Enjoying the Process
I get a lot of calls from prospective students who want to “learn to ride a horse.” It is almost always the same question: they want to know if I can teach them or their child to ride. Sometimes they understand that what they are starting is taking lessons in riding and horsemanship. Other times, they have the idea that after their lesson or intro package of lessons, they will know how to ride. Either way, it takes a while for riders to truly understand that it is the process of learning about horses and learning to ride that they are experiencing.
Whether on the ground, or on their backs, our communication and relationship with horses is a process. The trainers’ role in the process of teaching is primarily that of translator. We are here to help humans understand how to communicate with horses through body language and cues. The best translators are usually the best trainers. Most often comments like “he’s not listening” or “she won’t do what I say” come from frustrated riders who fail to understand that their communication is unclear because their skills need polishing. On a very basic level, the more control riders gain over their own body when on a horse, the more deliberately they can apply their aids, thus the better their communication.
Once riders have basic control over their position and they can communicate general track and speed to their horse effectively, we start to get more technical. Often times, this is the point where novice riders or their parent thinks they have “learned to ride.” However, much like in any good conversation or debate, there is always more to discuss. The process of learning, then learning there is more to learn, continues infinitely in riding and horsemanship, as in life.
It is this process that any happy equestrian would benefit from learning to enjoy. We will never know enough about horses. We will never know enough about riding. With each new thing we learn, we discover there are exponentially more things we never thought about that we don’t know. Life with horses is a Pandora’s Box of information. Horses tell us a lot, but we have to learn to listen. When they seem like they’re not telling us anything, we have to learn to listen more closely. Listening is only the beginning; only half of the conversation.
As humans, we spend most of the day living in our world. Equestrians come into the barn with their own thoughts, feelings, experiences and expectations. It is not our horse’s responsibility to behave in a particular way because we decided on our commute to the barn that we wish it so. We have to listen and respond in a way that our horses can understand. Our response is the other half of the conversation. As riders learn to respond with better timing and finesse, or diplomacy, they will “hear” more of what their horse is saying.
Communication is a process that lasts as long as the relationship. We understand that with other humans, yet somehow many don’t think about it that way with horses. At the extreme, some riders behave as dictators, deaf to the outpouring of information horses give us every minute. They demand their needs be met by their equine partners, regardless of their skills and reciprocal communication. Those riders are missing out. Not only will they typically not meet their goals, but they are missing the point. A good ride is like having a good conversation with a friend. You will listen, you will reply empathetically, you will share, and you will hope to be heard and accepted. You will not solve the world’s problems over coffee, just like you won’t learn to ride in one day, or even one lifetime.
My best advice is to enjoy the process. Enjoy the conversation. Relish the moments of acceptance and find patience to listen harder when things are not going smoothly. Invest in your relationship with your equine partners and remember it is not their fault that your stronger right leg makes them swap leads occasionally. Enjoy the process of gaining control of your body and the improved communication you will have with your horse as a result. Enjoy the process of listening to the information they provide you both on the ground and on their back. If you listen closely, you will learn how much you don’t know. If you can accept that with humility, and enjoy the challenge of the process, you might just learn to ride a little.
Ashley Fant is owner and Head Trainer at Ashley Fant Show Stables
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