Controlling the Uncontrollable with Horses

Photo © Sara Roche

BY CIRA PACE MALTA

At the beginning of the pandemic I had this overwhelming feeling—as I’m sure most of you might have—of being completely out of control. The idea of being in control gives many a sense of comfort and preparedness, but what I’ve learned in the past year is actually how out of control we are with most things in life. That got me thinking about control, or lack thereof, in the horse world. 

In my over thirty years in the sport, I’ve met a lot of riders and trainers that are type A personalities. You know, the kind that likes to control, organize and plan everything. But any equestrian will tell you that so much of our sport is out of our control. If you zoom completely out, we ride living flight animals that are much bigger and stronger than us and have a mind of their own.

Photo © SEL Photography

Top equestrians have said that in order to be successful in this sport, you have to control the things you can control. For example, you can control your plan for when you go into the show ring. You can have a prep routine for getting ready for the show ring, organize your show outfit the night before and have food and drinks with you ringside so you don’t need to worry about eating or drinking. You can study videos of how the ring may ride. You can show up to the ring early to learn the course, see where the jumps are set and where to turn out of the corners. Are you feeling in control now?

As horse owners, we can control a lot of things like where our horse lives, the trainer we ride with, or what our horses eat with their hay and grain. We can control their body temperature by the blankets we buy for them. We can control the conditions our horses are worked in by buying the best footing for our rings. We can control the equipment our horses are worked in and purchase saddles, bridles and girths that are fitted specially to them. We can control what other horses they spend their time with in turnout. We can control the health of their body and maintenance of their joints and muscles by giving them supplements and injections through a veterinarian of our choosing. We can control the health of their feet by changing their shoeing through a farrier of our choosing. Are you still feeling in control?

But the list of things we can’t control? That’s endless. 

Photo © Sara Roche

They can get hurt in their stall, in the aisle, in the paddock, in the ring, on the trailer. We cannot control if they are scared of things like jumps being put in a different place, an umbrella in the stands, a plastic bag blowing in the wind. We cannot control the horse in the next ring over that just got loose and decided to join the ring we are riding in. We cannot control how our horse will react in the show ring after a 30 degree temperature drop from the day before. We cannot control who is judging us in the show ring or the course that is set for us to jump that day. We cannot control the reaction our horse might have if they rub a rail too hard or catch a toe in the footing. Should I stop here before we all break out into a sweat?

Anytime my horse has had a health issue or an injury, I am always reminded of how little control I actually have while at the same time being reminded of the things I can control. I can control the way I act as a horseman. That to me has always been the number one most important thing in my life as an equestrian. I can thank my amazing trainer (who is also my mother) for instilling that in me at a very young age. I can also control the rehabilitation of my horse and my answers to the tough decisions that are in the best interest of my horse even though they may not be for me, the rider that lives to horse show. I can control which opinions I listen to that are in the best interest of my horse and which ones to tune out that only see horses as a vehicle in which to ride to blue ribbons. I can control the way I treat my horse and what actions I take to give my horse the best life possible.

Photo © SEL Photography

These are the things that are perhaps the most important for any equestrian to control—more than blankets, tack and training. Our attitude and dedication toward a horse is what we can control the most. It is a privilege to care for and swing a leg over a horse and we all must control the way we respond to that privilege. At the end of the day, that’s the only kind of control that really matters. 


Cira began riding at her first birthday and has never looked back. Daughter of a prominent trainer in Connecticut, Cira has spent her life around ponies and horses. Cira went to Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, VA where she graduated with honors and a BA in Communications Studies. Cira was a member and captain of the school’s varsity IHSA Equestrian Team. Outside of the office, you can find her competing in the Amateur Owner Hunter division with the “sale horse” that she and her mom purchased…almost eight years ago…with her high school sweetheart turned ultimate horse show husband and her adorable norwich terrier Cinnamon.

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