There is no such thing.  

As you become a better rider, you begin to run into obstacles that were previously unnoticeable. Invariably, there comes a time when the simple becomes complicated. Without warning, riding becomes more than just the various gaits and transitions, more than a turn with the hands. You read and study and watch and discover that there is so much more to each gait, more to each turn, and more to the joys of riding.

The original walk that once felt adequate is no longer satisfying. That wonderful canter is now not quite balanced enough. You discover nerve endings where there were none before, and you are inspired to reach for new heights thanks to energizing "feels" emanating from an enthusiastic horse, confirming more than ever that you are on the right path.

The joy that went along with the simplicity of riding might be temporarily gone. You approach days of confusion, questions, and ultimately, frustration. You wonder why there seems to be so many details, so many little nuances that change sometimes on an even daily basis. And you begin to wonder:

Why is riding so difficult?

The quick and easy answer is that riding horses is about combining many and varied details into one - nothing can be achieved in isolation.

Everything matters:

- the mood of the horse

- the weather

- the horses around you

- the regularity of the the exercise the horse gets

- the type of feed

- the riding environment

But there is more! 

Photo Credit: C.C.

Aside from the environmental factors, riding is an especially difficult sport because of the balancing requirements inherent to moving through space on a living, breathing animal. Charles de Kunffy says it so well in his book, The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse (1992):

The partnership between horse and rider is difficult to achieve and even more ambitious to make beneficial to both. Horse and rider posses the two most unlikely anatomies to be harmoniously united for the purpose of progressing effortlessly through space. The horse has a narrow, precariously balanced, horizontal structure, much like a pipeline. This structure has narrowly set, weak underpinning, the legs, bridged by a weak back. There, almost at its weakest point, the most unlikely candidate for partnership, the vertically pipelike human, wishes to intercept at a 90-degree angle. Both are creatures of precarious balance, even when left alone to cope with the ground. In riding, we wish to harmonize our balance with the horse's for common progress through space. (p.2)

Obviously, there have been thousands upon thousands of "mutually beneficial" partnerships in the past and in the present; apparently, the human body can in fact become united with that of the 4-legged horse that travels so relatively effortlessly over the ground. The trick is to learn how to become harmonious - how much to give, how much to take, and when to accept what is being offered to you.

So many questions!

You must learn to differentiate between too much, too little and just enough; between too early, too late and just in time; between resisting, energizing and being plainly passive. When is the horse going too quickly, too slowly, too enthusiastically, too lazily? What do you do in each case? How do you combine all your aids to communicate the right message at the right time? How do you not only refrain from interfering with your horse, but even learn to improve your horse to become better than his original state?

What is the answer?

There is no easy answer. The most obvious consideration is to seek out a credible instructor well versed in not only in all things 'horse', but also in instructional techniques and experience. There is no replacement for an 'eye on the ground' - no blog post, no (however well written) book, and no video - although such media do play a role in the over-all education of a rider. The person on the ground is the one who translates what the rider is doing now into what the rider can do in the future.

The other task, however difficult, is to try, try, try and try again. Pack it in one day, and start all over again tomorrow. Learning to change muscle memory and developing a blueprint takes time, dedication and repetition. Each time you change the 'rules' on your horse, be ready for a step backward before a new step can be reached. There is no other way.

Be patient - with yourself and your horse, and find joy in the pure accomplishment of learning from your horse; focus more on the journey rather than the goal. As Mr. de Kunffy writes so eloquently, "Riding is, therefore, an ongoing, never-ending, challenging process. That aspect makes riding so intelligent and significant an effort. One merely strives, one never arrives." (Ibid, p. 4)

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

horse logos 1

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3D book 2

Read more here:

In the Beginning (riding): The first experiences of a new rider

Riding With A Capital "R": A continuation of the above post - the developing rider

Muscle Memory Matters In Horse Riding: Why regular practice is essential to improving riding skills

Blueprinting - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The essentials of practicing correctly

17 Comments

  1. Very good thoughts. One of the things I love about riding is that you’re never done – there’s always more to learn and pay attention to and it’s impossible to be bored. Learning to really feel what is happening and to blend with it in a way that’s effective is an ongoing challenge, but one that’s enjoyable too.

    1. So true – horse riding is “lifelong learning” to the core! It’s so hard for my non-horsey friends to understand why I would be needing “lessons” still, even with 20 years of experience. But the idea of learning something new always brings me back for more. Thanks for reading.

      1. What we are realy learning here is that the journey is one of introspectiion, self discovery and discipline. I ended wirh just the essence of myself. Each horse presenting new opportunities for discoveries, the show ring became unappealing. Riding became more like a personal quest rather than a pursuit. I must confess it is all consuming.

  2. Is it possible sometimes to just “switch off your brain” and just recapture that simple joy of riding without thinking about every little nuanced?

    1. Great point, Cindy!

      For me, “switching off” leaves me in a floppy, not following, detrimental-to-the-horse place. I have to work very hard to be useful to my horse!

      I am sure there are many people who can switch off and still be beneficial to their horse. I can think of a few riders I know that probably do that! I find those people inspiring, and think of that “kind” of riding as “art” (regardless of discipline). Thank you for mentioning it!

  3. Thanks for this excellent post. In thinking about it, I can see that I really don’t like to switch off. Every time I ride I’m training the horse, no matter how much I wish that didn’t have to be so. I also think I’ll confuse him if I’m varying between “switched off” or not. He’ll be confused about what to expect from day to day. I guess the closest I come to “switched off” is when I take him out of the ring,onto familiar trails where we can be relaxed, seeing the sights. There are certain trails he gazes longingly at as we trot on by, so now and then, infrequently enough that it takes him by surprise, I let him pick the side-trail he wants to travel. He positively expands, and sort of struts along while still paying attention to me and behaving. I can feel how much better his day has just become. That makes me smile…….

    1. I agree, I don’t think people should switch off when riding because when you get off your horse it’s either better or worse. It’s just not fair, because the horse’s life depends on that. You need to be their leader, you will not see a leader in the horse world not paying attention.. that would get the whole herd eaten. Also a horse will always know when you’re not paying attention and not being a good leader and will naturally try to possibly take over the situation once it figures it out. However I don’t think you should be in your horse’s face constantly, you can let them eat grass or go at whatever pace they want to but don’t switch off. It’s just not fair, plus you’ll end up being a sack of potatoes on their back and it’s really not good for the horse and even for the rider

  4. For the first time in almost 25 years (absence) from riding, I have to admit, when invited for a ride of a somewhat unruly TB at a Hunt, I accepted. Dug out my old boots, hat, gloves and crop and climbed up on this scary beast. All my professional training received at a renown BHS facility flooded back, my seat was there, balance and I rode like I’d never left it… oh my… I had an absolute BLAST!! Got off this scary beast with a smile that I’d not had on my face for such a long time and a tear in my eyes as I drove home.. So.. for me… there really was instant gratification. And, btw, that little butterfly that had left me, returned to my tummy. I’m thrilled. 🙂

  5. I find that switching off my brain… The cognitive process… allows better feel and the development of “oneness” with the horse. I think once the balance and aids have become second nature to a rider — which for most takes years if not decades — there are far too many riders who practice “paralysis by analysis”. Overthinking something is the best way I know of to NOT be able to develop “feel” in any sport. Ones reactions are FAR too slow if one must THINK before reacting.

Leave a Reply