My Horse is My Professor: 4 Lessons My Horse Continues to Teach Me

Riding horses teaches us a lot about ourselves. Here are four real-life lessons from being around horses.

We had horses when I was very young, but my parents sold them by the time I was five. After that, I jumped at every opportunity to climb on the back of a horse and race around whatever arena or trails I was able to access, enjoying the feeling of pure adrenaline that comes from galloping without any concern for what could happen. I didn’t have lessons (they weren’t offered) and I did not realize the complexity that is involved in riding a horse. I thought that riding well meant staying on.

As an adult, I decided I wanted to ride again, signed myself up for some lessons, and was, of course, dumbstruck by everything I didn’t know about horses and riding. Since then, I acquired a horse or two (or three) and I have been working to learn everything I can. As my relationship with horses evolves, I realize that while I work to gain as much knowledge as possible, just being around horses teaches me new things constantly. I am not referring to learning to ride better, getting my horse to use her body correctly or even increasing my horse care knowledge base, although those are constant learning opportunities as well. Instead, I am referring to what horses teach me about myself.

Breathing and energy. So that I’m being perfectly up front about who I am, I am the type of person who gets stressed out by yoga. All the focusing on breathing and the notion that yoga is a “practice” and not something that can be done right and conquered is foreign to me. I feel the same way about meditation. I don’t breathe and relax. I focus on how I don’t meditate correctly and get bored and irritated. That’s just who I am.

If you don’t automatically see how this translates into learning from horses, let me tell you how hard it is to keep your horse focused and relaxed when your resting state resembles a hummingbird on uppers more than anything else. My trainer – and pretty much anyone else who knows anything about riding – likes to remind me to breathe and relax whenever I am on a horse. They remind me that my horse is going to feed off of my energy and if I can’t get myself under control, my horse will read that and undesirable behaviors can escalate. This isn’t good for anyone.

This reminder is finally starting to take hold because taking deep breaths and settling myself is finally becoming part of my routine any time I swing a leg over a horse. I see the results in the horses I ride and notice a marked difference, especially when riding in a new setting. I can keep myself focused and my horse calm. Theoretically, this will help me outside of the horse world (baby steps). I still forget from time-to-time and I am working on this, but there’s definitely progress.

Goal setting. I am a competitive person. I was born competitive and I’ll die competitive. My father used to ask, “If you’re not playing to win, what’s the point?” I’ve absorbed that mentality and it seems to be in my blood. I like to win (that’s not to say that I am a sore loser – I am adamant about what good sportsmanship looks like and I’m the first to judge people who can’t display it). However, being new to a sport with a steep learning curve has made me re-evaluate what winning looks like during each phase of my journey.

As I work with my mostly green horse, winning can’t be actually placing first at an event among stiff competition. That’s not where we are right now. I don’t have the skill set and neither does my horse (although she’s a lot closer than I am). Don’t get me wrong, that’s a long-term goal and I haven’t forgotten about it, but right now winning needs to be having a clean run, sitting deep in my seat and setting my horse up for a turn, and any number of smaller steps that will lead to success in the long run. Anything else would be unfair to my horse. Placing unrealistic expectations on my horse, who usually tries her best to do what I am asking, would only lead to a frustration that is not my horse’s burden to bear.

Recognizing and addressing insecurities. Generally, I am a fairly confident person. I am a know-it-all. 100%. Ask anyone who knows me. However, we all have our share of anxieties and insecurities, but usually I can keep mine in check… unless those insecurities involve horses. Realizing how little I knew about horses and riding rocked. my. world. It made me question my riding, my place among other equestrians and my confidence in myself.

To remedy this, the first thing I did, of course, was to acquire as much knowledge as possible. I read everything I can and continuously work to learn more. Although this allows me to know more and helps concepts “click” for me, it does me little good when I am going into competition and/or trying to keep up with my friends, the majority of whom are much better riders than I will ever be.

These experiences have forced me to recognize my own insecurities and work on how to tackle them in healthy and productive ways. Shutting down because I am not good enough isn’t an option – especially when I need to focus on riding as well as I can for my saint of a horse. Instead, I need to focus on what my abilities are and what progress looks like for my horse and me. It’s trite and I’ve heard a lot of people say similar things, but it’s true. I will never overcome my insecurities about my riding if I don’t focus on what I can control and celebrate the small victories for what they are – improvement and steps forward.

Humility. So, I know I just waxed on for 245 words about my insecurities, but here’s the fun paradox: I’m also really cocky. Don’t get me wrong. I know and recognize my downfalls as a rider and horseperson, but I can also be arrogant when the mood strikes (can’t we all)? However, horses do not allow for their riders to be overrun by hubris. They have an amazing knack for taking us down a notch or two when our heads get too big.

Whether it’s a photo or video that proves that I don’t actually know what to do with my hands or some mystery lameness or weight loss that leaves me questioning all of my equine care knowledge, horses are excellent at reminding me that I have so much left to learn.

According to Albert Einstein, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” Fortunately, my horse is always around to keep me learning.

My professor and me. Photo by Rebecca Francis.

Never stop learning, Horse Nation. Go riding!

What have your horses taught you? We’d love to hear. Let us know in the comments section.

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