Horse riding is a sport. An art. A passion. A career. It takes technique, it takes time, it takes talent. Balance, rhythm, deep breaths, impulsion, low heels, high hopes, the perfect distance, the perfect bend, the perfect seat, a draping leg, automatic release, just the right tack.
But sometimes, horse riding is just about hanging on.
Sit tall and deep. Elbows by your sides. More leg. Open chest. Closed fingers.
And sometimes, just hang on.
Sometimes, push your heel a little further down and tuck your lower leg a little further back. Relax the lower back a little more. Straighten the hands again. Focus between the ears.
And sometimes, just hang on.
Because when the muck heap hits the windmill, there’s nothing you can do except try not to fall off. Drop your heels if you can, grab mane if you need to, try to get him back under control but ultimately, just hang on. Franz Mairinger, coach of the gold-medal-winning Australian Olympic eventing team, said: “In an emergency I don’t care what you do, just don’t fall off.”
Just hang on.
Which is easy enough, when your horse has a moment and temporarily loses his mind and twenty seconds later it’s all over and you’re back to work. But many horses – dare I say most horses – go through a stage where their brains serially evaporate. Sometimes for no apparent reason, sometimes for frustratingly unfixable reasons, horses can and do go through tough times in their training where they seem to regress dramatically and just become absolute lunatics overnight. Your normally safe, sound, wonderful creature loses it and broncs like a crazy beast every single ride for the next six weeks. His back, teeth, legs, brain, routine, feeding, grooming, tack, stomach, vision, and ear hairs for all we know are completely fine. Yet still he goes insane. Still he is not the horse he once was. Still he is leaping and flailing over jumps that he never used to mind and you can’t figure out why his confidence is gone. And wherever it went, your confidence is rapidly following.
But it’s going to be okay. Just hang on.
Give it time. It’s not going to be perfect tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Don’t try to make it perfect. Just try not to fall off. And if you do, just get back on again. Falling is part of it, blood is part of it, pain is part of it all; we don’t do easy, and that’s how we’ll get through it. Horses, just like people, lose their confidence sometimes for simple little reasons or perhaps no reason at all; they go through growth stages in their character. It happens and there are no quick fixes. All you can do is hang on and keep trying.
Just hang in there. Just hang on. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and once you’ve ridden all the way through the chaos and survived the sweat and the adrenaline and the dry-mouthed moments of absolute terror and the despair and the hopelessness, it will be so very worth it. Because you will be the one that clung fiercely to him when he couldn’t even keep a grip on himself. And then he will trust in you and he will fight for you, because you were there and you didn’t quit on him. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
I know I don’t.