Becoming a Happier Rider


I know the feelings - frustration, irritability, anger, hopelessness, guilt, sadness, resignation... And I believe you do to. I believe most horse riders know these feelings. Things don't go as we planned. The horse seems stubborn and doesn't want to cooperate. You feel out of place on your horse - rigid, stiff. Frustrations mount and you end up taking some of your anger out on your horse. You stop training your horse, with a hopeless frustrated feeling in your body. Afterwards you feel guilt for taking it out on your horse - you know it is not the right thing to do. And you end up resigned and sad, wondering if it has to be like this. I know this. I have been there. Many times...

I got tired of waiting for that one good ride out of a hundred to come along. You know, the one where you and your horse were just flowing along and it seemed like you were one being.

Well, the good news is that you can get this every day. Or at least 95% of the time - it has to stay a little challenging after all. I got this, I changed. Notice that I say that I changed. Not my horse, but I. And I want to share with you that you can change as well. And by changing yourself - you can transform your training and become a happy rider every day. Which is kinda the point of all this!

Why spend so much money and time on something that makes you feel frustrated, angry and sad when you instead could feel happy, relaxed and fulfilled?

For me the change started quite early on. I have always tried to listen to what my gut told me. That is why I, at a quite a young age, chose that I didn't want to compete. I didn't like the way you had to push your horse in training and especially not at the competition - and I didn't like to see all the other horses being pressured beyond capacity.

Then I met a different kind of teacher in my pony-years. Probably the one who has taught me the most important in horse-training: To control my temper and stop and think. She was a beautiful red mare. With quite a temper herself. Fast, quick, ready. With fire and willingness. But she was confused and acted out. She was supposed to be used as a schoolhorse, but that did not suit her. When I started training her she would rear up or shut down at the least sign of pressure. So, I had to learn to control my frustrations. Even though I didn't have all the techniques back then, that I do now, we managed to get it to work. I had to listen to her. I had to learn how much pressure she could take, and most importantly, I had to learn to control myself so I wouldn't trigger her. And we managed. And she became the most beautiful and willing horse. We could do anything together. Then they deemed her able to become a schoolhorse again and within a month our fairy-tale ended as she became confused again and lost all our fine communications. But that is not the point of this story. I guess my point is that sometimes we are lucky to meet a really exceptional horse that motivates us and helps us to change. And if we listen, we might actually succeed.

I didn't transform completely then. But I kept the lesson she had taught me close by. In meeting with other horses, I would always - and I hope I still do - tune in on them. And control my own emotions and temper, so it would not affect the horse in a negative way. If necessary I would break of training and wait until I gained control again.

Some years went by and then finally I got my own horse after having ridden and trained other people’s horses my whole life. And suddenly my emotions started playing a role again. In riding horses for other people, I could always keep a more calm and professional distance, while at the same time enjoying giving the horse kisses. But with my own I had high hopes and ambitions. And everything started to spiral. Downwards. Fast. And I did things that I am not proud to think back on. We ended up in a totally confused lunging session, where she didn't want to move anywhere even though I hit her with the whip - hard. I doubt that most of the people in the traditional horse world would blink an eye, but it felt so wrong deep within me. And I am grateful today that I ended up feeling so much remorse that I had to find another way of doing things. And hang on - because this next part is what really changed my training sessions being successful from "a lucky coincidence" to "the norm".

Riding should release a joyful feeling every time.
My Icelandic mare Rák and I enjoying a canter in the field.

I applied for an instructor course and was (luckily for me) admitted. And on this course, I learned one of the most valuable things I think we can receive as a horse trainer and owner - in depth knowledge about how horses learn, their natural instincts and motivators and how we can guide them and motivate them to do the right thing even though they are affected by the environment, other horses etc. Altogether creating a more relaxed, trusting and happy horse. And through this, making myself - as a rider, owner and trainer - happier and improving the teamwork between my horses and myself.

And you can learn this too. It is in its theoretical basis quite simple but can be harder to apply. I do not say that all troubles will disappear, but it clears up a lot of the communication and behavioural difficulties so many riders experience. It gives you the pieces of the puzzle that you are missing to solve your problems or challenges.

Forget horsemanship, the 7 games, dominance theories and horse whisperers. Instead delve a little deeper and learn to recognize why something works and how to create the pieces you need to be able to achieve your hopes and dreams to become a happy rider with a good teamwork between you and your horse.

Learn about conditioned and classical learning, natural instincts and motivators along with stress signals and management. Clicker-training, habituation, desensitization and extinction burst. Learn all this in theory AND in practice to get a happy feeling after training - every time. And maybe even join the Equitation Science Online Programme, where I have put all of this knowledge - and more - into an extensive course to give you the tools you need to improve your teamwork with your horse.

Have you ever been so lucky as to meet a horse, that gave you such troubles, that YOU had to change for the better? Please share your experience with me in the comments below!

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