I got mad last night. I was angry and my stress bubbled up to the surface. I let the ugly side of myself show. I have been hustling hard lately. I’m always hustling hard, but lately I’ve been kicking my efforts up ten notches because I’ve got big goals. When I got done after an unending day I found that one of my kids scribbled on a project I had spent a lot of time on and the other had been playing with baby powder all over the upstairs hallway. I yelled, I threatened; I threw the pen across the room that they had used to destroy my project. I made one of them cry. I walked away, cooled down and started to feel terrible. I talked to them both. I apologized for my behavior and told them it wasn’t acceptable. I told them I was sorry to have treated them that way.
Today, the sun came up and a new day started. I got to thinking it had been awhile since I had written a blog post. I was driving down the road brainstorming what important mental characteristic I could discuss this time. We’ve touched on fear, gratitude, grit and surrender in the past. I kept thinking about what things make riders great, what are the keys to mental toughness. I couldn’t settle on anything so I asked myself the question in a different way, “What emotions or mental characteristics can ruin riders or their horses?” The light bulb went off in my head. I remembered how I reacted last night and knew just what to write about… Anger!
Yesterday I let the whole weight of my world come out on the ones who put the most, blind, faith in me. I let all my own worldly problems come to a head over some baby powder and pen scribbles. I started thinking about all the riders I have taught over the years. I thought about the times I have seen a good rider running a bit back and forth through a horse’s mouth because the horse is getting too fast, the rider is out of ideas and is just flat mad. I thought about the times I have pulled riders off of horses and told them to go home when they have shown up to their lessons carrying all the baggage from work, school or relationships. I thought about how many times I have uttered the phrase “You better get your mind right, because that horse isn’t going to change until your attitude does!” I also thought about how there is no way for a rider to go back to that horse as I did with my children. There is no way for the rider to apologize and explain to that horse how they had a really hard week and they let their anger get out of control.
There are a lot of parallels with raising a child and developing a horse. Both child and horse can have erratic and unexplainable behavior at times. Both child and horse can at times have trouble communicating their discomfort or need for attention. Both child and horse need structure and boundaries just as much as they need positive incentives to succeed. In both species, horses and humans, the discipline has to fit the nature of the misbehavior. Often when a rider is losing control of their anger they start overreacting to a problem that might amount to nothing more than baby powder or pen scribbles. I remember one instance where a rider wouldn’t stay tall and upright in her upper body while cantering a particular mare. The mare was rooting and pulling down on the bridle, the rider was leaning forward and coming out of her seat. I remember her grunting and groaning and jerking on her reins all the while simultaneously kicking the horse. I stopped her and told her that I wouldn’t accept that behavior in my program. This made her further angry and she retorted with all the reasons the horse was being a problem.
The fact of the matter, is that it doesn’t matter, if the horse is being a problem. You have to carry yourself with calm and confidence all the time when in the saddle. If the horse gets you so riled that your anger starts to be a problem the situation will only snowball from there. The horse needs encouragement not unfair and over the top rage. The horse can’t fathom unnecessary roughness no more than a child can. The anger only breaks the horses trust and confidence in their rider and makes them act out even worse. In this particular situation what the horse needed was the rider to calm her emotions and focus on her body control. The rider needed to get her seat bones connected with her saddle so she could drive the horse forward with her leg. She needed to raise the horse up in the bridle and make the horse canter collected and uphill. Eventually this did happen and the rider realized that she was in the wrong with all the jerking, and grunting and yelling.
There are times that a horse needs firm and swift discipline. They are big strong creatures that can be dangerous if they are allowed to behave however they may wish. After the discipline takes place however, the rider has to be as centered and calm as ever. The rider has to move on like nothing ever happened. They can’t carry their anger with them or let it bubble to the surface. Sometimes when you are feeling particularly out of center, when you are feeling particularly stressed or angry the biggest thing you can do to display your horsemanship is to groom your horse and stay out of the saddle that day. Give your horse a peppermint and a pet and tuck them in for the night. There is no sense setting yourself back in the training of your horse by getting on and getting angry over a little baby powder and pen scribbles!