So You Had a Bad Ride
Updated: Apr 17, 2019
You're totally pumped to ride and have big expectations for yourself and your mount, or maybe you're just looking forward to a pleasant ride with your favorite horse. Then it all just kind of unravels. Sometimes, disaster strikes in a dramatic fashion. Other times, it just feels like you're in a fight you can't win.
In 20 years spent in the saddle, I've experienced a lot of bad rides of both kinds. There have been days when I've gone out to the barn after a long day, looking forward to spending some quality time flatting my favorite horse, only to get into a deadlocked game of tug-of-war with a 1200 pound animal. Why can't you just cooperate?! I really didn't need this today!
Other rides have gone down in flames in a much more dramatic sense, like the time my pony spooked and bolted with me down a dirt road and I hit gravel at 25 mph thanks to a loose girth.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my horse Arli to Tryon International for his very first A show. I was so excited I couldn't even stand it and he schooled beautifully on our first day there. Then, when it came time to show, it just wasn't our day. He wasn't feeling quite himself in the warm up, and things went even worse in the show ring as we got eliminated at the 5th fence. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I was incredibly embarrassed, frustrated about how much money I had spent to be there, and extremely worried about my horse. For the rest of the day, I poured over what went wrong. I finally came to the conclusion that Arli's feet were sore after being trimmed too short a couple of days before. I packed his hooves, poulticed his legs, and went to bed deciding that things would be different the next day. And they were. The next day, I went into the ring with a fresh mindset and a fresh horse, and we had two spectacular trips.
Getting back on my pony after being thrown onto the gravel was hard. So was walking back into the ring at Tryon after a terrible trip the day before. So what's the secret to getting past a bad ride and onto the next (good) one?
Don't blow it out of proportion.
It's easy to feel like it's the end of the world when things don't go according to plan. You start to question your abilities, your horse's abilities, and the future you have. You go home and overthink it, causing even more issues than there were to begin with. Suddenly it's this huge ordeal over something as trivial as a missed lead change or a refusal.
It's even easier to run into this when your rides are fewer and farther between, such as riders who only ride once or twice weekly in lessons. When you only ride 4 times a month, one of those going poorly feels like a major event. The more you ride, the more you realize that bad rides are just a part of the sport.
See it for what it is: a bad day.
How often do you have a "bad day" at school or work? You were late and got detention. You spilled a drink on your pants and it was embarrassing. Someone was rude to you. You got a less than stellar grade. You felt overwhelmed and buried in work. Bad days happen to us all, on a fairly regular basis. Does it mean you don't have the ability to do life? Of course not! Bad rides are the same thing - they're just a bad day. Take it for what it is and move on, just like you do with everything else.
Keep it all in perspective.
Horses are large animals with minds and feelings of their own. Even if you're not having a bad day, they might be! Horses have emotional lives just like we do. What we do with these animals is really incredible and requires a huge amount of patience, compassion, work, and resilience. Remember that one hour in the saddle is a gift regardless of how it goes, and it's a tiny portion of ours and our horses' lives and careers. There will be more days, more lessons, and more rides. Give your horse a pat and move on.
Everything is an experience.
Good or bad, every ride is experience. Great rides teach you what works. Bad rides teach you what doesn't. Cool down from your frustration, then think about what caused things to go south. When I took that scary tumble from my pony, I learned a couple things: don't walk around on the buckle with a green pony and make sure to tighten your girth. When Arli and I had the bad go at Tryon, I considered what could have led to him feeling so out of sorts and figured out that he was footsore. From other bad rides I have learned what bits work for what horses, what exercises are beneficial, how to keep my leg still on a sensitive horse, how to ease a spooky horse into more decorative jumps, and more. There's always something to learn. Always look for the lesson.
Trust the process.
I know this is a cliche at this point, everyone is always saying it, but it's true. If everything always goes right, you never learn. As Thomas Edison famously said: "I didn't fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb. I only needed to find one way to make it work." Learning what doesn't work is oftentimes much more beneficial than only finding out what does. Have faith in the learning process and remember: if you're not winning, you're learning.
So the next time you have a rough go of it - and yes, there will be a next time - learn what you can from it, pet your pony, and move on!