In horse training there are good days and bad days. One day you’re on top of the world moving yourself up the levels and the next you’re brought back down to Earth with a thud. This rapid change of pace can both boggle your mind and annoy the bejesus out of you. Unfortunately I let myself to succumb to the annoying symptom know as frustration yesterday and the results were less than satisfactory. I left the barn, a place where I usually feel wonderful, discouraged and upset.
My horse, Achates, has been laid up for the past week after torquing his right hind leg outside. While he is usually calm as a cucumber recently he has been as high as kite. Every time I would bring him into the arena he would snort, remember his racetrack days, and spook at any shadow or sound. My frustration stemmed from two things: 1. I didn’t want him to re-injure himself, and 2. His lack of general attentiveness. Looking back I definitely think that there are several things I could have done better.
1. Don’t let your emotions control you.
I think that as horse owners and riders our emotions can often get in our way. I’m not saying that the emotional connection you have to your horse has to be severed but more so whatever inner turmoil you may have going on shouldn’t interfere with your training. When you feel yourself getting tightly wound or tense take a second, breath deeply, and collect your thoughts. Make a mental checklist of what you need to do to accomplish your goals and then follow through.
2. Give yourself an attainable goal.
Having a plan when you go to work your horse is great, but don’t be afraid to adjust it once you’ve started. Maybe your original plan was to work on canter departs but when you get to the barn your horse is nervous and spooky. Don’t be afraid to readjust and give yourself something else to work on. Instead of canter departs concentrate on calming your horse down, or working on your departs from the ground using a lunge line. Doing this allows you to control your situation. It insures that you won’t be disappointed and that you can still enjoy the time you spend with your horse.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure.
Don’t worry or put too much stock into any mistakes you’re making. Guess what? Mistakes are how you learn. If you did everything right the first time you wouldn’t know what to do if you messed up. It’s also the way your horse learns. Each correction and reward is your way of communicating with them. Ask them repeatedly for what you want and when they finally give it to you reward them! Don’t fret your small mistakes, but make sure you acknowledge and reward any sort of success. You want to encourage your horse, not discourage them.
Today I went back out to the barn and kept these three factors in mind. I gave myself the goal of being able to walk Achates around the arena once without any spooking or shying. When I brought him out from his stall he was as high as he was the day before. Instead of letting it get to me I focused on what I was there for. I asked him to lower his head until his neck muscles relaxed and then asked him to walk forward with me. I repeated this process over and over again as we walked around the arena, occasionally mixing it up by asking him to back up first and then walk forward with me.
When he finally let out a big sigh I rewarded him by putting him back into his stall. I gave him a two minute break and started the process all over again. After doing this for another twenty minutes I was finally able to reach my initial goal of walking him around the arena without incident.
I cannot even begin to say how proud of him I was. He was excited but controlled himself and paid more attention to me than what was going on around him. More importantly I was able to get him out of his stall, have him let off some steam, and keep him from re-injuring his leg.
This experience showed me just how much my attitude effects my horse when I work with him. Something that I’ll keep at the forefront of mind as we continue his recovery this week.
Stay strong and don’t let frustration get you! By doing this you and your warrior will be able to conquer any obstacle that comes your way.