If you've been in horses and riding even for just a while, you've probably already heard someone say that about how someone is riding their horse. Or they may have even said it about you and your horse.
The theory is that you can "wreck" your horse if you ride poorly. If you do something wrong long enough, your horse will forever be negatively affected, develop bad habits and never, ever go properly after that.
I suppose it can be true. If you are not interested at all in developing your skills, and you do the same terrible thing over and over for an extended period of time (expecting a different result, perhaps?)... then yes, your horse will likely be ruined as long as he remains in those circumstances.
Let's say you're not trying to hurt the horse. And despite your best efforts, you are still having trouble with a fundamental skill - for example, you put your horse too much on the forehand. And you're getting negative feedback from your horse: tail swishes, hollow back, pinned ears. And you know it, and you're doing something about it.
The trouble is that it will likely take a long time to change your bad habit, or develop that new skill (or likely, set of skills).
What then? The horse will surely go through this tough time with you.
Will you actually ruin your horse?
My answer is: no!
Same Horse, Different Riders
The horse can only go as well as you can. This is why you might see the same lesson horse go so much better for a more experienced rider than a novice. Even if the horse is "ruined" by one rider, the next rider can help the horse find the stability he needs. Soon enough, the tension and apprehension caused by the first rider will be eliminated.
So it stands to reason that once you get through that learning curve, your horse will go back to being that same happy horse - only better. But you have to learn the skills first.
You Have To Learn At Some Point
The reality is that no matter how hard you try, your learning curve will negatively affect your horse. You have to develop timing, coordination, probably core strength, independence of aids - all over again for each new circumstance. These learning stages have to happen if you are to progress.
And they will negatively affect even the most educated horse.
My suggestion is to take note of the horse's feedback, work to improve your skill set, and beg for forgiveness from your horse. 🙂
The Horse Forgives
I often go back to John Lyons on this one. During his clinics, he often would say (I'm paraphrasing), "Zip is the most patient, forgiving horse. He forgives me for making mistakes. He waits and waits until I get better. Then, as soon as I'm better, he's better! He's been waiting for me to get better all along!"
What an optimistic perspective! Just trusting that my horse will get better when I get better has given me hope and determination during my most difficult learning phases to keep trying, keep working hard at learning a particular skill. Because I know if I can get better, my horse will reflect that change.
What To Do?
Here are some ideas if you feel like you're in a bind.
Get help from a knowledgeable instructor. If you've read my blog regularly, you'll know that I always start here. There is no replacement for an "educated eye on the ground" who can give you ideas, teach you skills and make suggestions you might not even know about.
Be prepared to "study."
The concept of studying might be rare these days in equestrian circles, but there is no other way. Read, watch videos, audit clinics, watch lessons, set goals, ride in lessons. Immerse yourself in learning.
Get a more experienced rider/trainer to ride your horse. This person can help the horse work well and stay calm mentally. She might even be able to teach your horse something he needs to know. Watch and learn what the rider is doing that may be different from what you are doing. Take mental notes and try to duplicate when you ride.
Be patient, especially during the worst times. Cut yourself (and your horse) some slack. Learning takes time. Mistakes have to be made. Do everything you can to reduce the duration and frequency of the mistakes, but know that there is a better time waiting for you ahead.
Practice consistently. This means getting out to ride as often as you can. You have to ride regularly in order to develop new muscle memory. Just one extra ride a week will make a huge difference in your learning curve.
The thing is, every ounce of effort you put into becoming a better rider is an investment in yourself. Every horse that you ride after you have consolidated a skill set will benefit. There really is no other answer. Don't be afraid of ruining your horse. Instead, put all your energy into improving yourself!
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Now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and path to riding success!
If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look our Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.
Included in the book:
- design your overarching goals
- long- and short-term planning,
- debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
- reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
- sample goals and pages
The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you’d rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands. Click here for more information.
Read more here:
Living (Horse) Life In The Basics: Can you distinguish the difference between good and bad movement?
A Question Of Imbalance: Can You Tell? At some point, it becomes essential to be able to feel what is happening so that you can hopefully address it sooner than later.
Top Ten Reasons To Ride A Horse: There must be as many reasons to ride horses are there are people who ride.
What Being On The Forehand Means to the Horse: The idea here isn’t to cause guilt and doom and gloom; instead, we should learn all we can and take steps to avoid known problems.