Equestrian Advice: This is part of our Letter to My Rookie Self series, an open letter equestrian reflection project. Learn more and/or submit your own letter here.
Dear Rookie Self,
Everything your horse does is communication
Even though you might not realize it, your horse is always giving you information. If you want to be successful you have to be aware of your horse’s mental and physical state at all times, not just when you are training.
Most problems that you’ve encountered so far only occur because you’re asking the right question, but at the wrong time. Being able to properly identify what your horse is ready for allows you to ask for things that give you the highest chance of success.
If a horse isn’t ready for something, you can fall back on something less challenging that you’re sure they can do. Asking things of your horse at the wrong time erodes your horse’s trust and confidence in you to make educated decisions.
The difficult horses you’ve trained are only difficult because they’re confused about your ability to read situations.
Also, try to stay away from labelling a horse’s behaviour as being good or bad, but instead think of it as the horse telling you how they feel about what’s going on. Remove the judgement, anger, frustration, and disappointment from the situation.
It’s okay if your horse isn’t ready for the next thing, you have to be able to meet your horse wherever they are at the time.
Learn to meditate
It sounds hokey, but this will be one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Meditation doesn’t always involve sitting cross-legged in a monastery, there are many ways you can practice aligning your mind and body.
Small breathing exercises are simple ways you can reduce stress and anxiety.
If we’re not fully present and aware with our equine partners we’re not able to read and respond immediately to their body language, making it difficult to create effective communication.
Self-care is important
There will be trainers who tell you they work seven days a week, and they may try to shame you into doing the same. Their constant activity is just a way for them to cover up some trauma that they have endured, and their ‘devotion’ is potentially an unhealthy balance between work and time spent with family and friends.
It’s important to listen to yourself and take the time needed to prevent burn-out and fatigue.
Find things that inspire and energize you, and make them a part of your daily routine. In order to show up for our horses, we have to show up for ourselves.
Emotions are worth dealing with
You have a tendency to avoid difficult situations. When you’re unable to fully process stress it becomes stored in your body. This happens because often it isn’t socially acceptable/normal to deal with our emotions openly and honestly, both with ourselves and others.
Do not judge this automatic freeze (shut down) response too harshly. It has been your only option and your best friend when unable to use fight or flight.
Work on facing your fears. Start small, the smaller the better, and work on this a lot. Start to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and be courageous with your emotions.
Challenge norms you have been surrounded with when it feels right.
Winning stuff is really not that important
I know you think it is, but for most people it’s about making themselves feel like they are enough. We’ve all seen the movie stars and successful businessmen who are unhappy.
Even if you do not ever win anything, you ARE enough.
The most important things in life are deep connections with ourselves, our animals, and the people we care about. Celebrate each and every success that brings you closer to where you want to be, but don’t beat yourself up for not being there quite yet.
Everyone is dealing with something, so be kind
Everyone’s reactions are based on their previous life experiences, and many of them may have some trauma attached to them. Don’t take people’s outbursts personally.
Empathy spreads like wildfire when given the chance.
When someone acts out negatively, see where you can help them. This is another opportunity to be courageous. Even if you’re unable to help, you can always look back on the situation and know that you made an effort.
You also never know how impactful your kindness can be until you begin to use it often.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of “The Big Guys”
I know they intimidate the hell out of you, but they are all very open to helping. Just admit what you don’t know; they will not judge you harshly.
The more people you ask, the more coherent and concise of an answer you will be able to form for yourself.
Everyone has their own best practices, oftentimes many simple exercises can make more technical movements easy.
Own your mistakes
This will be part of facing your fears. Be honest about mistakes you have made.
People appreciate honesty more than they judge the mistake.
Mistakes and missed opportunities are a part of horse training, being able to forgive yourself easily allows for you to focus your efforts on the things that are going right, rather than the things that went wrong.
~ Warwick Schiller
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Matt Mills: Letter to My Rookie Self
- Stacy Westfall: Letter to My Rookie Self
- 5 Weird Reining Stop Tips That Actually Work
- Write Your Own Letter to My Rookie Self
- Braided: A Herd Dynamic (Horse Rookie Diversity Initiative)