Monday, February 8, 2016

Changing Expectations

I want to start this off by saying my horse is still amazing and awesome and moving along well.  Both R and R2 are consistently impressed by how he learns, which considering the depth of their horse experience means it isn't just me being in love with my horse, but validates that he is pretty great.  Who doesn't love validation?

Which ties into the topic of this post, e.g. the ridiculousness of expectations in regards to horse training and how I constantly fail at not having them!

For various possible reasons (weather and gaining fitness being major possible contributors), Odin has been getting a little bit too frisky under saddle recently.

I know, try not to be too shocked that the not quite 5 year old OTTB with minimal turn out in cold weather is getting excitable.

Because he is a good soul, this doesn't express itself in terrifying theatrics, spookiness, or anything else dramatic.  It is mostly a loss of trot tempo as he builds speed as he goes, does his best to root the reins out of your hand, and cheerfully tries to ignore soft half halts and requests for downward transitions.

For my future self reading this, I want to re-emphasize this isn't scary or awful behavior, it is just behavior that needs to not be reinforced.

The biggest problem is that of course when he tries to drag the reins down, my job is to add leg to bump him back up.  And currently he is definitely playing the "leg touched me I can go faster YAY" game.  So I need to find the perfect balance of leg and hand, a hard job for me under normal circumstances and even harder as I am not back in form yet.

For me under saddle, this means quite a bit of walking, then we trot for short times and walk again when he starts to build too much.  And spending a lot of time making sure he respects the downward transitions.  Canter isn't even in the playbook until we get our trot back.  Trainer rides do a little more, but they are dealing with the same thing (they just do it better!  and also good for my ego that it isn't just me).  For example, R2 cantered him a little bit at the end of his training ride but still is doing tons of transitions and can't let momentum build up.

These are going well and we had a lesson on Saturday where we definitely trotted for minutes in a row with a great trot, so I was trying to figure out why I had been so bummed/frustrated about it all week.

And I finally realized it is because of expectations.  I want to do long trotting sessions to get myself back into shape.  I want my horse's training to keep moving in a linear fashion (Ha!). I want to ride perfectly for my horse.  I want, I want...blah blah blah.  It is all stupid.

No matter what anyone "wants" we are going to do what the horse needs.  Which will ultimately be the fastest route to a trained horse.   Being frustrated, especially if you take it to the saddle, only makes things worse.  And as for my riding, my trainer is a pretty big perfectionist and even she tells me constantly I am too hard on myself.  That I ride really well, she would tell me if I was doing anything that would be bad for the horse, and that holding myself to impossible standards actually makes me ride worse.

Then I wonder how it is possible I have been doing this for so long, know that expectations and plans are always a trap, and yet I still fall into it?  I didn't even realize I had these expectations until they weren't being met.

So my goal is to try and change my mindset.  Convince my inner brain what my conscious brain has known all along - we are trying to do this right, there is no hurry, and it doesn't matter what pace we go or what anyone else thinks (assuming anyone else is thinking anything, no one has made any comments to me that have been anything but positive).

And if I want to work on my fitness I can borrow other horses or take myself to the hated gym until the weather improves.  Enjoy my awesome horse and awesome horse friends and awesome trainer.  Don't let expectations suck the joy out of this.

At least until the next time they sneak attack me.


  1. Great post, the expectations that we as riders come up with can be so unrealistic, kudos to you for being aware and taking charge of your mindset!

  2. You mean it's okay not to be perfect every single second and you shouldn't get frustrated at your horse if he's not perfect every single second? WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?!