Posted in Riding/Horses

Riding the Horse You Have, Not the One You Had

At what point do you let bygones be bygones?

This is an issue that Trainer brought up in my last lesson. We were just starting the jumping portion and I did what I always do: got defensive in front of the jump and completely took my leg off her. This gave me the same response I always get: Gem stopped and refused to jump. Not her fault, since I was telling her loud and clear that I didn't want to actually go over it. Now, a more forgiving horse would have jumped it anyway since she was clearly pointed right at the middle of the thing and knew fully well what my intentions were. But she isn't a forgiving horse.

At that point Trainer piped up. While Gem isn't a forgiving horse, she is an honest one and was telling me three strides out she needed more support to go over it. Even then she kept going up to the base asking for help which she never received and finally at the last minute she politely refused. No buck. No dropped shoulder. Just a polite "well, if you don't want me to then screw it I wont".

My defensiveness stems a long way back. When I first got her she was a witch. A little bit mean, a whole lot obstinate. Back then she would pull dirty stunts at the base of a jump even when I had my leg on and was fully committed to making it over. Heck she would pull dirty stunts just about anywhere anytime. She would act as though she would do the thing and then drop her right shoulder, spin 180 degrees and bolt. I ended up on the ground more times than over the jump. This behavior taught me to be scared, timid and not 100% committed to going over.

But that was years ago. She no longer acts like that. Sure, she doesn't go out of her way to help me, but we came to the agreement many years and many miles ago that she would do her job and I would do mine and we would stay out of each other's way as much as possible. The mare hates it when I nag and I hate it when I have to.

The problem is that I am still riding her like she used to be instead of the way she is now. My defensive riding has no place in her non aggressive behavior and yet I am still holding on tight to past grudges. I know that when I ride her more assertively towards a fence, that she will go over it. In fact, she has yet to refuse any jump that I am committed to going over, even if it is attached to a train.

Once Trainer demanded that I ride the horse I currently have, Gem moved around the course like a dream. She locked on to the jumps several strides out and pulled me towards them. She didn't balk, she didn't hesitate, she just soared over and went where I directed her to go.

It is a seismic drift in our relationship and way of going and one my body and mind has been slow to adjust to. The issue is that now I am beginning to punish her for her kind behavior by being restrictive and tense. Sure, she taught me to be that way but now she is trying to teach me to be trusting again and I haven't been listening.

It is going to take more than one good lesson to release the years worth of defensive tension from my muscle memory, but I could start to feel it ebb away by the end of it and hope to continue being a more willing partner moving forward. Well, as long as Gem holds up her end as well and continues to be a trustworthy mount.

What about any of you? Was there ever a point in your partnership where you had to let go of the past and move towards the future? What helped you make the transition from riding the past to the present?

12 thoughts on “Riding the Horse You Have, Not the One You Had

  1. I think this is a constant struggle for a lot of riders. I’m always trying to evolve my riding to match how the horse is evolving, but I swear I think we’re slower to change than they are!

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    1. Horses are generally much more in the moment although Gem can hold a grudge that would make my Sicilian grandmother proud. I wonder if catch riding would be easier because there would be no baggage.

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  2. It is for me. I would get in that same cycle of thinking of all the times P has stopped, so I would expect it. Several strides before each fence, my body would stiffen up, leg would come off and I’d go into defense mode for WHEN he stopped. And so he would. Riding with Trainer B has been a big help, because there’s been nothing we’ve been overfaced with and it’s slowly getting through my head that if I ride positively, P does what I want. It also helps that P isn’t in pain like he was before. So you’re not alone!

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  3. Baggage is hard to let go of. For me, it isn’t even necessarily from my current horse or even the last horse – it’s just the vague visceral sense of …. Nervous anxiety. Idk. It’s real tho. But not insurmountable. The only way to work through it is to keep pushing, keep getting positive experiences and practicing good habits. Good luck!

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  4. Sometimes, when I read your trainer’s suggestions, it’s like hearing myself talk. Haha. I often say, “You have to ride the horse you have now, not the horse you had a minute ago, or five minutes ago, or last year!” That’s the hardest part of horseback riding. Horses live in the present. Humans overthink everything!

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    1. I think you would love my trainer. She is so knowledgeable yet makes everything super fun. I for sure overthink everything. Gem is a grudge holder extraordinaire though. She doesn’t let anything go.

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