Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ride the Horse You Have Today

It seems that, in reading lots of horse blogs, many of our posts about our work with horses break down into approximately these (grossly over-simplified) categories:

  1. Great ride - let's do it again!
  2. Things started out so-so and got better.
  3. Things started out OK and stayed OK.
  4. Things started out so-so and went downhill from there.
  5. It was awful - I don't know if I want to (or can) do that again.
Sometimes there's a lot of emotional content, including disappointment, feelings of failure and self-doubt, and worry that there isn't progress, or worse that things may be going backwards. Some of this, it seems to me, is as much about the expectations we place on ourselves, as about the horses and what they do.

Thinking about that prompted me to reread a post of mine from last year: "What Is Progress?" - if you haven't read that one before, you might want to take the time now - it's long - before reading the rest of this post.

One thing that brought home to me is how important it is to ride the horse you have today. That's one of the first things I learned when I started riding with Mark Rashid, and it's really stuck with me as a core principle. I have to have a plan when I ride - often a very detailed one with specific steps and objectives in mind - but I also have to work with the horse who shows up on that day. Sometimes that means that I change what I'm doing, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes external factors enter in - the weather, other riders, a mare being in heat, a physical issue that comes up (me or the horse), or just plain the moods the horse and I are in that day.

Disappointment, discouragement and self-doubt often come from a mismatch of expectations and outcome. If you brought all of yourself to the horse, and you didn't get done what you'd expected, or something didn't come out the way you planned, there's no need for feeling let down, although it's a very common human response. I do try to find a way to end any session doing something the horse can feel satisfaction about, even if it's a basic task they've long ago mastered. Regardless of what horse shows up, and what I do or don't get accomplished on any particular day, as long as I'm there honestly trying to work with and listen to the horse, with humility, there is a building up of our relationship, and yes, progress, even if it may not look like it.

Ride the horse you have today. (And also read the post by Beth at Fearless Riding called "Be the Rider You Can Be Today" - it's a very useful addition to my post.)


  1. another great post! I guess that I always try to make the most of my riding, I don't get to ride as much as I would want to (and no riding at all right now!!) so in my mind I make the most of any riding situation so that I have enjoyment from it for both me and the horse.
    Riding is my escape,my therapy and my passion! I think, in all the years of riding I have truly only had very few bad or disappointing days.
    It makes me sad when I hear that somebody came to the barn and left unhappy or disappointed. Maybe it takes a little bit of work to find the 'good' side to a bad situation but it is well worth the effort!
    anyway... just my humble opinion!


  2. Well said. Horses are individuals and just like us they have internal and external lives outside of the ring that effect how they will be in training that day.
    It is great to have a plan. I always have a set agenda of the things I want to reinforce in my ride to strengthen the correct behaviors, as well as exercises I want to accomplish for conditioning or practice. Some days your horse is just not on the same page though! A good trainer plans well but is ready to adapt and change his or her agenda to meet the horses physical and emotional needs. I think being able to be flexible like that makes every moment a teachable moment even if it not the lesson you planned.

  3. Good post! Whenever I'm getting frustrated because my horse is being difficult, I always stop, take a breath and say "Ride the horse you're on". Every horse has something to teach, although it may not be the lesson you wanted to learn.

  4. That's great and so true. Also what you said in 'what is progress'. Having the horse with you from the inside is what true partnership is all about and I find that to have that I have to slow down quite a bit.

  5. Once again, a great post. We have all chosen one of the few sports where our success or failure depends on another living, breathing creature with a mind of its own. We need to remember that, especially on those days when minds do not meet. *S*

  6. I've always said the same thing, ride the horse you have today. Because really what else can you do. My horses and I just go with the flow and if it doesn't work out the way I expected before I got on, I always make sure we end on a good note.
    Great post.

  7. Kate, this is an excellent post! I went back and read the one you said to, since I wasn't following your blog back then. Wonderful and well said, I can see that you have worked with Mark. I have read quite of few of Mark's book and LOVE them! I only wish that I could go to one of his clinics, lucky you to have gone to some.

    I do love the way he teaches and I love the way you have reminded all of us about the horse. Sometimes we forget that the horse does indeed have feelings, good days and bad just like us.

    I rode Gilly today, great weather and we had a really good ride. I didn't really have anything planned only just riding and enjoying the time spend with my horse. He did everything I ask of him, side pass over to the gate to open and close it, back up and turn on the haunches, stand and by quiet when ask. He seemed to be enjoying our time spent too, which is what made the ride great!

    Thank you for this wonderful post!!!

  8. Kate...so well put and I often struggle with what my goals were and if they were accomplished. I lately have been riding my horse and just enjoying who he is...or dealing with him on the ground if he's too much to ride that day and just accepting it and still finding positivity in that.

  9. I love thinking about how a ride went, but especially when it went well!! I don't like evaluating the poor rides As much because that means I have to consider how I handled it! Because as they say, horses will never learn English so it is up to me learn the horse's language. Some days, easy. Other days not so(!)

  10. I love this post, Kate. So amazingly simple, and yet difficult for us goal oriented humans to do - ride the horse you have today. I like to pretend I am going to the barn to "meet" a new horse and I have to approach them slowly and groom them and quietly try to bond with the horse and then slowly tack up and ask for a calm ride. Every day is new and exciting because every day it is a "new" horse.

  11. Wait, wait a darn minute.

    You know sometimes I'm just in a mood. Or I'm tired. Or my foot hurts. Or someone around here did something to me five minutes before you came over and I'm still mad about it. Or I have a thing about rain. And so it bothers me. And it's just like that.

    So sometimes people just have to cut me some slack. So sometimes it's not about you. Ya know?

    (the above comment is courtesy of my horse, Cibolo)

  12. Something so basic yet so often forgotten. Excellent reminder!

  13. Right on Kate. It makes such sense.

  14. Great post! Since I don't have much time to ride right now, and when I do get a moment to ride, I really have to think about my horse, and what is going on with her. Also with myself. I am so physically and mentally exhausted after work, that I have to be careful with that too. But even when I wasn't so busy, I have always been mindful of my horse and what kind of attitude they are in, day to day.
    Great reminder to everyone!

  15. My goal is always the same: have a safe, relaxed, fun ride for both horse and rider. Anything else we accomplish is gravy.

  16. Well written! It is something that I must remind myself if a ride isn't going as planned.

  17. Thank you Kate. I am glad you approved of my post too. I was hoping you would.

  18. Terrific and thoughtful post.

    I surprised myself at the last ACTHA event because I didn't place any expectations on Apache and I. I just wanted us to do our best and have fun and become a team.

    I think we did that, and more, even though we didn't complete every obstacle perfectly, or even some of them at all. I learned so much about my horse, I believe she learned a lot from me, too. And I think, through our trust for one another, we have become much more of a team and a partnership in the process.

    And that's all I can ever ask for :)


  19. Lovely blog, but whats happened to the 'crazy veggie lady'?.

  20. mangocheeks - the crazyveggielady blog is on temporary, or perhaps permanent vacation - my blogging was getting out of hand!

  21. Good post, I've just written a 'self doubt' type entry on mine and then I come here to discover the theme!

  22. Even on my worst days with Page I always tried to find something we could do well before quitting. I think it's important for both horse and rider to end on a good note.

    Great post!


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