We can use the wisdom of an old horse. Release the old horses and follow them, and thereby reach the right road.
—Guan Zhong, Chinese politician and scholar (725-645 BC)
Horses today are mostly enjoyed for recreational purposes. Very few horses in 2021 “make their living” transporting their people to town, dragging logs in the forest, pulling barges, farming, mining, etc. At one time in history, we worked physically hard alongside our “beasts of burden.” Today they carry a different burden, often picking up the burden of where we fall short. But we can change that.
Today horses are our therapists, our team members, our hiking buddies, our partners in sport. Most all of us are pulled in many directions with work, family and recreation, and we just squeeze in time with our horses. The fortunate horse people make their living with them or at least have the time to immerse themselves in horses and get to spend their efforts bettering themselves for the benefit of their relationship with their horses. For all the horse does to engage with us and be present with us, they certainly deserve our undivided attention and engagement with them.
But a horse is a labor of love as well as a responsibility, an aesthetic as well as a dynamic pleasure, something to contemplate as well as to ride.
With our horses, we need to expect as much out of ourselves as we do from them. If we expect them to be athletic, we need to get in shape ourselves. That way we can possess the athleticism and strength ourselves to not only stay out of their way but actually become a part of the whole fluid picture, so they can do what they love and we can do what we love to do with them.
If we expect that experienced horse to teach us how to do the more difficult movements, the harder trails, the higher jumps, we must work to understand what they are teaching us in and out of the saddle. Even with all of the schoolmaster’s experience, they need continual deposits into their confidence bank account as well, not only withdrawals. Find the small wins as you learn and strive to work together with this incredible and kind creature.
Imagine if we were all the types of riders our horses wanted us to be—if we were all confident, athletic, well-rounded, soft, patient and consistent riders. It’s a journey. A dance between two species. Have conversations, not fights. Check in with them, give them credit, give them dignity, give them time, and above all else, give them love. It’s not so much about learning to speak their language, it’s about quieting down and learning to listen.
When you are struggling with a horse, take that struggle upon yourself—don’t place the blame on them. Find someone who can help you, like a horse friend or a trainer. Remember that behavioral problems can be related to pain, pain that the horse can only communicate to you through their actions.
Experienced riders are not prone to brag. And usually newcomers, if they start out being boastful, end up modest.
—C. J. J. Mullen
When we ask our horses to partner with us in a sport, make it fun for them too. It was not their idea to go to a competition or go on a trail ride that day, therefore, make sure you have prepared both of you to the best of your ability. Put in the appropriate preparation and training before the day, show up and don’t put extra pressure on your horse, just have fun. Competitions or even just a trail ride are not the place to start working on something. As the Navy Seals put it, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.
Enjoy this time with your horses. Be your best for them. Put as much work into yourself, both physically and mentally, as you expect from them. Treat them with kindness and show them how much you appreciate them.
Horses are something to dream about… and to wish for; fun to watch… and to make friends with; nice to pat… and great to hug: and oh, what a joy to ride!
—Dorothy Henderson Pinch
I am taking a summer sabbatical from writing this article, but keep in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather McWilliams © 2021