Recently, I welcomed a second horse into the family. For one reason or another, friends, family, and barn staff have come to the understanding that riding my first horse is not a priority. This is likely because they have seen how reactive he can be to being ridden, therefore I am able to safely say that I am taking things slow with him – for good reason. In my experience, this has been fairly understood and accepted. With my second horse, however, the questions have once again arisen.
“When are you going to start riding him?”
“Have you been on him yet?”
“You should start riding him so that you can show him next season!”
And there is nothing wrong with these questions. For the most part, they come from a place of genuine curiosity and excitement. They want to see how he does under saddle just as much as I do. However, my priority is giving him a positive reintroduction to riding, whereas they are more focused on achieving goals from a traditional mindset. And through all these questions, I can’t help but feel pressure to prove myself as a rider, trainer, and horse person.
I’m sure many of us have felt the same way. Oftentimes, the switch to R+ can be overwhelming. Whether or not one decides to “hang up the tack” for a short while to restart their horse with R+, the questions and strange looks can feel alienating. We try our best to stop using “pressure” on our horses, yet (at least for myself) there was a tremendous amount of pressure placed upon me – both self-imposed and by outside opinions. This pressure can be incredibly hard to deal with, yet, with time, experience, and a little perseverance, you can get through it.
Over time, I have learned how to answer some of these questions…and like with most questions, my response varies on the day, the person asking, and the question that was asked!
At least in my experience, most of these questions come with good intentions. The people asking them don’t realize how hard it is when it feels like your whole view of horses is changing all around you! Grant them a little grace. Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when these questions come up:
Concerns about the Horse’s Well Being:
They may have concerns for your horse's well-being that are tied around the idea of not riding.
“How will they stay healthy without the exercise riding provides?
“Won’t they get fat?”
Firstly, your horse won’t die if you don’t ride. How many times have horses been given a few weeks off due to an injury or inclement weather? Horses do just fine when they’re not being ridden, in fact, I would argue that in many cases, they do better!
Second, there are other forms of exercise that you can do with your horse in the time being. You may not have trained all the behaviours necessary to ride with R+, however, taking your horse for trail walks, reverse round penning, and cone patterns can all be excellent positive ways to get them moving and exercising. 24/7 turnout can also make a big difference as oftentimes it gives the horse much more room to roam and move!
Concerns about Your Well Being:
Another concern that friends, barn staff, and family may have is a concern for you! Sometimes, all they want is to make sure that you are happy. If one day it seemed like you loved riding and showing and achieving your goals and then the next day you set that aside, that can be a pretty abrupt change for everyone to digest.
Assuring them that your change in goals is not a bad thing, and telling them that you are still finding enjoyment in your horse (just while doing other activities) can help alleviate their concerns. Tell them that you aren’t necessarily giving up on riding entirely, just setting it aside to do other things for a while.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
The last thing I like to do is put myself in their shoes. I was in the exact same place as them at one point. I loved riding my horses, I loved going to shows, and I never could have imagined being where I am now. I would have had the same questions and concerns if any one of my friends decided to stop riding their horse.
And as for the pressure to ride? Take as long as you need. It may be a year before I start working on ridden behaviours with my new horse, it may be two, it may be three! Nevertheless, we will move at his pace – regardless of the questions and pressure placed on us by others. We are all on a different journey. There will be people who you interact with who will never understand why you run around with a target stick and a clicker! And that’s ok. I know it’s tough to accept at first, but you will get there.