“So many of us push to have our horses ready for a certain show and lose sight of the training process. We push and rush our horses and end up with a horse that is blown up or mentally tapped out…The horse comes first, not the show.”
Being successful with your equine partner is more than perfect performances, flawless rides and no riding hiccups. It’s more than going into the show ring and coming out with a ribbon or money. There’s a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication that go into a successful teammate.
But, a successful teammate and a successful partnership are two totally different things. If you want a solid partnership with your horse, you need to go further than the training — you have to take your horsemanship to another level. Getting into the mindset of thinking how you can better yourself and your horse rather than focusing on each drill and each maneuver will be the key that takes you and your horse to a higher level.
Here are five strategies to creating a successful partnership with your equine partner:
1. Never Quit Learning
As horsemen and horsewomen we do not know everything. Not one person that works with or rides horses knows everything. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working around horses. Each horse will teach you something new. What works for one horse may not work for another.
Each horse is different so don’t be afraid or feel like it is beneath you to take lessons. Continue taking lessons and take them from different trainers with different backgrounds. You can learn something from each trainer, instructor or rider. If you ride western, take some English lessons and visa versa. You might find a better training technique for your horse in a completely different discipline. If information from a different discipline gets you to the same result, it’s worth learning.
2. Don’t Ride When You’re Angry or Frustrated
When you’re angry or frustrated with events that happened earlier in your day, your horse will sense that in your riding. When we’re angry or frustrated we tend to ride stiffer or a bit rougher. Most times we don’t realize we’re taking our frustrations out on our equine partners, but they can feel the slightest difference in our seat and cues.
Our horses will not learn anything from an angry or frustrated handle. We need to remain calm and indifferent to everything going on around us while atop our horse. If not, we can consider our ride that day as a loss.
Even worse than riding with the stressors of our job or home life is becoming frustrated with the horse itself. Horses learn from release of pressure. Getting angry with the horse because he is not performing a maneuver correctly or not grasping a certain concept is not helping the horse in any way. The best thing you can do for the horse when you feel like you are getting frustrated with him is to find a positive point to stop on and stop riding for the day. Come back to ride when you have a clear, non-frustrated mind.
3. Give Your Horse Breaks
Just like humans, horses can get burnt out doing the same thing day after day. Make sure you give your horse time to process what he has just learned. Give him a day or so off to rest and be a horse.
You may think that time off the horse is time wasted, but rest assured this will make your horse more willing to learn and keep his mind engaged when he is working. A lot of the time, less is more.
Aside from off days, another way to give your horse a break is to change the routine frequently. Engage your horse’s mind in different ways such as one day trail riding and the next doing arena work.
4. Realize Every Ride is a Training Ride
When you’re practicing maneuvers in the arena that your horse is rusty on, you’re training your horse. Fooling around riding and racing around the arena with your barn friends? You’re training your horse. Trail riding? You’re training your horse.
Every single time you come in contact with your horse you are training him to do something. Whether you realize it or not, you are either training your horse to be more responsive or training him to become duller to your cues that you’ve decided to be sloppy on that day.
Realizing that your horse is a direct reflection of you is an eye opening experience. Once you realize this, you can better improve yourself as a rider which in return will make your equine counterpart better.
5. Focus on the Process, Not the End Result
So many of us push to have our horses ready for a certain show and lose sight of the training process. We push and rush our horses and end up with a horse that is blown up or mentally tapped out.
DO NOT FOCUS ON THE END PRODUCT! Focus on your horse and where he is in his training at that very moment in time. Work on minuscule improvements and the final product will come. It may not come before the show you’re preparing for, but there will always be another show. The horse comes first, not the show.
Your success in the ring is not the greatest part of owning your horse. The greatest and most beneficial part is the process that gets you to that point. Through this process, you will learn a significant amount about your equine partner — and most likely, you’ll learn a lot about yourself as well.
The process will leave you more appreciative of the milestones you will achieve with that special horse you have molded into the perfect partner.
Each one of these points tie into the same conclusion: if you put your horse first, you won’t be disappointed. Once you understand this concept, you and your equine partner will be ever growing and extremely successful.
It’s amazing the things you’ll absorb from trainers, other horses and even areas in your life that have no relation to horses if you continue riding and learning with an open mind. So, put on your boots, saddle up and enjoy the ride.