This past weekend, our group of Eventers headed out to Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson to take advantage of the lovely cross-country course that was recently installed there. The Southern Arizona Eventing Association has put in countless hours and money into developing the course at this excellent facility. The course continues to evolve and improve under their dedication.
As I was walking around the course and then riding around the course, I thought about all the stereotypes that we perpetuate. There’s the horse that doesn’t like ditches, the horse with a down-bank problem, the horse that always ducks left, the horse that’s always fast, or always slow. There are endless personalities that we assign our horses. The same way we assign characteristics to people, but worse, we assign them to ourselves as well. I always get ahead. My hands are terrible. I have an electric seat. My left leg is weak.
The trouble is, we are unconsciously renewing these habits. We put so much time, energy and money into training our horses and ourselves, why would we verbally commit to some bad habit. Some would say that they saw the photo evidence or can feel the bad habit happen. I say, ignore reality! Just kidding! But really, giving our endless attention to the things that are not working, does not serve us on our quest to improve.
When my students have a stop, I do not generally have them get after the horse. Same with a run-out. In both of these scenarios, the horse was not correctly tuned to the riders’ aids and we would do much better by spending several minutes on transitions to get the horse in front of the leg or leg yielding/shoulder-in at the walk and trot to gain equal control of both sides of the horse’s body. If the horse get’s a crummy spot to a fence, the problem was not the fence, the problem was the cadence of the trot or canter on approach and we are far better served in focusing on that quality.
Imagine you are riding to a ditch on a horse that you describe as having a ‘ditch problem’. Most likely your are trying to drive the horse forward thinking, “He’s going to stop. Don’t stop. He has a problem stopping at ditches. Don’t stop. He’s going to stop.” Do you know what your horse hears? “Stop. Stop. Stopping. Stop. Stop.” That stop happened before you began your approach.
So, don’t negate all the hard work you’ve put into riding. Practice positive self talk, no matter how cheesy it sounds. And recognize that we, and our horses, are a work in progress and that we are never finished and we’ll never get it done. That is the beauty of this sport and the relationships with our horses, it is constantly evolving.