"Before you can control the horse, you need to be in control of you." -Mark Rashid
I love so many things about horseback riding but one of the most beneficial things to me is the necessity of being in the moment. My day job is administrative; I plan many months out on my boss's calendar. As parents, we often help plan for whatever is next for our kids; we get their physicals for football tryouts, make sure they study for their SAT's, and prod them about applying to colleges. I meticulously plan dates, places and activities for my family's annual vacation. Like most women, my mind is often going in a dozen different directions.
When I'm with my horse Sportie, at last I am in a planning-free zone. I am centered in the few hours we have together.
Mark Rashid is not only a renown horse whisperer but also practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art that means "the way of harmonious spirit." I read almost everything he writes, and he is a huge proponent of being focused on the task at hand when working with your horse.
Rashid warns that our horses are so intuitive that it is important to have clarity of intent and not let our minds wander. We cannot be asking for a canter and settle for a trot. When I was a beginner rider I was far too lenient, thinking "oh it's a fast trot, that's good enough." Then I would get frustrated when my horse thought it was okay to ignore me in other ways - stopping to eat grass, not stopping when I said "whoa," going back towards the barn when I was steering away from it.
I finally realized that even when I wasn't in an official riding lesson, my horse was always learning from me. Too often even though I wasn't getting what I asked for, I would mentally shrug and think, "That's okay, it wasn't that important." I now know that it is important. My horse wants a leader and I must lead clearly and specifically with my mind in coordination with my riding aids. I need to follow through until I get what I intended to. I don't let my mind wander off to what's for dinner.
Sportie is a much happier and responsive horse for me when I say "Canter!" like I mean it and like I think it. I make sure I get it and I don't let him go back into a trot until it's my decision, clearly communicated to him. He's a mind reader and he doesn't need to know what I'm having for dinner while he's earning his oats.