If you’re like 90% of the horse back riders in the world, you are human. (I came to this figure by taking into account that monkeys ride in the circus, there are always people who will put their dogs on horses, cats love to step on warm bodies and then there are those birds that like to ride around all day looking for bugs.)
I’m human. I’m not perfect. But I sure try to be! I have high expectations of myself and often foist those expectations on to my equine partner.
The language barrier can often result in frustration during interactions. We know we should stay calm, but the tension inside us can gradually escalate until we take it out on our horses.
If you think of how you feel when you are under pressure, whether it’s solving a math question quickly, meeting a deadline at work or trying to get the kids to school on time, then you know the detrimental affect this stress has on your body.
When we have unreasonable expectations for our horses, we put them in a position where they feel stress too. They likely experience even worse stress because they are prey animals. They know you have pointy canine teeth and that you’re energy is ramping up.
Whether we reach the boiling over point or not, we usually feel ashamed and disappointed in ourselves. That’s not fun! Riding is supposed to be fun.
There are a few things you can do to help send your inner control freak on a bus ride out of town.
- Pay attention to your emotions when you ride. Catch your rising tension before it escalates.
- Take a time out and breathe.
- Do something else. You don’t have to perfect the leg-yield this second. You can always come back to it.
- Remind yourself that your horse doesn’t speak the same language as you and isn’t deliberately trying to frustrate you
- Ask yourself how important this is. If your horse doesn’t complete this exercise is it really that big of a deal? (You’re likely not in the mounted police or the pony express so the answer is “It’s not.”)
- Tell yourself and your horse that you have all day or even your whole lives to figure this out.
- Think of a list of things or even one thing that your horse is really good at. You can try this superstar activity to regain confidence if it’s appropriate.
- Ask yourself if there is another creative way to teach the same exercise.
- Practice, what I refer to as, “The Sesame Street Way.”
- Break the lesson down into micro lessons. What’s the very first step? For example if you want your horse to pick his foot up for cleaning, he has to stand still and learn to shift his weight before he can ever raise a hoof.
- Reward your horse for the most incremental improvement. If you’re teaching her to back up and you feel like her muscles are preparing to lean back, reward her.
- Make a habit out of being super positive… like nursery school teacher positive, as in Sesame Street positive! (Leave Oscar the Grouch out of it.)
- Consider quitting for the day. You can’t teach well if you or your horse are frazzled and maybe tomorrow will be easier.
- It’s nice to quit on a good note, but it’s not essential. (Gasp! I’ll expand on this in another blog post one day)
Do you have tips and tricks for staying calm in the saddle or on the ground? Is there a particular time you’re more likely to lose your cool?