Although riding them may be easier if they were, it would definitely not be as rewarding. But because they are living, thinking beings, getting them to do what we want them to is more complicated than just stepping on the break or the gas. Some days they come out of their stalls ready to work, sometimes a little too ready to work, and there are definite days where they are not feeling up to working. Today, PJ was a mix of all three.
PJ was tired because Bridget had ridden him yesterday. Although he was fabulous for her, it took a lot of effort for him to be so round over his topline and forward into contact (I so loved watching him go!). However, both of PJ’s pasture mates were being ridden at the same time, so he was a little fresh because he thought every time they passed him that they wanted to play with him. Due to his physical fatigue and his mental excitement, I decided the best thing for him would be to have a shorter ride of quality work. We did a lot of transitions within the trot to get him to reach with his hind legs and keep his mind off of his friends. Every time he snaked his head (his version of acting up) I pushed him more forward. When he started leaning on the bit I knew he had had enough, so we took a break.
More difficult than the physical aspects of riding is the mental connection with our horses. If I hadn’t recognized that PJ was tired I may have worked him too hard, potentially hurting him. If I didn’t recognize that he wanted to play, the ride could have gotten ugly. I now have a pretty good idea how PJ will react to things, but when I first got him, the head shaking scared me. I even got off once because of it. It took time for me to trust PJ.
On the flip side, the horse has to trust us too. That involves being careful to reward and punish appropriately. When PJ gets distracted, I show him that I am in charge by getting back his attention. It also means not hiding from stressful or scarey situations, so that you can show the horse that you will look out for him. I don’t only ride him in the ring, we go into the field where he’s not as comfortable. However, it is important not to “over fence” yourself. If you’re nervous, it will not help him. For example, yeah, I may ride in the field, but I am apprehensive about hitting the trails by myself, so I don’t. And even though now I will work in the field alone, I started off taking him down there with someone else.
The fact that the horse is not a motorcycle is why riding is so hard, and gratifying, and exciting, and stressful, and fun. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.