Overthinking, Intuition, and Instincts as Equestrians


One of the most frustrating aspects of this sport is that overthinking does not work. This is an instinct-based sport, and there are so many incredible things that it connotes.

On the negative side, it is so easy to think that it’s going to be easy and subsequently get angry when it isn’t.

And then, maybe, be exasperated that you were oversold something—a horse, training program, timeline, goal, etc. There is nothing easy about any aspect of this sport, no matter what background you bring to the table. Most importantly, you cannot fully evolve correct instincts unless you let things go wrong to learn skills.

On the positive side, there is so much opportunity in instinct-based perspectives.

First of all, if you can develop better instincts than most, you can ride more horses than most. The ability to ride more horses than most will lead to lifelong opportunities to ride pretty much anytime and have your dollar go much further when you are horse shopping.

The ability to ride a green or quirky animal will always open up your options. If there is one piece of advice I can give parents who woe or lament their financial situation, it would be to allow your child to learn correct basics and develop the grit to ride maturing or unique animals.

It means that you can get ahead by saddle time and lots of it. It means you can get ahead by purposeful saddle time. We see kids over and over who ride anything and everything and show up and be right in the mix with much more heeled children. It’s still there and there are many breeders who need help starting babies, many rehab barns who need horses tack walked, and many barns who need horses flatted. All time around horses develops instinct and all saddle time develops riding instincts. More is better.

Second, intuition requires all of us to be in the moment. To remove ourselves from comparison of others. To put our phones down. To show up and get to work. To spend time enjoying what we are doing while learning to do it better. To have a healthy relationship with our clear heads and focus on our desire to improve. You know, things that we can improve at any age and are paramount to our young riders to develop into adults and leaders in our community.

Third, intuition provides us with learning skills and independence when situations go wrong is one of the only ways we can truly develop deep confidence in youth (it is a short list that typically does not include winning). From Nathaniel Ian Miller’s The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven, “Confidence is the only skill you have yet to acquire, and it can’t be taught.” (An excellent, if sometimes grim read, I highly recommend).

The values the horses give every one of us are there if we are unafraid to allow everyone to experience them. Mistakes are healthy and to be worked through (both human and equine). There is no credit to 99.9% of the work you do (or should be doing) at the barn. You must derive satisfaction from showing up every day, currying your horse, and craving knowledge. There is not a ribbon for any of these things and they will not show up on any test. Yet, they are the things that connote long-term success in this sport.

A huge part of intuition and mastering the challenging basics of riding and care and develop your own discipline, habits, and your own instincts as early as you can. Watch any horseperson over a certain age polish their paddock boots in the evening after a long day at the barn before they are put away. They don’t think and barely look at them. The muscle memory is beautiful while their minds wander in thought, or they have a discussion or stare at tomorrow’s board. Every single person who has achieved large things in this sport started with small things.

Do something today that there is absolutely no “credit” for and spend a moment to look at it and feel accomplished.