Lessons Learned: My Horse Is a Mirror

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Ainsley Jacobs makes a good case to apply this saying to riding: “ride for the horse you want, not the horse you have” to help change your horse’s attitude, mood and energy.

When JJ and I moved to Milym Equestrian earlier this year, we were the “new kids”. Fortunately, everyone welcomed us with open arms, and I was lucky enough to be paired with a really wonderful lesson buddy – Mary Campbell.

Mary leases a super sweet gelding named Swag. He’s quirky and talented and all sorts of adorable. However, Swag tends to be a bit on the anxious side and can get a little fussy when things aren’t quite perfect. In all honesty, he reminds me a LOT of how JJ was when I first started riding him in 2014.

Over the past six months, Mary and I have gotten to be pretty good friends. She even started her own awesome equestrian company, Mare Goods, and I’m proud to help support her brand.

Seeing double? Mirroring is an important concept to help improve performance! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs / Ride Heels Down

Anyway — Mary has ridden JJ a couple of times recently, and it’s safe to say that she had a blast. Like any other “mom,” I love hearing about how wonderful my “kid” is and Mary definitely had tons of praise for my little Paint horse. She was impressed with how trustworthy, communicative, mellow, and willing JJ was. She didn’t know him back when he was tricky to ride, and was surprised when I told her that he used to be a lot like Swag.

During our hacks together, Mary and I have talked a bunch about how to help Swag relax and chill out. I’ve shared tips with her that have helped me and JJ, and it made me realize something that I hadn’t consciously focused on before – if I ride him with a certain expectation of what I want, he will (eventually) mirror that expectation.

If I get on JJ and I’m nervous, anxious, tense, or angry, he’s hot-headed and a handful of explosive energy. However, if I sit on him and blank my mind and totally relax into a calm state, he tries his best to mimic that. I’ve realized that my horse is a mirror, and it’s up to me to set the right example of what I expect from him. (Full disclosure: sometimes I will even think about what I need to buy at the grocery store while I’m doing a jump course just to force my brain to not over-stress about what’s going on under me.)

There’s an old saying that you should “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” and I’ve found that to be surprisingly true, too, with riding.

Twinsies! I had an absolute blast riding XC with my lesson buddy, Mary Campbell. Photo by Miriam Offermanns / Milym Equestrian


Ride for the horse you want, not the horse you have.

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