Monday, November 30, 2009

Changing Horses

Do you look forward to riding your horse? Do you feel safe and in control with him? Can you handle him by yourself? Are you both relaxed when you’re together? Does he respect your space? Are you happier after riding him than before? If you answered yes to all these questions, congratulations! If you answered no once or twice, ratchet up your activity level a bit and things will get better. If you answered no to all of these questions, well … Houston, we have a problem.

Most people in this situation end up doing little or nothing with their horses. If this is you, please understand this: it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or your horse is a bad horse. Could it be fixed? Probably, but it would take a lot of time and work on your part. I want you to have fun with your horse now, not months or years from now!

The solution is changing horses. Changing horses doesn’t mean you have to get rid of the horse you can’t ride. Many people are too attached to their horses to even consider that. But it does mean getting a horse in your life that you can and will ride right now.

Often the best candidate is an older, been-there-done-that sort of horse with a calm personality and a willingness to please. (I'll have some ideas on finding this horse in another post.) This is the horse you should be riding every week. Get busy and watch the joy and confidence come flooding back. Watch your feel start to develop. Who knows, one day you may decide it’s time to take another crack at your original horse. He will probably see you in a whole new light, and I'll bet many of the problems you had before won’t be around anymore.

On this journey from human to horseman, action is your friend and inaction is your enemy. Sometimes that means making a change for the better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just Ride

I love Smokie Brannaman’s slogan, “Just ride.” Just get out and do it. Throw a leg over a horse and rack up some miles.

You don’t need to ride perfectly. Just ride. There’s plenty of time for finesse later, after you’ve pumped up your confidence, improved your balance and coordination, and developed some muscle memory.

Want to ride but afraid to? We’ve all been there. My advice for you is, “Just do something!” Pet a horse, groom a horse, bathe a horse, lead a horse, longe a horse. Do whatever you’re comfortable doing with a horse. Slowly but surely your comfort zone will expand and you’ll find yourself doing more and more, including riding.

I remember when I learned to ride a bike. My dad gave me a push and I wobbled all over the place, eyes glued to the handlebars, worried about falling over. But I stuck with it and rode every day. Before long I was looking up, enjoying the scenery and thinking about where I was going, not the mechanics of getting there. You can reach that same place with riding a horse and I’ll prove it to you.

For one week, ride two hours each day. Challenge yourself to do something different each day. Create some wet saddle blankets and tired muscles. See how you feel at the end of the week and see if there’s a difference in your horse.

Too busy? Sure you are, but with planning you know you can work this out. The idea should excite you. If it doesn’t … well, maybe you don’t have the right horse for this time in your life. More on that later.

Have fun and ride safely.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Tragic Choice

The following is a true story, related to me by hunter/jumper instructor Anna Jane White-Mullin in a radio interview some years ago. A young girl had been taking lessons on a school horse and had talked her Dad into buying her a horse of her own. They had narrowed it down to two prospects: a flashy four year old, off-the-track Thoroughbred with a promising future; and a solid teenaged horse with a great deal of experience. The girl was lobbying hard for the younger horse. The girl’s father asked Anna Jane for her advice and, without a moment’s hesitation, Anna Jane replied, “Get the older horse. He will take care of your daughter, forgive her mistakes, and allow her to progress.” The father seemed to understand, thanked Anna Jane, and went on his way.

Some time later, Anna Jane learned the rest of the story.

The father assumed that in a few years his daughter would lose interest in riding and he would have to sell the horse. He reasoned that the younger horse would be easier to sell and would yield a greater return on his investment. The daughter of course was thrilled to get the horse of her dreams and tried her best to ride him. Unfortunately, the green horse and green rider proved a tragic combination. The girl was thrown, shattered her elbow, and was permanently disfigured. One can only imagine how the father must have felt.

I tell this story often because I want the importance of the message to sink in. Kids and puppies are cute. Kids and young horses are disastrous. If you know someone about to make this very common mistake, please do everything in your power to dissuade them. Have them email me and I will do the same.

Just this weekend, I spoke at Equine Affaire Massachusetts on this very topic. I learned later that two young sisters had been in the audience. Each was matched with an inappropriate horse, were regularly being bucked off or run away with, and were petitioning their parents to buy yet another horse for them, a three year old BLM mustang. I can only hope that the parents took my message to heart.

Those of you who know me personally know that I have strong feelings about childrearing and the parent’s role in creating strong, self-sufficient, responsible citizens. I believe in creating boundaries and requiring children (and horses) to live within the boundaries. Saying “no” to a child is hard but is sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do, especially when it comes to saying “no” to an inappropriate horse.