We've all had them–those rides that start off great and then blind-side you with something unexpected and undesirable. Or maybe you could tell from the moment you brought your horse in that it was going to be a difficult day.
Either way, your plans to work on leg-yields and turn-on-the-forehand just went out the window because even walking nicely on the rail is just too much for your horse to handle today. You're out of sync and fighting each other every step. You search for a positive note to end on, kind of find one, hurriedly put your horse away and go home feeling discouraged.
It doesn't feel very nice to have rides like these, but believe it or not there is actually something beneficial going on here–an opportunity to learn and grow. When nothing is ever challenging, different, difficult or uncomfortable, we never grow.
Now, I'm assuming that you want to learn and grow as a horseperson and rider (or else you wouldn't be frustrated by hard rides in the first place. You wouldn't care enough one way or another.) Getting upset is natural and it means you care, so let yourself feel it. That's called passion, and having unwavering passion about your sport through the good times and bad is the main ingredient for success.
"Success" is different for everyone and it's not a set-in-stone thing that needs to be achieve or you're a failure. No. Success is one day at a time. One day it might mean you remembered to do your pre-ride yoga before riding. Another day it might mean mastering the feel of that outside rein once and for all. It might mean conquering a fear and feeling more free and relaxed on your horse. It might mean a new personal best score at a horse show. It might mean being chosen for the Olympic team. It might mean your horse healed from an abscess and can be ridden again.
But do even the most successful and passionate horsemen and women sometimes feel exhausted, complacent, bored and frustrated with their work? Definitely. And in those moments they allow themselves to take a break, re-group, and rest. And then they forge ahead, sometimes with renewed energy and determination and sometimes just out of sheer discipline. When they feel unfocused and disenchanted, they set goals and they focus on them.
Goals are good. They help us measure our success, bring focus to our work, and give us something to aim for. But there are no certainties in horseback riding, so make sure you're not so hung up on a goal that you fall to pieces when the situation changes. If your goals are preventing you from evolving organically as a rider or holding you back from opportunities that arise unexpectedly, they could be hurting you more than they're helping you.
So what do I do when I have a bad ride? After telling my pony I love him, putting him away and going home, I spend some quiet moments assessing what I learned that day and how I grew as a rider. Maybe I became more patient through the process (go me! Patience is hard!) or maybe I didn't and now I know I need to work on that (It's ok. Patience is hard.) Or maybe it dawned on me that I forgot to eat lunch and was hangry (hunger induced anger/crabbiness–does anyone else suffer from this when they accidentally skip a meal?) and my horse was picking up on that. Or maybe my horse spooked and spun in a circle and I learned that my seat has improved this year because I stayed on! Whatever it may be, finding the lesson in the situation will help you see the value in these challenges.
On that note, I'll share with you a few links to several fantastic blog posts on this topic that are far better written and more helpful than my ramblings! If you don't already subscribe to Horse Listening, I highly recommend doing so.
- First, Plan Your Ride. Then, Be Ready to Scrap it.
- Finding Your Comfortable Un-comfort in Riding
- Take the Credit, Bad and Good
- How to be an Active Horseback Rider (riding with intention)
- Finding Your Horse's Happy Place
- On Putting Ourselves Out There
- On Enjoying the Path
Lastly I just want to say to my students that when I see you struggling with challenging days and then coming right back the next day to try again, it makes me extremely proud. Nothing is more rewarding as a trainer than watching you push yourself past your comfort zone, yearning for personal growth, and ultimately making huge strides. I hope you take a moment to realize how far you've come and feel proud of that hard-earned progress. I fully appreciate how hard this thing called horseback riding is, and you all have my deepest respect as resilient, determined and brave riders. Always, but most especially on the bad days.