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Mind Over Matter

frustrated rider

Imagine for a moment, a “bad day” that you’ve had. Your best friend calls to tell you she’s lost her job, you’ve had an argument with your spouse, your child receives a poor mark in school. Just thinking about these things evokes feelings of sorrow, anger and frustration. All you can think about is going out to see your favorite equine companion for some much needed R&R and he moves to the back of the stall or merely watches you from across the pasture. Your normally eager companion is snubbing you. Your first thought is “what’s wrong with him?” Let’s re-evaluate… “What’s wrong with him?” or “What’s wrong with you?”

While horses can have “bad days” just like people, have you ever noticed that their “bad days” are often simultaneous with ours. That’s because horses are excellent evaluators of non-verbal communication and often at great distances. That is their survival mechanism, otherwise known as, instincts. When we come in with our “bad day” following us, we become predators (a mountain lion, cougar, grizzly bear – take your pick) to our equine counterpart. This creates a stressful situation for them which is evident in their behavior during riding. It is imperative that the rider learn to evaluate their inner emotions rather than just assuming that the problem is the horse. Learning to overcome the negative emotions will not only help improve your rides, but it will also help you to feel better.

rider hugging horseEasier said than done, right? Not necessarily. It is just a matter of re-focusing. Thinking about things that make you happy or content. If you are planning on riding when you are having a “bad day,” for your sake and the sake of your horse, take a few moments to re-group before starting your work. Do some deep breathing exercises. It has been proven that taking a few deep breaths, not only increases your body’s oxygen intake, but it also helps to slow your heart rate, relax your muscles and diminish stress. In conjunction with deep breathing, you might try listening to some relaxing music or reading inspirational passages. These will help to re-focus your energy on positive things.

Once you have re-directed your negative feelings, then you can start working with your horse. Work on things that you have mastered. “Bad days” are generally not a good time to introduce new or difficult maneuvers. You are setting yourself up for even more frustration, unless you have an unbiased set of eyes to correct you if your frustration flairs. This is due to the fact that stress causes tension in our muscles and joints, causes our minds and hearts to race and increases our adrenaline levels. These are natural instincts when people feel threatened. Instead, consider taking a leisurely hack, focusing on the basics or even just spending time with your horse. This will help to relieve stress, reduce muscle tension, heart and respiratory rates and adrenaline and diminish the negative feelings you are experiencing. It will also help your horse realize that your frustration is not a result of him.steffan peters on ravel

You have spent hours, days, weeks and often years building a synergistic relationship with your horse. Yet, all of that work can be destroyed in a matter of a few “bad days.” It is a fact that a horse can be un-trained significantly faster than it can be trained. By assessing your mental state prior to setting foot in the barn, you can help to eliminate un-necessary frustrations and disappointments with your horse. Knowing how your emotions effect your horse can help in your training and showing experiences because you will have a better understanding of yourself and your horse. If you have never taken the time, try thinking about how you are feeling when you have your next “poor ride.” You’ll probably be amazed to find that your “bad day” followed you to the barn.