As an instructor for many years, I almost instantly get a sense of why my student wishes to ride. If not, I will ask specific questions to elicit information about goals for themselves and their horses, both in the present and future. Most of the people who ride and train with me now seem to really have their horse’s best interest at heart. In our busy automated world, they seem to appreciate and need to feel an affinity with their horse, and to develop a bond of mutual trust and understanding.
For riders with these goals, the continual increase in knowledge of another entity’s intelligence, innate instincts, and often genuine affection become very important in their lives. For this very reason, beware of misguided advice from people who try to develop a “you against them” mentality and still manage to call it establishing trust. Riders who truly have their horse’s best interest at heart make certain that any exercise is a true building block and truly leads to better understanding and the answer to why they ride a horse at all.
I am including an example of questionnaires that I submitted to four riders and/or trainers. I was pleased by their answers and their obvious empathy for horses, but I in no way led them in that direction.
The answers to the questions were provided by Rider 1 – Teren MacLeod, Port Townsend, WA, Trainer, Instructor; Rider 2 – Kim Hunt, Port Townsend, WA, a dressage rider and exhibitor; Rider 3 – Peggy Sprague, Fort Plain, NY who rides and trains Thoroughbreds and hunter; Rider 4 Valerie McCloskey, Westmoreland, NY, Dressage Trainer/Instructor.
Mitzi: Why do you ride?
Rider 1: I have no choice. I need to feel the sense of movement and freedom and connection with an amazing animal.
Rider 2: Joy, and social interaction with people and their horses. Also health benefits.
Rider 3: Because they are my life. They keep me young.
Rider 4: Because I enjoy it.
Mitzi: How do you feel when the horse does not do what you want it to do?
Rider 1: I try not to feel an emotion but review what I’ve asked and find a better way that is more clear. I evaluate if I have asked correctly.
Rider 2: I do not necessarily feel anything. I ask myself if I am asking correctly, does the horse understand what I am asking, is this a new thing or does he know it. I cannot go forward until we figure out what is going on.
Rider 3: Frustrated with myself. If I cannot figure it out I go to someone who can help me.
Rider 4: I feel like I have not explained what I wanted the horse to do. That there was a miscommunication.
Mitzi: Do you ever feel angry with your horse and how do you handle it?
Rider 1: Yes, as well as frustrated. In the moment I may be relatively harsh. In hindsight, I regret that I did so. I never yank on the mouth as punishment. I may use a crop, kick, slap, or growl.
Rider 2: Riding I never feel angry but I do get frustrated. I have to try to think about it before I react negatively. But on the ground, with things like stepping on my foot, or not lifting his head and stop grazing so I can get his halter on, I can feel anger.
Rider 3: If I do feel angry, it is time to step back and give the horse and me time to think. If we both become more reactional it is time to take a step back in his training and to do something successfully.
Rider 4: Yes, but really more frustrated. Then I usually do not ride. I may do ground work. I do not feel I am in a mental state to be fair to the horse and analyze what is going on.
Mitzi: What would be your goals?
Rider 1: One year – All my body parts agree with relaxation and right timing. I would like my horse and me to have correct balance and energy. Long term would include dressage, hunter-jumper and equitation. I want to prove my personal best with each horse. I want to demonstrate the correct way as a preference.
Rider 2: Right now it is to develop the concept of flying lead changes. My long-term goal would be to perfect my flying changes. I do show as it helps me stay focused and gives me goals to see if I improve. I would like to get my USDF Bronze Medal.
Rider 3: My horses are off-the-track-Thoroughbreds, so the first year is often spent with turn-out until they settle, then light hacking. Then gradually I add training and cross country fences. My final goal is to train the horse so that he is confident in his mind and body for the new owner.
Rider 4: One year – To be able to ride it on trails and fields and have it on the bit and on the aids properly. Further goals – To be able to determine how I am doing in relation to my peers. I want specific feedback from judges, so I show.
Mitzi: If you observe horse abuse at a horseshow as a bystander at a horse show, what do you do if anything?
Rider 1: If the abuse is ongoing, I would seek to speak to horse show management, or just leave the show.
Rider 2: Approach the organizer of the show. Be certain that something is done.
Rider 3: I find out who is in charge of such infractions, and go to them. (Usually the Secretary’s stand. They should take care of the problem.
Rider 4: If possible, I bring it to the attention of the proper authorities. If something has to happen right away I may speak to the person.
You can see that all of these are positive responses to why we often put in 10 times the amount of labor getting the horse ready to ride, than we actually spent riding the horse. It also reassures me because as a judge, I do not always see such positive energy in horse people.
Horses can be used as physiotherapy and psychotherapy for the rider, as long as not too much responsibility is placed on the horse. The horse should never be used as an outlet for anger, fear, frustration, ego, or a money-making machine. Unfortunately this is also quite common. People may ride and abuse the horse just because they can.
We are humans, with complex needs and reasons and justifications for what we do. But as riders, we always have to make certain that if we harbor negativity that it is demonstrated far away from the barn.
So why do YOU ride?