We have all been there - those days where you climb off your horse and ask yourself why you didn't take up macrame or bird watching. Bad rides can come in all shapes and sizes, the worst being when you do not dismount on your own, but rather are forcibly ejected. But perhaps you have plateaued in your learning and cannot grasp a new concept. You work and work and yet feel you are getting no better. Or maybe your horse has decided that the whole 'connection' aspect of the pyramid is for the birds, and it would be every so much more pleasant to trot around with his head straight up in the air. There are are so many versions of the notorious 'bad ride', but the end result is the same: you feel like crud. Your morale is low, you feel hollow, or ashamed, or angry. Whatever your reaction, it is natural and in this article we will talk about some techniques to help you with those bad days.
Number One: Keep Perspective: We as human beings are hardwired to dwell on the negative. Open up any newspaper and that will become blatantly obvious. There is an evolutionary reason for that – if we focus in on that negative it will serve as a learning tool to, say, not poke the scorpion. But in our case it does not help. Right now, whether you are in the midst of a series of bad rides or not, take a moment to think about one of those great rides you have had. It might have been a week ago, or a month ago, but either way it gives you a context for these bad rides. The outline of that memory might be hazy, or you might have a thousand excuses why that ride does not matter, but push them out of your brain. That good ride you bring into mind will act as a focus point. It can be a goal, a crutch and a injection of positive energy all in one.
Number Two: Positive Self Talk: After a bad ride it is incredibly easy to sink into a bog of self-sabotage. After all you are the rider, aren't you? It is all your fault, isn't it? By the time you are done with yourself you might be huddled in the fetal position in the corner, you are such a bully toward yourself. Think about if you were teaching a student something new, and every time they made a mistake you called them a moron, or that they were stupid, or talentless and that they should just give up. Well you are your own teacher. If you treat yourself that way, you sabotage the student in you with that terrible, bullying teacher. So let's replace her. Find something in the ride that you can be proud of – perhaps you did not lose your temper, or that you got back on the horse, or that you kept trying. Perhaps it is even knowing that you did lose your temper and having the presence of mind to stop the exercise. Whatever it is, force that teacher in your brain to acknowledge the student with some positive words.
Number Three: Analyze: Now that your teacher is getting more well adjusted and isn't bullying the student in your head, it is time we put her to work. Off horse analysis is integral to working productively, especially if you only ride one horse a few days a week. I highly suggest journaling. And I highly suggest journaling in the third person. It is very easy to slip back into your old modes of negativity and dwelling in first person journaling (aka: I just can't get it. I am no good.) When you treat yourself like you are your own instructor, it forces you to analyze the whys and hows (aka: Laura is sitting too heavily on her seat bones and this is causing Starlight to drop his back. Laura's trainer says she needs to take more weight into her thigh and shorten her stirrup for a horse so young.)
Number Four: Connect With Other Riders: If there is no one in your barn that you can speak with, then go online. There are many supportive networks of riders who all understand what it is to pick yourself up (sometimes literally) out of the dirt and trudge onward. Of course you are always welcome to leave comments on this site, and there are many more out there that you can commiserate with other riders that have been there.
Number Five: Try Something Different: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the method you are trying is failing, then try something else. Switch rings, go on a trail day to refresh yourself, feel how your body is aiding and attempt to resist falling into the same rut. Get off and watch your instructor ride the movement on your horse, ask her or him to show you with their own bodies. Try it at a walk. Get on a mechanical horse and strengthen your seat. Take a lunge lesson. The options go on and on. If you are plateaued, stuck or in a rut, then that is the time to get creative, get proactive and most importantly to be kind to yourself. You are doing this because you love it, and so each issue that comes along is one that needs to be tackled with that same passion as you feel when things are going your way.
Before long you will have another good ride and that is the point where you will be all grins and elation. If you have really absorbed this article, though, you will also be mentally preserving that good ride for when the tables turn yet again. For that is the nature of horses, they are a series of ups and downs, positives and negatives. You need to have the techniques and support necessary to ride the hills and valleys that come your way.