Celebrate the easy.

10 Jun

Something to try next time you are feeling frustrated with your horse or your riding. (Which, according to the internet, seems to be most people, most of the time!)

By definition, I meet a lot of horses and their people when things aren’t going so well. I’m often introduced to the horse by a list of its faults (“stubborn” being a particular favourite, which seems to cover a multitude of supposed sins) or, at best, qualified compliments (“she’s a nice mover when she’s off my leg”). This is obviously partly an outgrowth of whatever situation has prompted my visit, but even so, it’s often tricky to get people to tell me what they like about the horse! A quick reading of the internet suggests similar – a lot of “my pony is amazing” when it goes well, a lot of “my horse has this and this and this flaw” when it doesn’t go well.

One of the keys to being a good trainer is objectivity. Objectivity brings balance, which is both literally and metaphorically an important ingredient in making good horses. The ability to spot and address weaknesses is obviously part of this but it’s not ALL of it. A good trainer also needs to recognise the strengths (both their own and the horses’) so as not to over drill or diminish what is good about the situation. It’s also essential to maintaining a positive mental attitude, which is not lost on the horses. Of course this is often easier when you have lots of horses to ride and don’t take any one horse too personally, but it should be equally possible for any owner, especially since one can presume the horse was bought for positive reasons in the first place. (If this was not the case, if you bought your horse for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with you liking it, then stop reading. You have bigger problems!)

So the next time you find yourself grumbling about your horse and frustrated with your progress, try this very simple, popular mental health exercise. Get out your trusty electronic recording device – or a pen and paper if you want to go old skool – and start two lists. On the first one, put your OBJECTIVE complaints/frustrations/dissatisfactions. So something like “Fluffy is difficult to load away from home” or “Mr Ed is resistant to my leg” or “Fly-By-Night regularly jumps out of his paddock”.

Then, on the other side, for each complaint, list a minimum of two – TWO – positive things about your horse. Again, attributes, skills etc, not your feelings about the horse. So along the lines of “Chubby costs £20/month to feed” or “Sparky stays calm to ride in the worst weather” or “Twinkletoes has an “8” canter.” Be honest. Honest doesn’t mean critical, it means that you see the situation clearly and assess it on its merits, not always though the lens of how you feel about the situation.

Alternate between the two, always going back to the things your horse does easily and/or well.

After you’ve done that, ask your friends and your trainer for a few similar suggestions. This is even more telling if they don’t know the horse well and go only on what you’ve told them.

Now, one of two things will happen. In the vast majority of cases it will provide a reality check and remind you of all the positive qualities your horse possess. Or, if you or the people around you struggle to say anything constructive, you have to take a good hard look at the situation and ask yourself what you are spending your hard earned money and precious time on! I hope it’s the former. If it’s the latter I would suggest going back to your trainer or other trusted advisor and having a long hard talk about whether or not this is the horse for you!

If you want to go on to the next step, you can take your “cons” list and assess it honestly. Cross of anything that isn’t really important to you, then take one undesirable aspect and make a note of one step you will make to start to change that situation. It might be to investigate a new trainer, or to go xc training, or to make a regular arrangement to go hacking with a friend. It might be to invest in a taller fence or to speak to the yard owner about a paddock rearrangement. Just start somewhere. Figure out the steps you need to do to make the hard things easier.

Then next time you’re in a funk, pull out the list and read it. If you want to get really fancy, visualise a situation where your horse made particularly good use of one of its attributes, say a very successful jumping lesson, or a stress free journey, or an hour standing tied, waiting. Don’t take those things for granted just because they don’t seem to cause you horse concern or cost you much effort. That is exactly the point. It’s so easy to forget the good and obsess about the bad, make a conscious effort to break that cycle.

Celebrate the easy. That’s where the fun is.

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