Horses are incredible creatures. It is a marvelous thing to be in the presence of a horse. They manage to inspire all kinds of dreams in us without even trying.
If you spend enough time around horses, though, you are likely to eventually meet up with a large dose of reality. Maybe you get your foot stepped on or you fall off while riding. Could be that you have an embarrassing experience at the show grounds. Maybe you allow things to creep into your groundwork or riding that result in your horse’s behavior deteriorating. Whatever the case, your horse dreams have now become more like nightmares.
Some folks can brush off these kinds of incidents and move forward swimmingly. Others of us get stymied by difficult experiences with our horses. We know that approaching our horses with dread is not likely to result in a good experience, but we have a hard time taking our thoughts off of the negative. All we can think about is everything that is going wrong in our relationship. All the pain/fear/disappointment. Then we think about how all that negativity comes across to our horses who are so sensitive to our moods, vibes and body language. No wonder we get stuck sometimes.
If you struggle with staying positive in the midst of difficulty, here is an idea for resetting your outlook. Notice “two good things” (or more!) that happen during every ride, every groundwork session, every interaction. Do this even when things are not going well. Maybe ESPECIALLY when things are not going well. It is simplistic, I know. But I have been surprised at how practicing this regularly has helped me.
I gleaned the idea for noticing “two good things” from Tonya Johnston’s book Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse Book. If you struggle with the mental aspects of riding, I highly recommend this book. It is packed with ideas and specific strategies for coping with the fear and negativity that unfortunately creeps into many of our relationships with our horses.
I would also recommend a September 2020 blog post from The Horse Redeemer Blog entitled “Our Own Worst Critic: Blocking Out Negative Thoughts When Riding” at https://thehorseredeemer.com/block-negative-thoughts/. This post is an excellent read with many straightforward ideas on how to look for the good.
I hold a Master’s degree in Social Work. With that background, I am keenly aware of how the way that people think about things affects their feelings and their behavior. It is a topic of high interest to me. I like to read different takes on the subject from a variety of perspectives. Currently, I am reading a Christian faith-based book titled All The Feels: Discover why emotions are (mostly) awesome and how to untangle them when they’re not by Elizabeth Laing Thompson. Within the book, the author quotes the psychiatrist, Dr. David Burns, “…you can learn to change the way you think about things… when you do, you will often experience profound and lasting changes in your mood, outlook and productivity …” This quote jumped out at me as perhaps being behind the genius of practicing “looking for the good” in our horse life. When we make choices about what we focus on, we have a better chance of being more productive with our horses.
It is an interesting balance with our horses and our riding, isn’t it? On the one hand, there is the need to be aware of and realistic about our riding level, our horse’s athletic ability and our limits. We can easily get into trouble with our horses when we inflate our abilities or push our horses too far or refuse to seek help. On the other hand, it is helpful to challenge ourselves by setting goals. To seek improvement. To accept “what is” without judgment while also holding in our minds “what could be” as we stretch ourselves.
I find that actively looking for those “two good things” helps me strike a better balance than I might without that positive focus. Without purposely looking for and thinking about what is GOING WELL between my horse and me, I can easily suck all the joy out of the relationship by dwelling on the “not so swell” aspects. Life is too short and horses are too much fun for that.
So, what “two good things” happened between you and your horse today?