"How do you even enjoy riding horses when all you do is train them constantly?"Apr 21, 2023
When I train horses, I put them through my training program that helps me assess a horses behavior and fix any holes in his training or behavior in order to make him a safer and more respectful horse to be around and to ride. In Mesa, AZ yesterday, while working with a client’s 16-year-old quarter horse, Moe, I was asked an intriguing question from his owner, Kevin.
You see, Kevin has been a resident of Arizona since 1976, and has competed in long-distance/endurance trail riding for many years. He loves to ride horses. He feels so much joy when he sits in a saddle on top of his steed and rides for hours, passing miles of scenery. He rides, like so many of us do, for the scenery he gets to see and the time he gets to spend on top of his horse. He wants a trustworthy and safe partner in a horse who will carry him along the journey for the day, covering three times as much ground as a hiker could, and still getting to hear and see all the beauty of nature around him. Some people prefer ATVs and motorcycles to traverse this great world, but like Kevin, we horse owners would prefer to do so in a calm and quiet fashion, sitting atop the majestic, powerful, beautiful and graceful animal we call the “horse”.
Kevin asked me yesterday, “How do you even enjoy riding horses when all you do is train them constantly?” This was a heartfelt question Kevin asked me in response to my suggesting that I like to take advantage of every second I have with a horse and use every movement (mine and the horse’s) to train the horse. Kevin said that he just likes to get on and ride his horse and enjoy that ride without having to think about training the horse. To him, training the horse would deprive him of the joy he gets out of riding horses. It would take his focus away from the beauty of the scenery and of the horse. Although I can understand his perspective as a recreational, and even competitive, horseback rider, I come from the perspective of a professional horse trainer and horse behavioral specialist, where I make it my duty to improve both horse and rider safety.
My goal is to help myself, and everyone I can, to fully enjoy the benefits of being around and riding horses. Fully enjoying the benefits of a horse, to me, means that the horse is calm and respectful. A horse who isn’t collected, soft, and responsive to my body cues isn’t the kind of horse that makes my ride as enjoyable as it could be. If I try to get on or off my horse and he won’t stand still, attempting to walk, trot, or lope off – this takes some of the fun out of riding. If I have to constantly pull back on the reins during the ride to slow my horse down – that takes some of the fun out of the ride. If I sit and lightly pull back on the reins to stop my horse, and he pushes forward, clinches his jaw, and pushes his nose and head forward and into the air – that takes some of the fun out of my ride. If my horse won’t stand still, shifting side to side and moving forward, when I’d like to sit and rest for a couple minutes, take a drink of water, snap some pictures of the scenery, or a number of other relaxing activities on my horse – this takes some of the fun out of riding. If my horse spooks from a wind-blown moving brush, an odd-looking boulder, a scampering jackrabbit, or a hundred other objects or scenarios – this takes some of the fun out of riding. If my horse becomes frightened and nervous if other trail horses are moving ahead of him – this takes some of the fun out of riding. So, for me to fully enjoy a horseback ride, the horse must be calm and respectful. When I can step onto the saddle with the horse standing quietly and ride through the day without misbehavior, my safety improves dramatically, and so does my enjoyment from the ride.
Along with simply enjoying the ride because I feel safer on my horse, I also take great pleasure in teaching a horse to be more calm, collected, and respectful, and in observing and experiencing that improving behavior. Human beings generally thrive on feeling important and on making a difference. This is an eternal truth. We are happier when we feel the satisfaction of creating, building, and/or accomplishing something. I imagine the engineers and others who designed and built the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, the motorized vehicle, the airplane, the cell phone, the internet, and millions of other amazing and beneficial feats, probably felt satisfaction that rivals the best of feelings human beings can experience. The same satisfaction can be felt by a mother and/or father who experience the joys of parenthood, a coach who teaches, trains, and leads her team to victory, a volleyball player who masters her serve, a musician who masters a piece of music, an artist who creates her work of art, and by every single soul who has ever lived and accomplished something on this planet Earth. I have a passion for training horses and helping owners to feel and be safer around and on their horse. When I put work into training a horse, which is every moment I am around that horse, my satisfaction increases as I see the fruits of that labor.
So, to Kevin I would say this – Yes. Every moment I am around a horse, I am training that horse. It gives me great pleasure to do so and to see and experience the results, as well as to see others experience the results of that training. When my wife now feels safe, comfortable, and happy riding one of our tall and athletic ranch quarter horses who used to be unmanageable and dangerous, when my children and nieces, who range from 18 months to 11 years old, can ride the horses I train safely and happily, and when clients regularly exclaim their approval of my work, I experience joy and satisfaction that helps make my life relevant and whole. It gives me a sense of accomplishment that is difficult to match in this life. I love to ride horses. I constantly train horses while I ride. I still get to see the scenery and experience all the joys of riding horseback, and I get to experience the satisfaction of so much more. I literally get to live my dreams every single day!