in this and that it’s OK just to enjoy being out in the paddocks every day with my mob.

  5. Yes!!! Thank you Anna. Guilt is a wasted emotion because it’s always in the past; right where we can’t do a thing about it. I am thankful that I am blessed to have horses, and that their care is good. They’re turned out in a herd every day, in summer over night as well and inside a warm stall over winter nights. Good quality grass hay, a small amount of grain and their supplements, always fresh water and alfalfa for the old man. We try to keep them groomed, but their love of mud does prevent this sometimes…life is never perfect. They know they’re loved and respected. We trust them and they trust us. It’s a wonderful life!

  6. Ok. Cannot NOT comment on this one! I love all of it. We all have our war stories and glowing moments of riding the harmonious wave of the perfect ride, but a truer statement has never been said, “horses become the stories we tell about them.” And also the idea that we are better horse stewards when we make sure their lives not undersaddle are constantly under our watchful eye to make it the best it can be for the horse. I think do the work on us in our free time and ride the horse after all that crap is done!!!! Thanks for a good one Anna.

  7. This makes me feel better. My horses are turned out 24/7 with a large one side open area where their feeder is and beyond that a large two door enclosed area. They have the consistency of being turned out every morning and the pasture gate closed at evening feeding time. I’m retired and now on my own and this year, trying to catch up with all the regular upkeep that didn’t get done last year. I have managed short rides when the super hot humid weather broke but I finally don’t feel guilty about not having a regular riding schedule. I love having them in my back yard and I love interacting with them at least twice a day. They’re healthy and I think happy and I’m pretty sure they don’t mind not being ridden every day!

  8. Spot on… I have an older mare (22). She is my heart. I keep her at a backyard barn where the barn owner is knowledgeable on feed and horse health. She can spot when a horse is “off” in any manner. My mare is turned out for 12-16 hours a day with a small herd of mares on a 5 acre pasture. A little over a year ago, I decided I wanted a fancier place with more amenities so I could ride more and interact with other people. I knew the minute my girl stepped off the trailer that I had made a horrible mistake. I could see it in my mare’s face. She hated the stall (no window to look out). She missed her open air barn and hated the automatic waters. I was so sorry that I took her away from her pasture and pond. I wanted to ride in the front paddock with the shade and didn’t care about the big beautiful arena anymore. We were there for one week and I asked to bring her back. Luckily, my barn owner said sure come on home. Now when I have to work late and can’t make it out to the barn during the week, I know my girl is happy because she is in her element. I don’t wince when I see the mud after torrential downpours because I know the barn owner will bed down their stalls and throw them extra hay. I love watching my girl stare out of her open air stall at the deer in the pasture or take long drinks from the troughs or stand at the salt block and then take a swim in the pond. She’s a horse and she is happy there living just like a horse. She’s home.

    • Thanks, Lynn, for this comment. I run a small boarding barn here, and for so many people, good boarding is the best option. Not fancy but good care is the motto, and I appreciate you giving your barn owner credit. I think having the best informed set of eyes on a horse matters so much. Thank you. And welcome back home, good for you for putting your mare first.

  9. Timely blog for me. Work and sick elderly mother have made visiting my guy difficult. I’ve been traveling outside the country for two weeks for work and miss him terribly. But he is in good hands. The stable where I board feeds free choice hay and they are out 24 / 7 with their herd. He has a good life and like hasn’t even noticed may absence.

  10. Great post Anna. There is great joy and healing in caring for horses. I have worked in barns a large part of my life. I enjoy very much being the person who does not ride them or expect work from them. It is a very special place indeed. It is where the real healing happens. Paying attention to the needs of horses and loving them unconditionally is heaven on earth. It provides so much opportunity for encouragement and positive feed back. I am helping care for a friends horses while she recovers from a broken hip. It has been such a gift to me. And she is doing well too.

  11. That’s IT in a nutshell! I like being WITH them as much as anything! My focus USED to be on riding – constantly just HAD to ride, but now that it seems like theirs just no good time, weather or something… Just going out and checking them or feeding works. Thank you!

  12. Wonderful blog! Every day I notice more and more their reactions toward me when I come through that gate. If my emotions are all wonky that day…they stay far away from me. If I come in happily focused on them and their needs, only then will they will follow me along with my bucket of hay as i drop numerous little piles of hay around their yard. I finish up and sit on the ground with the last of the hay and my wee ones quietly munching the hay around me. Sometimes caught in between as my mini mare stands across my lap asking for a chest rub or belly rub and my pony boy stands behind me nuzzling the back of my neck. “Today you are not wonky so we choose to be with you. Today you can clean our feet. Today you can put our halters on. Today we will load in the trailer.” Yes..they are so much more. They read me like a book. Thank you! =-)

    • Deb, I think we humans are way more obvious than we think we are… but they do appreciate us not dragging “trash” into their home. Thank you!

  13. Hi Anna, I love all your posts but this one especially means a lot to me. I have 13 horses and a mule, run my own business and maintain a 57 acre farm on my own (I hire help too) so there’s never any time for riding. But I do work towards making my horse’s life as good as possible, improving their living situation as I can afford it, and they all live in herds out on pasture 24/7. Still, I wonder if they are bored with the routine of life – so they get to have a grazing pasture that is different from their ‘track’ they live on, and I have young travellers come and stay who spend time with them, learning about socialised domestic horses who have lived with a stable herd – some for all of their 30 years! Thanks for writing so much good stuff! I look forward to your posts each week and truly admire and aspire to your consistency with writing! Cheer, Cynthia.

    *Cynthia Cooper * http://www.facebook.com/cynthia.cooperequine

    *www.naturalhorseworldstore.com *

    http://www.naturalhorseworld.com http://www.facebook.com/naturalhorseworld

    *www.lightriderbridle.com http://www.facebook.com/LightRiderBitlessBridles *

    * Natural Horse World 80 Dam Road, Saltwater River, 7186 Tasmania, Australia. *

    * Phone: 0419 372279 *

    On Sat, Sep 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” In the winter months, below-freezing mornings make > for stiff joints and a cold bit; midday riding is the best. As summer comes > and it’s in the nineties before the horses have finished breakfast, get up > before dawn or wait for the sun to cool. Just get” >

    • Thanks, Cynthia, for all that you do, probably at a dead run most days. It’s a shame you don’t ride, because this is the care that turns a horse into a willing partner under saddle. I’ll trust you, and know that both of us see that same sunset, say thank you, and get to bed early, there’s fence to fix tomorrow!

  14. “Horses become the stories we tell about them, they return the trust we have in them. We make a choice every day about whether we ride the good horse or the bad horse.” That is so so true! However, my barn owner said Chico got grumpy when I was away on vacation. When questioned, he and Zachary say they DO need cookies every day.

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