Changing Your Habits

Learning to ride well can be so hard.

For most of us, the reality is we learned some poor habits at the beginning, either taught intentionally by a teacher we no longer ride with, or habits that have developed out of fear, tension or self protection.

Changing them is incredibly hard. According to current research, it can take a few hundred repetitions to cement a new habit. Breaking a habit, however, can take many thousands of repetitions. Add on top of this any fear, shame, worry, or tension of any kind, and learning new habits is just plain tough.

I’ve personally re-learned how to ride from the ground up many times. Over the years, I’ve bounced back and forth between teachers with differing philosophies looking for the right fit. Each had a way of riding that I did not fit into, and I therefore had to relearn how to do just about everything, from how I haltered to how I held my hands to overall philosophy. It can be exhausting, frustrating and sometimes demoralizing.

I’m inclined to believe when you’re on the right path, you know. Your horse is happier, you feel less tense, and you can see the results. That doesn’t make it mess hard to change, however. So how can you make it survivable?

Here are some tips from yours truly, who is well versed in suffering at the hands of instructors who don’t seem to like anything I’m doing.

1- find a good instructor. Not all good riders are good at teaching, so having someone who can break it down for you can make all the difference. Ask for recommended reading and watching and make it your new world.

2- don’t watch things that will confuse you for a while. Don’t watch warm up arenas if you’re trying to stay away from tension and unsound riding practices. We learn very much by watching, so make sure you aren’t watching things you don’t want to copy.

3- pick ONE thing to focus on per ride. for me personally, in any given ride I can know my hands are too high or wide, my leg is creeping up, and many other blunders. It can be too overwhelming to try to fix them all at once and can easily make you feel inept and just overall yucky. This isn’t productive – so pick one thing per ride.

4- if you can, find a school horse who knows how to do these things well, and allows you the freedom to work on yourself.

5- really reward yourself for changes. Don’t get trapped in the cycle of finding fault, because it will always be there. Be objective but not self deprecating. It’s very easy to think “sure my hands were a little better, but my leg is still wrong.” Celebrate the successes because they build! They are also very motivating – getting something right feels great, and we want to keep doing it!

And above all, try to remember that the most important part of learning to ride is learning self awareness, and learning to settle into the journey. Really we’re always learning- it gets a little easier but then it gets harder again- and so goes the twisty turny path of our journey.

3 thoughts on “Changing Your Habits

  1. Oh Amy I can’t believe how timely so many of your posts are for me! This one especially as later today I am resuming riding lessons after a year off with a great instructor! I have a good connection with our three young paint horses – now two of them are four and are green broke (one by us) and one is two. Jan-March last year I had five lessons as I am not a technical rider and don’t want to mess up our horses who we are training ourselves. My partner has raised and trained several horses so I am in good hands but for my confidence and to know how things are supposed to feel I like taking lessons. The barn is a Buck Branaman philosophy which we generally are in addition to following Julie Goodnight, Monty Roberts, Warwick, West Taylor and you! Thank you for all the ongoing posts and encouragement! Even though I have had a year off from riding, I feel more confident about resuming and looking forward to my time every week focusing on riding which is where I am least confident, but I love to learn and want to do the best in the saddle for our girls. Anyway I just appreciate your posts so much – you are very realistic and practical and direct which I love! Have a great day – I know your posts take time away from your family, your horses and your training and just want you to know how very much appreciated you are!


  2. Thanks, Amy, for reminding us to find acceptance within ourselves to find the right trainer/instructor “fit” and to just work on one thing at a time


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