We live in a “get it now” world; from fast food to high speed internet access, it seems as though the quick pace of our lives spills over into everything that we do. As equestrians, though, it’s important to take a step back and slow down, because it’s easy to forget that our equine partners don’t exactly live in “our world”.
It’s easy to say “be patient” or “slow down”, but what does that really mean? It means that even in a hardcore show lifestyle, we can take the time to give our horses a break every now and then. We can do little things that teach them that just because we’ve put on a halter or thrown a saddle on to their backs doesn’t automatically mean that it’s time to work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for allowing bad manners or poor behavior, but what I am saying is that more of an emphasis needs to be put on slowing down our minds as riders and allowing our horses to slow down as well.
I received some great advice from an old Cowboy when I was about 15 years old. He was a successful horseman, and his horses had “jobs”. They were ridden, trailered to shows, taken out of their stalls and made to stand quietly for extended periods of time, but none of them acted as though they were disinterested or uncomfortable. In fact, you could pull up to the barn any day of the week and see ten horses standing quietly next to one another along a rail completely relaxed.
I can remember pulling up to his place for a lesson one day. I took my mare out of the trailer as he walked around the back of the barn and watched me. I quickly tied my mare to the trailer, wrapped her legs in a snap, took a quick brush to her back, threw on the pad and saddle, dropped the halter around her neck and put her bridle on…I was walking toward my trainer within about five minutes. He just stood there shaking his head, and I, of course, wondered what I had done wrong. He said something to me that I’ll never forget.
“So, when does that horse get a chance to breathe,” he asked.
My trainer then proceeded to tell me to drop the bridle, put the halter back on my mare, loosen her cinch and tie her back up to the trailer while I came into the barn. I did as directed, and he had me follow him inside and sit down. We chatted for a few minutes about inconsequential things, and then he asked me how I felt. “Good. Relaxed,” I said. “Right. That’s what your mare is feeling right now,” he said, and pointed out the window at the trailer where my mare was standing with one foot rested. When I had arrived and pulled her out of the trailer, she was not nearly as relaxed – her eyes were wide, she was looking around and she wasn’t interested in standing quietly.
When We Rush Things
The point of what I learned that day was that by rushing through things we actually “rev up” our horses. We don’t give them a chance to breathe, much less think, if we do things too quickly. I’ve made it a rule to never go out to the barn with the intention of riding if I don’t have enough time to take things slowly – if I’m under a time crunch, I just turn my mare out and let her be a horse. When I do ride, I will saddle my mare slowly, taking the time to do things methodically and with a purpose, but not with time in mind. After I’ve saddled her, I’ll let her stand for a few minutes; if she’s antsy, she stands until she’s quiet before I drop the halter and put on her bridle. When I’m finished riding, I always make sure that I give my mare at least 15 minutes in the turn out pen to roll, stretch, walk around, relax and just be a horse before I pull her out, hose her legs, groom her and put her back in her stall. These little things give her time to really “think” about what we’re doing; they give her time to catch her breath and quiet her mind.
I’ve seen far too many riders in my time running around their horses at super speed; tossing things around, pushing, pulling, and getting themselves worked up. They pull their horses out of stalls, tack up and get into the saddle within five minutes, and I always go back to what that old trainer of mine told me. Too many riders don’t go about their routines with a slow and steady pace, and then they wonder why their horses are nervous or agitated. Usually, a little “slow down” works wonders. As it turns out, we can benefit from this in our everyday lives as well.
Anything worth doing is worth “taking the time” to do.