It is inevitable. All riders find themselves there at some point in their riding journey. The point where progress stalls and the comfort of the plateau is no longer what they are looking for. Recognizing that you are feeling a little stuck is the key to making the necessary changes to ‘unsticking’ yourself. The key to starting working towards progress again.
Before we dive into this topic, I just want to point out that this happens to all riders. It is absolutely inevitable. If you were never to reach a plateau, you would burn yourself out and become exhausted with the constant ‘effort’. However, remaining there leads to feelings of boredom and ‘same old, same old’.
A Plateau is Often Necessary
I love hiking. I especially enjoy it when there is a sizeable hill or mountain involved. One of the reasons is because I feel that it ‘tests’ me a little. There is a climb. The discomfort and effort involved in actually moving up to where I want to go. And then there is the feeling of relief and accomplishment when I reach the next plateau. The plateau almost compliments the climb necessary to get there.
Horse riding is very much the same. There are feelings of discomfort when you’re learning something new. The feelings of ‘gosh, maybe I should just turn around and go back to where I was comfortable’. The doubting. The necessary focus and concentration. Your ability to ‘dig deep’.
Learning something new is like climbing. It has the potential to be uncomfortable; until it isn’t. And this the plateau. The ‘new normal’ in how you communicate with your horse from the saddle.
But, just like actual hiking, the initial relief that reaching the plateau brings will soon be replaced with wanting more. And that is where you must begin ‘climbing’ or learning again.
Is it You or Is it the Horse?
So once you have established that you may just be on this plateau a little longer than you planned, you need to begin creating a plan or a route to get you moving again. The first part of this is figuring out who is actually holding ‘the team’ on that plateau? You or your horse?
There is a whole group of riders who will point a finger at the horse. However, there is another group who will put their hand up and realize that they are actually the issue…
If you feel that it is your horse, I want you to first take a good hard look at your leadership skills where your horse is concerned. Often we can be skilled riders but lack the ability to lead the team forward. Remember, as your relationship with your horse develops, you must allow him more responsibility for his own actions. This requires you to allow your horse to make mistakes. Your job is simply to correct and then stand back and allow again.
Sometimes, it is really the horse that is holding you both on that same level. The horse has reached his full potential in that area and will truly struggle to go further. If this is the case, I feel that it then becomes your responsibility to find a new partner to continue on your journey with.
It is unfair to continue to ask your horse to go further when it is clearly not enjoyable or possible for him to do so. This, again, requires leadership qualities.
When You Realise You’re the ‘Sticking Point’
Where do you need to begin working on yourself? Is it your leadership skills that require attention? Perhaps it is your riding skills. Maybe coordination is an issue for you. Or timing. Maybe it is that there are simply ‘gaps’ in your riding knowledge. Pieces and parts that you missed along the way.
I find that most riders are struggling with having the ‘gaps’ in their overall knowledge. This can show up in knowing what to do, but not understanding why you are doing it.
Knowing what to do is great when you have a ‘textbook example’ to work with. For example, asking for the transition into the canter. However, when things don’t go quite to the book – as in your horse won’t canter – what then? This is where knowing ‘why’ you are doing what you are doing comes into play.
I have firsthand experience of this myself. When I was younger and riding ponies, it was usually focused on the outcome. If we reached B, we were happy. However, later when I began riding and competing horses, HOW we reached B became far more important. Particularly if we wanted to then go on to C and D and E and F…
I am passionate about this now when I’m working with riders in the arena and online. I feel that it is important for them to understand ‘why’ they are doing something, rather than just ‘how’ to do it.
Starting to Climb Again
Once you have identified why you are stuck on that plateau, you can begin the task of climbing again. Learning what you need to learn. Or developing whatever it is that needs to be developed. Now, often there are a few things that need to be tackled together in order to reach the next level. However, naming them is key to making it happen.
And, let’s be honest, it is going to feel uncomfortable again for a while. That is what climbing to the next level requires. However, the discomfort won’t last forever. There will be another plateau soon.
A system will help you to stay on track and continue to make progress. For many riders, this is having a trainer to help them. However, you can do this without a trainer as well. The key is to notice what is working and what’s not.
Often when we begin something ’new’ or ‘different’ we try lots of different approaches. We throw the spaghetti at the wall and hope something sticks! Success comes when we begin to take notice of what is sticking and do more of that.
Self Doubt is Normal
Once you are back on the climb, you may notice yourself thinking ‘why did I start with this’. ‘Maybe I should just go back to where I was’… Firstly, know that you can. You can always go back – but to what end? I strongly believe that if you can simply accept that there will be periods of discomfort while you ‘climb’, your approach will change.
It is always easier to bear something when we know there is an endpoint. Your next plateau in your riding is your endpoint when you are feeling discouraged on the climb to the next level.
And keep in mind that once you reach the next level and have given yourself time to enjoy it there, you will soon begin feeling those feelings of ‘what next’. This is your signal to begin looking for a new climb for you and your horse.
Other episodes and resources to help you with your riding:-
- Free Map for Progress in Your Riding HERE
- Equestrian Fitness Challenge
- Daily Strides Podcast
- Free group for equestrians focusing on mindset and fitness
- Free group for equestrians focusing on OTTBs and riding without a trainer
- Lunging for Riding Digital Course