Getting the Best Ride: Who's Responsible for What? Part III

There are three areas of focus that help us to get the "best ride", with our horses as well as in our life:
  • The rider's balance
  • The horse's balance
  • The rider's confidence and leadership
Each of these areas of focus involve contributors from the physical, mental and emotional state of both bodies, the horse and the rider. If one area is out of balance, it will surely effect another area either subtlety or more dramatically. We often don't pay attention until the challenge is more dramatic, but if we were to have greater awareness and address an out of balance situation BEFORE it got dramatic, we'd be ahead of the game each and every time.
Last May 2016 in Part 1, I started the three part series focusing on rider balance, and expanded the information shared to include:
Rider balance~Part 1
  • Expansion vs compression
  • Rider weight and body awareness
  • Tension and release
  • Mental state and self-talk
If you'd like to read or reread Part 1, click here
Last month, we focused on the Horse's balance:
Horse Balance~Part 2 
  • Where are his feet?
  • How does he compensate?
  • His mental state when he's physically out of balance
  • Helping him re-balance
If you'd like to read or reread Part 2, click here 
Now let's focus on:
Rider's Confidence and Leadership-July 2016
-What you're really communicating to your horse
-Fun factor for motivation 
-Things aren't fun when you lose your passion
-The uncertainty of doing the "right" thing for your horse. 
What you're really communicating to your horse
Last month, we talked a lot about how the tension, brace and stress of the rider effects the horse's ability to move freely. As we all know, lack of confidence, fear or lack of leadership will all contribute to our own emotional tension and brace, which the horse will pick up on no matter how we try to hide it.
Our emotions and what state of mind we arrive at the barn with will greatly influence your experience on any given day. One thing I love to share with clients is the art of imagery, or visualization. You can do imagery anywhere, anytime, and it can be a powerful tool to take to the barn despite how your day has gone previously. It's important to practice imagery when you're NOT at the barn, because this is where you'll fully be able to immerse yourself in the experience without any hesitation; I call it working in your "Learning Zone". When we get to the barn, and we're already anxious about how things will go, we're already out of learning and become more reactive...this is the time where you tend to push past thresholds, don't honor your gut feeling, and begin or continue to lose trust in your own judgment.
Imagery can be very simple, and by practicing it routinely before you go to the barn, you'll already have "muscle memory" or really "memory muscle" to fall back on if you do start to feel more anxious at the barn. The most important thing with imagery is to use all of your 5 senses fully; sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. Developing these senses will allow your brain to fully find the positive imagery that you practice away from the barn, so that you can recall what you DO want to have happen much easier and in more detail.
I'll share one of many imagery practices that I share with students, it's called "Internal and External Practice". Sit in a chair, breathe out and close your eyes. Take a few deep and calming belly breaths to fully engage your mind and release tension from your body. Then move forward with the visualization. When you are done with the visualization, open your eyes and take a few more breaths, this is one "round". Do 1-3 rounds per session per day, the more frequently you do this, the better you'll get at whatever it is you're practicing for.
    • Internal-rider experiences the event, sees it through their own eyes, and feels the movement as if they are actually performing the skill; it's like being the actor on stage.
    • External-rider experiences the skill from outside of their body, seeing and hearing the image as if they were watching themselves on screen.
    • Internal imagery perspective provides them with a greater kinesthetic feel than is possible with external imagery. Start with internal then go to external
    • External imagery is well suited to evaluating and refining form. Riders are able to see their entire body and the position of various body parts in relation to one another.
Did you know that sports professionals and Olympic Athletes use imagery practice all the time? Their physical bodies can't practice as much as they need to, and imagery, when done properly, will engage the same neurological pathways as real physical practice does. So be an Olympian and practice your imagery!
Fun factor for motivation 
Anything that we're motivated to do involves a strong sense of purpose. If we don't understand WHY we're doing something, then the chance of us sticking with it and being motivated to tackle it in the first place is slim to none.
Motivation is always internal; no one can motivate you, it can only come from your own desire. When your leadership or confidence is lacking, it's easy for your motivation to go the wayside, unless you have purpose.
Find your purpose by asking yourself "what's my why?". In other words, why did you embark on this equine journey in the first place? Was it a childhood dream? Maybe it had to do with the thrill of competition, or maybe it's just that you love horses and wish to be with them.
Make sure that your "why" is yours; what I mean by that is don't do something for others just because you think that's what you should be doing. Nothing good comes from "shoulding".  Instead, harness your leadership skills and go for it based on what drives you, what YOU want to do. If that means your horse time doesn't involve riding, then that's fine. The bottom line is, that you do with your horse what's fun for you both, and what makes you happy. Isn't that one of the reasons why we have horses anyway?
Things aren't fun when you lose your passion
Without purpose and motivation, it's almost impossible to sustain passion, especially when things get hard or difficult. It's hard to move past obstacles when you don't have a passion to drive you. All the leadership and confidence in the world won't matter if what you're doing has no meaning.
If things feel this way for you now, then look into areas in your life where you do have passion. What drives that passion? How did you get passionate in the first place? Who can support you in your passion?
Sometimes, being able to teach or share what you know makes becoming a leader an easy task. If you can share your passion with others, surround yourself with a tribe of like-minded people, then the "work" in horse work becomes fun again, and your passion grows because you're sharing the joy with like minded others.
The uncertainty of doing the "right" thing for your horse. 
Follow your gut. You will find the right thing for you and your horse if you trust yourself enough to say "no" to things that just don't feel right.

Many clients will ask my permission if it's okay not to want to show, ride on trails or whatever they're contemplating typically from other people's ideas of what horsemanship means.  My answer is"absolutely!".  Again, if you're not having fun, no one is.  It's important to tap into what drives you and then pursue that passion.  If you don't like to ride trails, or if your idea of showing is a good grooming, then give yourself permission to follow that lead.

Your horse will also have his own ideas as to what he likes to do best.  Cow work, jumping, dressage, endurance, trails and more.  Find out what gets your horse engaged and then put that discipline into your time together.  I just discovered (to my joy) that Guinness likes jumping!  There's not much leadership needed to point him over some poles, he gravitates towards them!  But dressage, well, that's okay but not his preference.  

Give both you and your horse a variety of things to experience, and then focus on the things you both like best.  One client recently shared that her horse LOVES moving the cows from the barn to the pasture, and then bring them back to the barn at night.  She had some reservations about riding out, but once she found her horses passion for moving cows, her attention was on how much fun the duo were having and her reservations have disappeared! 

If you listen, with an open heart and mind, devoid of ego (as much as possible!) you'll know where your leadership and confidence can use a little tweak.  Enjoying your experience with your horse, be it in the pasture, trail, arena or show ground, is the most important thing.  For all other opinions and thoughts that might get thrown your way, choose which ones support your passion and your horses greater can't go wrong with that.

Enjoy the ride!