The Ride You Give

Yesterday, I read a post from Horse Collaborative called “The Horse Feels What He Feels”, by Denny Emerson. Denny Emerson was name “One of the 50 most influential horsemen of he Twentieth Century” by Chronicle of the Horse, and was elected to the USEA Hall of Fame in 2005. He is also the only rider to win a gold medal in eventing and Tevis Buckle in endurance. Although I do not do either of those disciplines, I would still say that this man likely knows what he is talking about. The article was a short and straightforward post about how riders tend to make excuses for not achieving success, rather than working for it.

He states that riders will claim that it is too expensive to get the practice they need to be great, which is so unfair. He responds with “whining is hardly as effective a strategy as figuring out how to get more practice time.” He also says that “‘the horse feels what he feels.’ The horse doesn’t care why you suck or are competent. He only responds to the ride you give him. And how you became (or failed to become, or are failing to become) the rider with those requisite skills as opposed to the rider without skills is totally irrelevant to your horse.” Harsh. But true. These two quotes stood out to me because I have definitely been guilty of blaming mistakes, and competitive struggles, on the fact that I can’t afford a fancier horse, or fancier shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love my horse and believe in him; but there are tough days that I think I need something better. Or easier. Then I tell myself that I cannot afford anything better, and I see Facebook posts of people riding in Hunter Derbies, or Grand Prix’s, and think that life is so unfair. If only I too was living off of a trust fund, then I could be great. However, blaming my horse, bank account, and falling into this negative thought process, really gets me no closer toward what I want. Perhaps I should spend my mental energy on figuring out how to ride my horse better, or working to increase my bank account (I am self-employed, I am not limited to certain salary!). Riding and training horses is hard. The only way to become good at it is to practice. Over and over again. Horses are expensive to buy and care for, there is no denying that. But money is not completely unattainable, and there are ways to ride inexpensively. I don’t need to ride at a fancy show barn, own a fancy horse, and go to fancy shows to improve. I don’t need to be sponsored, or have a trust fund to ride well. I just need to ride. Whether I am atop a $200,000 derby horse, or a $500 OTTB, I can still move forward. In fact, I can probably learn far more from the $500 OTTB.

I guess the point I am trying to make, and what Denny Emerson’s article made me realize, is that complaining and making excuses as to why I am not where I want to be in my riding career will not help me to actually get where I want to be. While I have always been determined and hopeful that I will get there, I too often (especially lately) have the perception that I need a fancy, imported warmblood to have success at shows; and that I could not possibly win on the type of horse I can afford. It is not far fetched to believe I someday will be able to afford that fancy warmblood, but in the meantime I can still work with what have (and can afford) and achieve success. It does not matter what I spend, it matters what I do in the saddle. I don’t need the fancy horse to become a better rider. As long as I ride, I am able to improve. I have always found a way to ride, even when I could not afford to own a horse at all, so I can always find a way to improve. I also know that having a negative perception of my riding career will not give my horse the confidence he needs to perform. Horses can feel everything we feel, and they can pick up on the subtlest mental cues from us.  They can feel our negativity, and that certainly is not going to inspire them to try very hard.

While Denny Emerson’s article may be a little harsh, I think he makes a very good point. Excuses “may make [me] feel better,” they do not help me to accomplish anything. They do not help me ride better, and they certainly do not help my horse to turn into a champion. The only thing that will truly help is practice.

(There are links to the article and Horse Collaborative in the first paragraph, check them out!)


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