If you’re one of those people that hates the word “try” and typically responds with “don’t try just DO it,” I hope you can at least appreciate where I’m coming from with this post.
A couple of years ago I was dead set on getting things perfect. I had a real issue with the fact that things take time (okay, I still have this issue but I’m working on getting better). It wasn’t enough for Bella to try to understand what I wanted or to try to do what I was asking of her, I wanted her to just get it right off the bat. I had my own insecurities in getting things wrong (okay, I still do) and I projected all of that onto my horse. Not cool, I’m aware. Any good trainer will tell you how incredibly stupid that is, although because I didn’t have the funds for consistent training I had to figure it out on my own. The whole point of training a horse is to teach it and you cannot expect anyone or anything to simply get a concept right off the bat. Horses, like people, will ask questions when they’re learning and I have apologized to Bella so many times for not being able to hear her questions the way I do now.
Does this all mean I don’t sometimes still find myself incredibly frustrated? Absolutely not! I still get frustrated, I still struggle to figure out how to convey what I need from her sometimes. These issues come up the most when I’ve run out of ideas on how to teach her something on my own, with no one on the ground to help tell me what’s going on with her. Pictures and videos once every month or two really doesn’t cut it, but I can’t afford a trainer so I persist onward. When I run into a serious issue we just keep tackling it, often times I ask Michelle for advice or I do research from a trainer I respect (Denny Emerson’s FB page for Tamarack Hill Farm is always a favorite of mine). But in the meantime, you end up frustrated. How you handle that frustration really shows a lot of character, and I’ve been trying to improve mine over the last several years.
Once upon a time I’d get upset and take it out on Bella, something I’m incredibly ashamed to admit. These days I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of “try” and appreciate that she’s making an effort to understand what I want rather than getting upset that it’s just not all clicking together. Rather than focusing on the fact that she’s distracted, having a bad day, getting upset because I’m asking for something she’s not quite sure about or ready for or whatever the issue may be, I try to focus on what she is trying to do. Is she at least moving off of my leg? Is she paying attention to me rather than finding something to outwardly point her anxiety towards? Is she at least on the bit rather than going around like a giraffe? The smallest bit of “try” is more important to me these days than getting it right.
This new found patience and understanding has really helped me lately. Particularly with Skipper, the bay Appendix I ride sometimes at the farm. Dude is anxious as all get out and because I ride him on his own without the company of any other horses, he really struggles some days. But all I ask of Skipper is that he try. He can spook, he can be afraid, he can try to run away. I know that I can sit the majority of his antics, so unless he does something dangerous I will not punish him. He’s allowed to be scared of things, after all that is how he got here. His ancestors are the ones that were naturally on guard for all potential threats. They ran away from things, they survived, they passed that natural weariness down to their foals who then passed it down to their foals and so on. Skipper is the product of the horses who survived all things that might potentially eat them. As far as he seems to be concerned, all things are dangerous, there is safety in numbers. I don’t think that is not something to be punished out of a horse. Rather take that, and add confidence in yourself onto it.
On an average day for Skipper and I, all I ask is that he tries to trust me. That he can stop and look at the “danger” as long as he walks past it when I ask him too. That he can think about turning around but when I tell him no, he stop and face his fears. I ask that he put his head down so that he’s thinking, that he keep his feet moving 90% or more of the time that I’m on him (mostly we just walk past pony eating dangers). No rearing, no bucking, no whirling around and charging in the opposite direction. Stopping and thinking is trying, because if he’s stopping and thinking then he’s considering that maybe I’m not going to get him killed, he’s trying to trust me.
I constantly joke that I should record myself riding him because most of the time,
especially if I’ve got him trotting around to help trot off some of that belly he’s got, I’m talking to him. There’s a constant chorus of “good boy,” “that’s it,” “good job,” “that’s my boy,” etc coming out of my mouth. Anything to keep Skipper connected to the fact that I’m there, I’m confident, I’m going to take care of him. Since the first few times I’ve ridden him I feel like he’s gotten substantially braver with me. He still spooks but he is so much more willing to walk past things even once he’s decided that they are pony eating monsters. I can ride him bareback confidently and today we even trotted, back toward his friends, bareback which is a pretty awesome new step. If he really wanted to, or if he decided something was going to eat him, he could easily take off with me and I’d just have to hang on and pray. But I trust Skipper to listen and to be aware of me while I’m riding him. Despite all of his nervous energy and despite the fact that we don’t have complete trust there yet, I believe that he has placed some confidence in me. All of that belief is rested on the simple fact that when I ask Skipper to do something, he asks if I’m sure and then tells me that he will try.
I’m not a professional rider, I’m never going to go to the Olympics, I might be lucky if I ever jump above four feet. But to be able to sit on horses other than Bella and to keep a level head about it all. To put my effort into making them better and realizing that any amount of effort on their part is them getting better has been a game changer for me. I don’t care about getting on a horse and being perfect. I care about getting on and putting in a good ride and knowing that when I get off, we’ve built up a layer of trust. I do this knowing that there will be bad days and bad rides and bad moments. I also know that as long as I see any amount of effort in bad rides and bad moments, that nothing is lost. It can be the worst ride ever, but as long as the horse shows you any try at all then you should try to focus on the good. Keep your head level, focus on the good and work on the bad in small doses.