If you’re the kind of person who tends to focus on the negatives — no matter how positive you try to be — Kristen Kovatch feels your pain, and has a reframing tip to help motivate your Monday.
Especially when it comes to horses, I am my own harshest critic. Even if a ride went well for 59 minutes of the hour, it’s the one minute where things went south that sticks in my mind, the one minute I replay over and over again in my head. While the ability to self-reflect and improve is admirable in any equestrian to allow them to learn and move forward, I know that this particular trait of dwelling on the negative stems from a need for perfection — which as we all know, is difficult, if not impossible, to find in the saddle.
Thanks to some excellent coaches and mentors over the years, I’ve been able to relax this desire for absolute perfection, accepting both what went well and what could be improved upon with each ride and performance. Now, however, I’m working independently with a green horse, totally on my own for the first time in my horse life, and all of my old vices are clearing their throats once again without the tempering presence of a coach or mentor to keep me grounded.
My green OTTB project Jobber has recently developed a tendency to be a little herd-bound and barn-sour — nothing terribly dangerous or wild in the immediate moment, but certainly a possible foundation for later problems if I don’t make sure to address it now. Hampered by poor weather — the latest freeze/thaw/ice/snow cycle did not do our pasture footing any favors — I decided to scale back my original winter plan of lots of long conditioning walking rides up and down our hilly pastures and go back to ground work, building a solid foundation with Jobber so that he learns to trust me away from the barn and not constantly need the reassurance of the rest of the herd. If he doesn’t trust and respect me on the ground, he’s not going to trust or respect me when he’s under saddle.
On our walk yesterday, around the corner of a hill that left us out of sight and sound of the barn paddock where the herd is living for the winter, Jobber experienced a moment of frustration or insecurity, attempting to pull away from me and popping up in a baby half-rear.
That single low point of our groundwork session lingered in my mind for the rest of the day. Jobber doesn’t trust me. Clearly his herd issues are getting more dramatic. This is going to turn into full-blown rearing under saddle and I’m going to develop an unsafe horse.
But to look at this one moment is to ignore the other 29 minutes of our roughly half-hour session.
Jobber was a little “sticky” leaving the barn yard with his herdmates behind him, but after yielding his hindquarters in both directions and being made to work a little harder, he stepped right out gamely with his head at my shoulder. We experienced almost no sticky moments after that, which was a huge improvement on the previous day. When Jobber had his moment and tried to pull away from me, it only took a few moments of yielding the hindquarters, backing up and stepping forward and pivoting on the haunches before he lowered his head, took a big sigh and licked and chewed, then walked off nicely with his head at my shoulder again. We made another lap of the field without incident before walking nicely back to the barn, then worked on sidepassing in both directions in the barn yard.
To focus on just one bad moment is to discount the other great things that happened in our time together, and the positive steps and improvements we had already made on the day before. It’s certainly not helpful for me to look only at the positives and not keep in mind the areas on which we need to work, but it’s equally dangerous for me to think only about the moments that didn’t go so well.
For others out there like me, who struggle to think about anything other than the imperfections whether you’re working with your horses or getting through your work week let this be your Monday motivation: reframe your struggle. Look at the bigger picture, and remember all of the things that go well every time you want to think about everything that went poorly. You can’t have shadow without also having light.