What if your horse doesn't want you to ride?
Have you ever wondered what your horse is trying to tell you when they are:
Swinging their heads at you as the girth gets done up
Kicking their belly
Running away when you try to catch them
Are they sore? Do their teeth need doing? Is their tack ill fitting?
All of these questions are very valid and must be ruled out but I’m about to give you the one answer you don’t want to hear.
You’re horse doesn’t want you to ride it.
Oh no!! Shock, horror!! How dare I say that!?! Surely every horse should be filled with gratitude and happiness at the very idea of you riding it!?! No they do not.
Your horse wants 3 things from you:
1. Stop jabbing it in the belly with your legs and pulling it in the mouth with your hands.
2. Stop making it work
3. Get off, feed it, scratch its butt, give it some treats.
This is a very hard realisation to come to as a horse rider because it now puts our beautiful companion - the one that makes our heart sing to be on its back, galloping off into the sunset with the wind blowing in our hair - at the level of slave. They have to do this because we say so.
And this brings up some strong feelings of guilt and shame that our pleasure is at the expense of another animal (well, hopefully that comes up for you). This came up for me when I figured this one out for myself.
After ruling out all the issues my horse possibly could have it came down to the last variable, ME. And it floored me. As a professional instructor and trainer, how could I possibly continue working in this industry with the idea that I was creating slaves for our happiness? This was a tough one, and for a while the main thing that kept me going was that just because I quit wouldn’t mean that industry abuse would stop or that people would stop riding. It would just mean that I had given up doing what I love.
To get the right answer you have to ask the right question.
So the question changed.
If I were to not quit but instead continue riding and advocating riding as a sport and hobby, how could I do this in a way that would get the horse to want to be ridden?
Which left me with 3 principles that has founded the rest of my training.
1. Create a relationship with your horse SO THAT it enjoys your company
2. Make the education process and learning fun and engaging SO THAT the horse wants to learn
3. Make movement feel good SO THAT they want to move and train.
This is not something magical that happens over night. It means consistently showing up for your horse every day, advocating for the life it deserves, being aware of its wants and needs are and only putting just enough pressure on them that they can grow and flourish.
In the short term this takes time and patience. But its well worth it for the gifts our horses give us.
This is our horses gift to us:
Don’t worry about the time it will pass anyway (and what better way to spend it than with our horses)
Don’t become emotionally engaged in the results, instead use the results to learn from the experience
Have trust and faith in the process that you and your horse are exactly where you need to be in this moment, and you don’t always get what you want but you do always get what you need.
With these gifts the horse has given us we get to meet the person inside of us that is happy, at peace and ease with themselves and their lives who knows what it feels like for their heart to sing with glee. You know this person, you’ve met them before, it’s why you are a horse rider, it’s because you know that’s where you can find this person inside you. This person is the best version of yourself and when they come out in the saddle your horses heart also sings and you can make beautiful music together that is a pleasure to watch. Anything else is a bonus.
If you want this experience PLUS the acknowledgement of your peers and judges that you are a good rider we can get you that too. After all the training scale that dressage is based on IS the exercises that your horse needs for moving to feel good.