For years, I was all about control when it came to horses. I wanted to understand how to control them better, and how I could help riders do this… Until, one day, I realized I was working under a false pretense! You see, I figured something out. It was like an ‘oh wow’ moment.
There is no way to control a horse – or at least a way to do this that encourages the development and training of horse and rider.
And I really and truly believe that if more riders could understand this, they can make progress far more quickly. And enjoy the whole training journey a whole lot more as well… In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast, I am diving into all of the reasons that trying to control your horse is actually holding you both back from doing more in your work together.
Why You Cannot Control Your Horse
I realize that horse riding is essentially the act of us, the riders, getting onto our horse’s backs and having them do what we want them to do. We can debate this all day long, but this is the long and the short of it! However, it is also really important to remember three things:-
- We must ‘ASK’ our horses to do whatever it is we want them to do
- Our horse must UNDERSTAND what we are asking
- Our horse must actually ‘WANT’ to do it…
If either of those three elements is missing, things can come undone very quickly! Now, I am going to make an assumption here that you are a conscientious, caring, and compassionate equestrian, who is not into forcing your horse (whips, ropes, and all other methods) to do things against their will…
Your horse has a mind of his own that you can never control. So, it makes sense to stop trying – and rather focus your efforts on controlling what you can, so that you can have a more positive influence over your horse…
What You Can Control
In order to increase your positive influence, you can work on controlling the one thing you can do; yourself. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done! For many novice riders, the challenge is physical. Coordinating your aids and developing independence can feel exhausting in the early days of riding. And, for more advanced riders, it becomes a real mind game.
Being able to identify thoughts and beliefs that are limiting your progress in the saddle is a skill riders must work on developing if they want to do more and go further in their riding.
One of the best ways I have found to do this is to have a riding journal ready after each ride or session with your horse. As soon as you dismount and have looked after your horse, begin writing things down. This way, over time, you will begin to see patterns.
Couple this with some form of exercise that will complement your riding and develop strength and fitness. Hiking, cycling, swimming, strength training, yoga, pilates… Whatever takes your fancy really! I suggest doing something you enjoy, and then if you find that you are needing further work in a specific area, going deeper then.
The only way you can develop your skills as a rider is to develop yourself. And doing this is the way to then helping your horse to do the same as well.
Where to Focus Your Attention
From here, instead of each ride being about how well you can control your horse, change the focus. Think about how well you can set your horse up for success. How well can you plan what you want him to do, and then communicate that to him in a way he understands and is happy to try?
When you work on setting things up, rather than controlling everything, you give your horse the opportunity to begin really being a partner in your work together. Rather than a robot.
And this leads to horses who can think for themselves in a safe, calm, and effective way. Remember, you won’t get it right 100% of the time. And when you do find yourself in one of those ‘sticky’ situations, it is always good to know that your horse can figure it out and get you both out of it. Phew! But this is a skill you MUST allow him to develop. And you can only do this by stopping trying to control your horse all of the time!
Allowing for Mistakes (lots of them)
One of the ways we learn is by making mistakes. We realize the mistake and find a different way to do the thing that produces a different outcome. Your horse is similar. He also learns by making mistakes. And yet, as riders, this can be something we dread to allow to happen! But it simply MUST.
One of your responsibilities as a trainer for your horse is to allow room for him to make mistakes. Allow, notice, and then simply correct. Then allow again…
It is rare to see a toddler simply stand up and walk on their first attempt. They must attempt walking a lot before they get it right. Each attempt will result in wobbles, or loss of balance, and usually, falling down. However, we accept this as par for the course because they are learning something new. So let’s begin to gift both ourselves and our horses with the same level of grace, compassion, and understanding.
See each mistake your horse makes as an opportunity for him to grow and develop. Then, simply make the correction in a calm, timely manner – and forget about it.
Using Correction to Develop Responsibility
When you correct your horse but continue to remember the mistake, you will end up trying to control your horse. This irrational fear of him making the same mistake again will dampen out everything else in your ride together… And erode your horse’s confidence.
Your horse’s confidence will grow in his own abilities if you simply correct each mistake, and then move on! This means allowing him to make the same mistake over, and over until he gets it right. All without judgment or holding a grudge!
Trust me, when you leave behind trying to control your horse, and embrace becoming more of a positive influence on your horse, your riding will transform.