Just like everything else in our life, we can sometimes get stuck in a rut with our riding as well. What is one to do when their favorite thing to do becomes a constant frustration? Here are my thoughts on the subject.
First things first, relax. Don't put so much pressure on yourself. The majority of us are just riding for fun. We love horses and we love riding. We shouldn't put so much pressure on ourselves to get one little thing that we take the fun out of our favorite thing.
It is great to be dedicated to your sport and improving your skills. The only thing is, that the more stressed out you get over something, the harder it is going to get.
Take a deep breath, relax, enjoy the little signs of progress you have made with your horse. And remember that if you are frustrated, there is a good chance your horse is too.
Understand The Issue
You need to make sure that you understand exactly how to ask your horse to do what you want. You also need to make sure you understand what it is supposed to feel like when he does respond appropriately.
Ask your trainer or instructor to clarify for you. Explain the what you are trying to get the horse to do, how to do it, and why it is so important.
The why is just as important as the how. A lot of times we can't get something right because we don't quite understand why we are doing it and as soon as someone clarifies that it is easier for us to figure out.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to explain your feelings of frustration to your instructor. They might not realize how disappointed you are that you are struggling with something. If they knew, they might be able to break it down into smaller steps. They might be able to explain things differently. Sometimes just changing one or two words of the explanation can be a huge help and make all the difference.
Watch Someone Else Do It
Whether it be watching your trainer get on your horse and show you what to do or maybe watching a friend work on the particular skill on their horse. Sometimes things feel a lot different underneath of us than they look on the ground. Seeing what it looks like might be a light bulb moment for you.
If you are watching your trainer on your own horse, it should really inspire you because seeing that your horse is capable of understanding the signals and doing what they ask is encouraging.
It should feel good to you to see your trainer get on your horse and demonstrate what they have been trying to teach you. I know some people get upset when they see their horse behave so well with their trainer and not for them. I don't see it that way though. In my opinion, if you are paying a trainer or instructor for their skills they should be better than you! You should be able to gain as much from watching them ride as them telling you what to do.
Go Back A Step
A lot of times with horses the reason we are not able to get them to understand a new skill is that they haven't quite mastered the skill before it yet. Tiny little holes in your horse's training can make for big miscommunications if you try and move on to the next step before you are ready.
Have a positive ride. Go back and work on something that you know you and your horse can do well. You will be surprised at the change in both your attitude and your horses if you have a few easy rides and don't pick fights.
Practice easy and fun stuff. Tell your horse how great he is by reinforcing older skills that you haven't worked on in a while. Pat him, and tell him how great he is.
You might be surprised how much this can boost your confidence. There is always room for improvement on old skills and as you fine tune things your horse is building trust in you again. Horses want us to be their leaders and want to know what the expectations are. If we go back to something that both you and your horse can do well, that is like hitting the reset button.
Sometimes you have to reset before you move on to harder, new skills.
Take A Break
Take a couple days off riding. After you have hit the reset button, take a couple days off of riding. Groom your horse and hang out with him or her. Let them break that association of every time they see you it is always going to be work, work, work.
Groom your horse, hand walk him, maybe throw a couple treats in his feed bin, then head home. Sometimes we just simply need time off.
Be Willing To Take Responsibility
Be willing to take responsibility for the fact that the reason you are stuck might be something you are doing and not the horse at all.
If we want to succeed with horses, we have to do our part. We have to be the best riders we can be and keep improving our skills. Otherwise, it isn't fair to expect our horse to keep making progress and learning harder things.
You might have to step up your game! Remember, a horse is only as good as it's rider!
We all get stuck with our horses from time to time. As long as we recognize that it is happening, make a plan to fix it, and learn from it, you will be better from it in the end.
The real problems arise when we are tense, make our horses tense, and have the same bad experiences over and over. We don't want our horses to dread their job! Or to dread having to go to the barn to ride them. It shouldn't be a chore, it should be something we look forward to.
As long as you are willing to always keep trying and learning, you can succeed with your horse! So if you feel like you're getting stuck, just take a breath, relax, and think your way through it. You will be on to bigger and better things before you know it.
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