BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I had the worst lesson this weekend. Even though the sun was shining, my horse had been worked all week and was a total lamb the day before, he came out like a raging idiot. I mean spooking at nothing idiot. The bolting into other horses in our lesson and leaping into the air kind of idiot.
Now, I’m no dummy and know when it’s time to get off and lunge. I lunged. He leaped. Leaped some more. But eventually he cantered around quietly, and I got back on to do a few small courses to end on a good note.
Except I ended up in the dirt. He spooked at nothing two strides after a fence, spun left and I flew off like the last shred of my sanity that had been holding on throughout the last bit of 2020.
Luckily, I wasn’t hurt. I brushed off my butt, but then I felt the switch flip. From mild annoyance and “horses will be horses” to full “Oh hell no you didn’t do that to me!” We went to lunge again. There was more leaping. Eventually I scraped together the last of my bravery to get back on, get over a few crossrails without spooking, and call it a day. But walking back to the barn, I scowled at my horse. While hosing him off, I popped the crosstie when he wouldn’t stand still. When poulticing him since he ran around in more tight circles than I ever want my horses to, I growled at him to keep his feet on the ground. He jigged all the way back to his stall. He never settled.
And it was all my fault, because I got frustrated.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t fall on my sword for baby horses being green and having broken brain days. That happens. It wasn’t my fault he was fresh and spooking. It wasn’t even my fault that I fell off, although I certainly wish I could sit a big spook better than I can. But it was my fault that I got frustrated.
You see frustration a lot, and it’s never pretty. Remember the amateur that kicked her horse after falling off in the Hampton Classic? Frustration. I’ve seen BNR’s whip their horse and yank them in the mouth in the middle of high-stakes Grand Prix rounds. Frustration. While I did not kick my horse, beat him or abuse his mouth for his antics during my lesson, I was equally as frustrated with him as those riders. Instead of rewarding him for the good moments, I stewed. Instead of being a calm and supportive leader, I reacted. And reflecting on this after the fact, it feels just as bad.
I’ve always had a temper, but not for the reason people think. I don’t get frustrated because I’m aggressive, angry and ready to blow up at any moment. I get frustrated because I’m incredibly anxious. My therapist says that anger and frustration is a straight line to anxiety. It’s simply a different way to exhibit the feeling. So as an adult amateur rider that lacks confidence in her abilities, is anxious when things go wrong, and often scared when trying new things (or you know, oxers), it’s natural that I would get frustrated. But frustration is the worst thing you can do for your riding. The minute I, or anyone for that matter, dips into frustration, you might as well get off if you quickly can’t switch your way of thinking.
Because everything we do as equestrians—whether it’s on the horse or on the ground beside it—depends on feel. I don’t have lots of money, natural talent or sheer bravery, but I pride myself on having a good feel for horses (after a lot of help from trainers and experience of course). Control a rogue shoulder during flatwork? Got it. Micro-correct on the lunge line before a situation spirals? No problem. But when I’m frustrated, I can’t feel for anything. I over-correct and over-react, which is the worst thing you can do for a young, green horse. So no, of course I didn’t kick or beat or yank my horse to death today, but I feel just as bad as if I did. Because I could have done so much better if I controlled my emotions.
This is what I always envy about professional riders. They seem so unemotional, so logical when riding. Us amateurs, because I know I’m not the only one, we get in our heads. That manifests in different ways. I wish I could say that frustration was my only issue!
This awful lesson was a good reminder of how I need to look at my horse, even when he’s acting like a total idiot. The best answer I have to frustration is simply a deep breath. Yes, it can be hard to do that when you’re sitting in the dirt, but it’s essential. And if it’s the kind of day where you can’t seem to cool off and get into a neutral place, you need to just get off. Tomorrow is another day.
The next time I ride, I’ll have to be extra nuanced around my horse. They don’t forget anything, and frustration has aftershocks. But I’ll take deep breaths, stay objective, and get us back to a good place. It shouldn’t be long, because even anxious adult amateurs learn from every experience—good or bad. We’re a lot like green horses that way.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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