The Athletic Rider: Check Your Filter

Leah Hinnefeld of The Athletic Rider is back! In today’s column, she discusses the importance of mental mindset for the successful horseman.

We all view this word through some kind of filter. That filter can change, depending on the circumstances of your life, if you allow it. It can change in pretty much the same snap of a moment that your photo can change, depending on the Instagram filter that you click and apply. If your days starting going downhill, your filter can quickly become a dingy grey (think Moon, Willow or Inkwell for my IG followers). If you have enough grey days, you can lose sight of the basics that make you happy.

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On a recent long run, I was thinking about the filter through which I view my horses and my riding. It is something that has been nagging at me, therefore something I didn’t particularly want to do — but knew I needed to do. You see, 2010-2011 were tough years for me and my farm. In April 2010, I lost my heart horse, Polo. I think that was just the warm-up for what would happen next: in September 2010, I lost my dad. Then in June and July 2011, I lost two horses that I had raised since foalhood. Every loss seemed to change the filter on how I viewed my farm, my horses and on some level, my life. 

Julian, Milo and Polo. Photo by Michael Pugh.

Julian, Milo and Polo. Photo by Michael Pugh.

Sure, in the years that followed, I was making some positive changes and having a positive impact on others — in 2012 I became a Team Beachbody Coach. I started the Athletic Rider in 2013, and things were crazy good as far as that went. I followed up by earning NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Sports Performance and Precision Nutrition Certifications. However, I was still viewing my riding life through this sad, burned-out, jaded filter of an adult rider who had lost too much too soon and had no goals for the future (even if the goal was just to love the horses I still had the treasure of owning). 

Enter Natalie B. Natalie is an energetic, bright-eyed, horse crazy teenage girl who is earning some summer money by taking care of my horses and my farm. She is taking on those “dreaded” duties of cleaning manure, filling water troughs, putting out hay, and Pine-Soling the barn. You know — those duties we would beg to do back when we were the energetic, bright-eyed horse crazy teenage girls, those duties that now made me want to hide under a fly sheet and view the world through a filter of manure brown. 

As I was watching Natalie cleaning my tack (that had last seen saddle soap circa 2011) with an ear to ear grin, it hit me. In order to change my thoughts on horses, I had to … well … change my thoughts on horses! I had to view my horses through that bay with a blaze and white socks filter of an energetic, bright-eyed, horse crazy teenage girl. I had to kiss soft whiskered noses more and worry about flexion less. I had to gallop more and circle less. I had to breathe in that “only if someone could bottle it horse smell” more and watch the clock less. I had to learn to just love something that I once loved more than … well, you know!

Today I rode. It was a little sloppy and a ton of fun. It was a “I am a 51 year old teenager” filter kind of ride. I even thought about braiding Hugo’s mane with pink ribbons and sharing my lunch with him under a tree. Instead an old photo of “Fun With Balloons” will have to do.

Photo by Leah Hinnefield.

Photo by Leah Hinnefeld.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the Rider Fitness Boot Camps offered by The Athletic Rider.

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