Horses Reflecting Humans: The Art of Horsey “Right Back Atcha”


“I’m sorry I made you screw up those tempi changes, Max”

Anyone who’s ridden for any length of time has felt the painful truth of not being able to do something, and having their teacher or trainer experience no problem accomplishing the dreaded “thing” they struggled with.  I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, but in my own education, I’ve seen this a lot.  If I was taking a lesson with anyone new, prestigious, well known, or with a crowd watching, I’d experience a fair amount of performance anxiety.  This anxiety got in my way when it came to listening to instructions and being able to execute them smoothly – I’d sit up there, just getting in my own way and fumble with whatever I was doing, and eventually this would lead to frustration.  So my kind teachers would offer to show me, and like magic it would just flow out of them into the horse.  Clearly, the horse already knew how to do it, or it wasn’t their problem in the first place (don’t you just hate that?), but it was mine.  My cloudy and nervous mind got in the way of my body being able to communicate effectively with my horse in these situations.  Over time I have to say I’ve gotten a bit better, but it took me some practice and lots of painful lessons.

Probably also everyone who has ridden for any period of time at all has heard someone say, “don’t let the horse know you’re nervous.”  I suppose that saying is a simplified, super dumbed down way of saying horses reflect your mental state, but I’d like to take that a step further.  Rather than feigning cool-calm-collected-confidence, stuffing your nerves down and pretending everything is just hunky dory, work at accepting your mental state.  If you know horses at all you’d know they’re masters of reading body language, so you’re not hiding anything anyway. So you’re nervous. Ok, that’s not the worst thing.  Or you’re scattered, or maybe frustrated, or angry at your self, your horse, your husband, your teacher, whatever.  Do yourself a favor – don’t stuff it down, but notice it.  Every thing you feel affects your body and affects your horse – so if you can’t figure out why your horse is upset, being especially rude, extra nervous, or looking for an escape (why would he want to be around a maelstrom of bad feelings?), check your mind.  Just notice it, and don’t judge it.


Is it really fair to label this horse “spooky,” or is it the tense, nervous rider that creates spookiness in the horse?

No one is immune to bad feelings, and you can’t be expected to play “fearless leader” all the time.  But if you can’t get yourself in a better place of mind, take your plans and expectations to a place where you can focus on your horse, or maybe even put the horse up and get a cup of coffee and come back later.  Don’t get sucked into the cycle of bad mood leads to bad ride leads to worse mood which leads to bad rides in the future which leads to one P-O’d horse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s