Boundaries; How They Work for You In Your Riding

Boundaries; How They Work for You In Your Riding

Boundaries; How They Work for You In Your Riding

Boundaries; How they work for you in your riding
Have you ever had a horse step on your heel while you were leading them?  Or maybe it was your toe while tacking up or grooming?  These are pretty memorable experiences due to the amount of pain they cause!
Horses are great at being really transparent around the consequences of doing something, or not doing something.  And if you have experienced some version of the above, it is due to ‘not’ doing something… Laying down boundaries with your horse.
Boundaries are so important when it comes to making progress as a rider. In fact, I have seen a marked difference between the results riders get in the saddle boil down to whether or not they have, and then actively enforce their boundaries.

Start with your ‘Non-Negotiables’

There are lots of different areas you can have boundaries when it comes to riding and horses. In order to make progress, you need to have some ‘non- negotiables in place.  These create the rules that you follow when it comes to what will happen, and therefore what won’t happen, in your riding.
A non-negotiable can be that you ride 4 days a week.  It doesn’t matter what else happens, you are riding 4 days a week.  Or it could be that you have a focused outline for a particular ride.  It doesn’t matter what happens before or during that ride, you stay with your outline and intention.
Something I see happening a lot with novice riders is that they ‘jump ship’ as soon as a better offer appears.  
The better offer could be an invitation from another rider to do something different that day.  ‘Let’s go for a hack instead, the weather is fantastic for it today”.  Another version of ‘jumping ship’ is allowing themselves to become distracted by ‘shiny things’.  Maybe a magazine article that focuses on a specific exercise.  Or a blog or Instagram post from someone they follow.
Remember, consistency is essential when working with horses.  It can be applied either way and how you apply it will dictate your results…

So What Is a Boundary?

A boundary is when you decide on something specific happening or not happening.  It is like drawing a line in the sand and then beginning to build something along that line, so everyone can see the line is there.  And therein lies one of the most important things about your boundaries…
You must clearly communicate your boundaries to those they impact or affect. 
What will you allow to happen?  Or, maybe it’s a case of what won’t you allow to happen?  What is okay?  Or a case of knowing what is not ok… The only way that you can begin to actively create boundaries is to get clear about them first.  Know what you want.
One of the easiest ways to discover when a boundary has been crossed is by becoming aware of how you feel.  
Very often, feeling anxious, frustrated, resentful, annoyed, angry, afraid or most other negative feelings associated with horse riding, is due to someone (or some horse) crossing one of your boundaries.  The issue is that most riders just don’t know it, to begin with…

Creating Your Boundaries

If I was to ask you what are you willing to do to become a better rider, you would probably tell me a whole list of things.  Great.  Now, the same applies if I was to ask you what you are not willing to do.  It may initially leave you feeling a little ‘stumped’, but slowly you will begin identifying things that, for you, are not worth negotiating with to become better.  The value does not add up.
        • The time it requires from you each week
        • How you train
        • Who you train with
        • What you are willing to do
        • What you are not willing to do
        • Training methods
        • Training aids
        • Artificial aids
        • How much money you will invest
        • Your safety
        • The horse you work with…
These are all things you should have clear boundaries on.  ‘I am willing to carry a schooling whip, however, I am not willing to apply it as a ‘whip’ to the horse’. Or it could be ‘I am willing to jump 90cm however, I am not willing to jump 120cm’.   Maybe it is that you are willing to get extra lessons two afternoons a week, however, you are not willing to invest more than $150 per week.  This will all depend on your unique situation and beliefs.

Setting Boundaries with Your Horse

Your horse needs to know what is acceptable and what is not.  When you, the rider, are ‘wishy-washy’ on your boundaries there is a direct negative impact on the relationship with the horse.  Both on the ground and in the saddle.
        • Standing still
        • Leading
        • Catching from the field or paddock
        • Grooming
        • Tacking up
        • Mounting up
        • Dismounting
        • Walk
        • Trot
        • Canter
        • Transitions between gaits
        • Bending
        • Lateral work
        • Your aids…

Boundaries affect everything when it comes to riding and showing up as a trainer for your horse.  Do you allow your horse to walk or turn while you mount up?  The keyword here is ‘allow’.  What you let happen, over and over, is what you tell your horse is okay to do.

Your horse’s behavior, both on the ground and in the saddle, is because of the boundaries he has been taught. 
This is hard for many riders to hear.  It is easier to complain about how your horse is doing (or not doing) things, than it is to step up and realize what is happening is due to weak leadership on your part…  Ouch!  But usually true!  And please, I am sharing this with you from a place of love and compassion; you can change this in your riding!

Boundaries to Develop Your Riding (and Your Horse)

This is often the easier one to address for riders as most riders are willing and open to learning how to improve in the saddle.  Your boundaries in your riding will often depend on how far you and your horse are in your riding journey.  They will also depend on whether or not you have allowed your horse to begin taking responsibility for how he is showing up in the ride.
As a rider, one of your greatest responsibilities is to allow your horse to being ‘owning’ his part of the performance or the ride. 
When your horse is green, it can feel like you are having to constantly correct and hold it all together.  Any softening or easing off from you will usually result in your horse losing what he is doing.  This can be straightness, shape, contact, relaxation, rhythm, suppleness…
However, the only way your horse can begin to develop is by you setting the boundary and then stepping away from it.  As he ‘crosses’ it, you step back in and reinforce the boundary through a timely and correct correction. Then you step away again.
Slowly overtime, your boundaries will become his boundaries.  Your boundaries will the how he strengthens himself and develops himself, physically and mentally. 

Boundaries on the Ground with Your Horse

We can use a different word for boundaries here; it’s Manners.  If you have ever watched two riders, one with clearly defined boundaries and the other without, working side by side – the benefits of boundaries become blatantly obvious.
Riders who have clearly defined boundaries on the ground with their horses are, well, happier and more content!  Things are easier. Life at the barn runs smoother.  There are less or often no ‘power struggles’ between horse and rider. They are mindful of what they are doing.  Their horse is also usually more engaged in the process.
Clearly defined and enforced boundaries allow horse and rider to truly work as a team, together. 
Put this side by side with the rider who lacks consistent boundaries.  They are stressed, anxious, often even fearful.  The horse is literally pulling them around.  They are constantly ‘herding cats’ and ‘putting out fires’.  In fact, often just watching them is exhausting!
How your horse is showing up at the yard is a reflection of how you are showing up.  

Communicating Your Boundaries

The final piece to successfully using boundaries in your riding is to actually communicate and tell those involved that you have that boundary.  The people in your life need to know and your horse needs to know.
The success of boundaries depends on how well they are enforced. 
Let your horse know what is allowed and what is desired.  Give him constant opportunities to work within your boundaries by allowing him to make mistakes.  Timely correction of mistakes is how he learns where the line is.
Over time, he will know and respect your boundaries.  This also grows his confidence in you as a leader.
Happy Riding



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