Guest post by Lindsey from Alta Mira Horsemanship.
If you are an equestrian, I hope this title got under your skin a little bit. Anyone who has ridden horses for any amount of time knows very well that being an equestrian takes tremendous dedication, humility, and a constant posture of learning.
Many of us start our equestrian journey with riding lessons. Precious few equestrians are lucky enough to have their own horses from the start.
While many riders will acquire a horse along the way, some of us continue riding and never own a horse of our own. And yet, what I’ve seen in the equestrian world over the years is this underlying notion that until you own a horse of your own, you’re really not a true equestrian.
As an equestrian blogger who writes a lot about equine partnership, it often comes as a shock to readers that I do not own my own horse. In fact, I only had a horse of my own for about a year before I made the heart-wrenching decision to rehome him based on my financial situation.
So in all of my twenty-five-plus years of riding, I have almost always ridden someone else’s horse. Sometimes, they were lesson horses. Other times, they were project horses, or simply horses that simply didn’t get enough riding time. So believe me when I say that I understand the longing to own a horse more than most. But through the heartache of saying good-bye to steed after steed, I’ve continued riding anyway because horses are part of who I am.
So if you are an equestrian who also continues riding despite not having a horse of your own, this article is for you. Though horse ownership does present the opportunity to learn how to commit and care for a horse in every aspect of its life, riding a variety of horses also presents unique opportunities to develop as an equestrian.
Through the years, I have picked up a few techniques that you can use to to be the best equestrian you can possibly be.
5 Ways to Be An Equestrian Without a Horse of Your Own
1. Never Stop Learning
When you don’t have your own horse, you may start to feel as though you’re missing out on key experiences of horse ownership. While some circumstances are much more likely to arise from horse ownership (like vet bills), the primary thing that differentiates you is just time. Time allows for a lot of challenges and opportunities to learn.
When you’re taking lessons or riding a friend’s horse, you don’t necessarily have the same amount of time with any given horse. So the solution? Take every opportunity that you have to learn.
Horses themselves are the best teachers, and learning from each of them will accelerate your knowledge much faster than working with one horse. So in every lesson, keep an attitude of learning, be eager to try new things, and always embrace curiosity when you don’t understand something.
Another learning method I have embraced over the years is to become a better rider us reading. Digging into the work of known experts like Monty Roberts, Jean Claude Racinet, and Sally Swift will help accelerate your learning when you’re not riding.
2. Savor Every Moment
Along with learning opportunities, the limited time that you have with the horse you are riding means that your moments are more precious. Something that I often took for granted as a horse owner was the moment-to-moment interactions with my horse.
Much like humans, horses benefit from just being around you, even when you are not working towards a specific goal. Get to the lesson a few minutes early to enjoy grooming time, take ten minutes to hand-graze or massage the horse after a lesson, and savor the sweet moments when you and the horse accomplish something together in the arena. Most importantly, allow your mind to stay present when you’re with the horse, instead of allowing stress or to-dos of daily life to creep into your precious barn time.
3. Learn the Universal Language of Equine Partnership
The biggest hindrance I see among equestrians who don’t own their own horse is the feeling that they cannot bond with the horses they ride, and therefore cannot fully understand what it means to partner with a horse.
This, my dear friend, couldn’t be farther from the truth. The thing is, horses are all wired the same in the most fundamental sense. Sure, there are a variety of personalities among horses. Each horse is also affected by past experiences. However, horse language is universal in that they’re all wired the same way. This is great news for you!
Though you will experience different things from horse to horse, you will also learn all the universal truths of equine partnership. Every horse needs to learn that you’re trustworthy through boundaries, consistency, and kindness. Furthermore, every horse easily understands the basic concept of pressure and release, which teaches them new concepts through their desire for rest.
So instead of worrying about how much time you’ll have with a horse, dedicate every ride to learning more about horses as a whole. Observe what makes them both similar and different, and see which communication and training techniques consistently work from horse to horse.
Believe it or not, many people with horses of their own struggle when they don’t understand these basic principles! Many horse owners out there silently suffer because they feel they should be able to get past a behavioral issue, when really they just lack a little understanding in one of these areas. So don’t think that this learning is unique to you.
4. Conquer Your Fears Head-On
When you ride one horse for several years at a time, it is easy to develop a comfort zone. When you ride a variety of horses, on the other hand, you get the chance to face a lot of riding fears head-on.
Each horse will present his own set of both challenges and fears, both of which will work out all those little (and big!) fears that you have as a horse rider. These situations will also teach you to react more quickly and effectively to unexpected challenges, resulting in higher confidence and finesse as an equestrian.
Many equestrians become paralyzed by fear of the “what-if’s” of riding. What if the horse spooks? What if he doesn’t do what I ask? What if he tries to buck me off? These thoughts can spiral out of control very easily. Trust me, I know the rabbit hole all too well.
But what I encourage you to do with these fears is to challenge them instead of believing them. Instead of going into a ride fearing the worst, go into every ride expecting the best possible outcome. Chances are, you already have the capability of dealing with the (very unlikely) worst-case scenario. Nine times out of ten, our fears cause us more grief than a horse spook ever does.
5. Don’t Guard Your Heart Too Well
The last tip I’m going to leave you with is the most important: approach every horse with an open heart. For years, I thought that guarding my heart was smart. Saying good-bye to a couple of childhood heart-horses left me believing that I needed to be “realistic” about bonding with the horses that I encounter. But recently, I have come to realize that this jaded mentality has only kept me from fully enjoying my time with the horses.
You see, horseback riding isn’t a half-hearted sport, and you will only get the most out of it if you can let yourself fully experience the wonder and awe that comes alongside fully opening your heart to the horses you ride. Horses identify with vulnerability. They respond to authenticity. You may be the most skilled rider in the world. But if you don’t let your guard down–at least a little bit–the horse will mirror that in his attitude as well.
While the thought of saying good-bye to a horse is awfully hard, not fully engaging with them is the deeper loss. The truth is that whether you have a horse of your own or ride lesson horses, we cannot count on anything more than the moment we have with them–right now.
The Journey is Never Over
If you are reading this, then chances are that you still hope to own a horse of your own one day. I hope for this right alongside you! But whether you are a lifelong lesson rider or you purchase your own horse one day, I encourage you to cherish these times with each horse you encounter.
Because the thing is, friend, with each new riding experience, you carry on the wisdom and memories from all the horses you’ve ridden. Like many things in life, the sublime things that unfold in our journey far exceed the destination that we hoped for. For me, a life filled with horses has been more than I ever could have expected. And yet this equestrian adventure is far from over—for me or for you.
Lindsey Rains is an equestrian blogger who specializes in equine partnership and kind training tactics at Alta Mira Horsemanship. She also helps fellow equestrian bloggers and entrepreneurs rock their businesses with Pinterest. Snag a copy of her free Pinterest 101 Guide HERE or visit her Instagram Pinterest tips for equine websites.