We ride our horses as if they should know what we want them to do. We know we're perfectly clear in our aids as we go around the ring or on the trails, so surely the horse should have no problem interpreting our aids and answering "yes" to our questions.
To be honest, I regularly marvel at how well they do understand us. When I get on a horse for the first time, I am amazed that the horse can accurately interpret my aids and respond - even if the horse was ridden in a different discipline, or was trained in a different country. Horses are definitely better listeners than we are in that sense!
Having said that, it might be a bit different for the horse when it comes to other unknown facets of our lives. Although we often don't think about these things, they do influence how we ride, especially in our "feel" to the horse. Our stress, or exuberance, or lack of energy affect our interactions with the horse from the moment we grab the halter and lead rope and head to the field.
The horse won't have a clue that you had a seriously stressful meeting at work, or if you carried boxes around all day so that you're physically exhausted by the time you get to the barn. By becoming more aware of your external life circumstances, you can improve your interactions with your horse.
Do a quick mental check of the things your horse won't know about you - even as you head to the field.
Your Frame of Mind
Ideally, you'd be calm and reasonable each and every day. Horses have no idea about your life stresses or pressures that you have to face outside of the barn, nor do they really care. They are most concerned about things that relate to them - food, water, turnout, shelter, herd mates....
They don't brace themselves ahead of time if you happen to be upset about an earlier event. Learn to live in the present and leave your woes in the driveway as you head to the barn.
In this world of physical communication, how you feel while you ride is fairly easy for horses to decipher. This means that they will quickly pick up on mis-matches such as a sweet tone of voice but an aggressive body language. In general, you will likely convey what you're really thinking through your physical actions and the energy you give off. It gets even easier for them when you're in the saddle!
Learn to intentionally control your body language. The horse can feel any tension instantly. The trick is to catch yourself as you become tense, and actually teach your body to not reflect that tension. Keep your riding position open, soften through the elbows, loosen your gripping legs.
"Fake it till you make it!" Riding is supposed to be fun, after all!
Your Riding Goals
Let's face it! Horses are not interested in your riding goals. Period.
And they have no way of even beginning to understand what you want out of a given exercise.
However, most horses can identify good work and bad work. If you can improve the horse's way of going to make him feel better physically, the horse will learn to look forward to spending time with you under saddle. You can definitely earn trust through your riding skills and activities.
Your Preferred Riding Style
It would be great if you could know your horse well enough to know which discipline he would excel at. Then you could ride in that discipline yourself. However, most horses will go in any saddle assuming they have the ability and aptitude for the required movements. You could easily slap on a western saddle instead of a dressage saddle, or scrap both of them and go side saddle!
What's more important is that the horse feels comfortable. Horses may have a preferred or special skill in particular riding activities but if you ride well and keep them comfortable, you can probably do what you want and your horse will happily accommodate you.
Your Riding Skills
How you ride is probably the most critical aspect to your horse. When all is said and done, an easy moving, well balanced human partner is more important than anything else to the horse.
The more educated you can be, the more you can serve your horse as he develops his own skills. No learning is ever wasted, even if it feels difficult or unreachable at first. What you learn from one horse can always be applied to other horses so there is really no such thing as "wasted" learning.
People often talk about doing activities that help us "live in the moment." There is nothing more "momentous" than horseback riding, and the beauty of our chosen activity is that the horse offers us the opportunity to really let go of our daily lives and spend a few hours just doing and being with the horse.
Take some of the guesswork out of it for your horse. Become consistent in how you work with and around your horse, and develop the aspects that are really important. And above it all, have a great time!
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