Energetic Tidiness in the Saddle.

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Some of us climb into the saddle and have all kinds of crazy dangerous things happen–right out of the blue. We didn’t do anything at all, and for no good reason, the horse came apart.

Some of us are almost okay in the saddle, carefully moving along until it happens; the horse jerks, we lose balance, and jerk back. It happens so quickly that we scare each other half to death.

Some of us think of our horses as therapists. When we’re cross or out of sorts, all we have to do is go to the barn, climb into the saddle, and in no time at all, we’re feeling better.

Finally, some of us, the very luckiest ones, have horses especially interested in teaching their riders some energetic tidiness.

Right about here, I’m going to stick up for horses. They don’t come apart “for no good reason”; they don’t have some sort of vendetta to hurt people. Short of a bee sting, or some other sharp pain, they give us a series of warnings that things aren’t right. About the time we notice them, we flinch and get defensive. It’s just common sense that losing confidence makes us insecure. So we ride with timidity or bravado and not all horses, especially those with confidence problems of their own, tolerate it well.

It’s an unpopular thought but just because some horses seem good at dissolving our negativity, is it fair to expect it of them? How does the therapist part of his job affect the other work he does?

In these examples, the rider’s mental awareness limits the horse’s behavior options. We all acknowledge that the most challenging horses are the ones who teach us the most, but can we articulate how they do it?

As a riding instructor, I think about it a lot: What does it take for a rider to improve? Sure, there’s always technique involved. Balance and communication in the saddle is crucial. On the mental side, it’s all about energetic balance. If a horse is nervous, do we get scared or become Zen masters. If the horse is dull, can we lift our energy a bit to aid them? The bottom line is we must admit the impact our mental state has on our horse at any time.

We all know that horses sense our fear but it’s more than that. They sense confusion, distraction, and all sorts of lesser emotions. They can even mistake anticipation for anxiety–just like us. That last situation happens while riding with other people and at shows.

If our thoughts and emotions are running like a rat-on-a-wheel we aren’t much of a leader. Again, just common sense. The difference between riders who continue to have the same tense ride year after year and those riders able to progress with their horses boils down to mind control.

No, there is no way you can exert mental control over your horse. No way to control the environment, either. The only thing that will ever be within our control are our own thoughts and emotions.

The first thing to know is that a good rider doesn’t just ignore her fears and concerns. Denial is how most of us got in the nervous hole with our horses in the first place.

It’s a positive action to choose your state of mind; to discipline your thoughts to stillness. Think of it like picking up your bedroom. Put your fear and drama away in your underwear drawer with your flimsy doubt. Close it. Check the floor for stray socks, expectations, over-wrought dreams, and thoughts about aging; those all belong in the hamper. You can do the laundry later. Might be time to get rid of that Megadeath poster…

Now straighten your shoulders as if they’re sheets on your bed. Smooth yourself out. Then open the closet and take out a clean outfit of calm-listening. Accessorize with sparkling intention. Settle your intelligence and awareness inside a helmet and breathe. This is energetic tidiness. You’re ready to ride.

It’s hard in the beginning. Giving our horses on our best parts takes focus. Use kindness to spur yourself to understanding. When a bit of doubt crops up, kick it under the bed, and take another breath. Let your horse see your peace. Even if it’s fragile right now, hold it to the light and let him reflect it back to you. It’s no different from learning to keep your heels down. Repetition builds habit.

Being committed to listening in your inner stillness is wildly attractive to a horse. Horses recognize it because it’s how they are, too. There is strength in vulnerability.

When I look back to my own furious efforts to improve, I’m sure I drove my horses nuts. I wonder at their tolerance. Trying too hard, even to improve, looks exactly like anxiety and pressure. Luckily, horses read the quality of our intentions as clearly as our fear. It’s here that positive change begins.

Soon enough the rider begins to find a tidy and still place inside her horse, too. It’s the place we always dreamed of, that we obliterated searching for, and now we find it, in plain sight. It was that rat-on-a-wheel self-criticism that made it harder than need be.

Eventually a day comes when your energy becomes an aid to your horse. You can share your energy if his is lagging. You can comfort his pain with breath instead of worrying him with baby-talk. You can lift him with compassionate strength in a way that you didn’t always know you could.

I’m not saying that horses or people will ever be perfect. Every relationship is a negotiation: some days they carry us and some days we carry them. If your overall tendency is fine with you, then be grateful. If you think there’s room for improvement, then commit to change your mind about horses.

Know that riding starts deep inside of you. It’s always you; the leader is the one who goes first and shows the way.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

37 thoughts on “Energetic Tidiness in the Saddle.”

  1. Anna, I really aprettiate your thougs and text. Willl be very satisfied if I continu recievin the next articles. I know about the subjecte because had make some formacion with the EAGALA methodology and others, buy yours likeme very match. Hope to recive the nexts.

    Gently your, Horacio A Voloj


  2. I LOVE learning through metaphor! Really helps me to visualize kicking doubt under the bed. This is like a pre-ride visualization/meditation. Thank you!

  3. Hi Anna, I can only reiterate how much I appreciate these thought-provoking posts, especially when they make us look inward and help us overcome our unfair expectations of our horses, and treat them like the sentient and wise beings that they are. As with our fellow humans, we should stay aware that we need to put ourselves in their shoes first and foremost, be grateful for their honest efforts and let go our ego. Empathy is a word that comes to mind for all relationships.

  4. Anna,

    This is full of wisdom; thank you. The single, most helpful improvement I have made is to b-r-e-a-t-h-e. I take a couple of deep, deep breaths before I mount. One more after I mount, while standing, and one more when setting of at a relaxing walk. I walk my horse until I hear him exhale. When he lowers his head, and gives a loud ‘exhale’, he signals that he’s ready to work and we commence trot. At a medium trot, he usually exhales once more, then he’s ready to focus and do his cavalletti.

    One other suggestion which may be helpful to riders: give your horse a short break in the middle of training / exercise. Let his breathing return to a normal pace, reward him with rubs (not hard pats), talk to him a little. Then, resume. My last trainers used to ask us to stop amid our training or exercising; we would then have a chat about our rhythm, any issues with riding, our program that day — this would last for about 10 minutes. It encouraged the horses to rest, stand quietly for a short time. When we resumed, their offerings and work greatly improved for the final 15 or so minutes.

    One other area I would like to see in the younger youth: when you have finished your session, get off your horse immediately, untack him and let him rest and recover. I see riders sitting on their horses for 10-15 minutes, scanning their e-mails and calls, and the horse is standing, sweating, or just fed up. Give him an immediate release and praise him. Take care of your horse before your e-mails, please.

    Thank you, Anna, for all your wisdom and experience, so eloquently packaged, and I’ll put into practice, your suggestions.

    Best wishes, Nuala

    On 1/27/17, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

  5. I find a humble truth in your writing. My mother passed two years ago she was a remarkable person. When I was diagnosed with mental illness as a teenager and I was struggling in school. My mom changed careers and pursued a teaching degree. She knew how to access my talents and improve my weaknesses until I had confidence in my abilities. Without my mothers dedication I would never have graduated high school. Let alone be able to live on my own. In hindsight my mom gave me all the signs she was ailing. But I was unreceptive of the fact that everyone has their time. I couldn’t see or even think of life without her. She was my life. She tried to prepare me for what the future intailed and how to claim her life insurance benefits. I protested saying nothing is going ti happen to you. And if you die i will spend it all on everything we love, HORSES. When she passed it became clear I still had alot to learn. My intention was to establish a non-profit athletic organization for students or individuals looking to further their education and have a love for horses. I was blinded by my love for my mother. And asked the wrong person for help. I thought I needed someone to teach the lessons as I have difficulties with people and by no means would be capable of business aspects. I was defrauded of 10k. What I’ve learned is not everyone is good and has good intentions.
    My goal was simple continue making a differnce by way of horses. The world needs more cowboys. I have 10 horses that are rodeo trained horses. I’m in a position now that I won’t get the rest of my moms life insurance until may. My world is falling apart. I wanted to honor my mother by having an athletic organization in my moms name. Do I ask for help ?or abandon my to promise to continue her greatest gifts, education and horses. Have you ever had someone in your life that made a differnce ?

    • Good luck, Karen. My condolences on your mother’s passing, and it’s hard to know who to trust in this crazy world. I did have someone make a difference, it was a tolerant horse. Take care.

  6. I know a lot of horse people who think I’m a fussy dressage queen because I refuse to ride if I can’t get my thoughts together and focus. I’ve developed a mental routine before rides- I start deep, cleansing breaths as I turn onto the road to the barn. When I park, I take one last breath, imagine dumping all my worries onto the passenger seat, and I leave them behind when I get out. I envision every exhale on the walk to the barn leaving mental debris like a trail behind me. I take my time to bring him to the barn, and grooming is my last chance to leave my issues behind. If I can’t do it, I don’t ride. If I expect him to give me 100% focus, he deserves the same from me. Before a ride we do a little bit of lunging to stretch the legs and loosen the body, and for him to get HIS head in the game. I owe him the same chance to get down to work as I had. Then a little work in hand. Once both of us are completely relaxed and focused, THEN I ride. The routine lets us both settle into the right mindset. Sometimes the plan changes based on mental state. Sometimes we do some work and then I untack and we just play.

    All this, to say that if I expect his mental focus, he deserves mine. Full stop.

  7. Another must read for me especially since I don’t get home more than once every 3 to 4 months. I wish you could have seen Peaches and I the last time I got to ride. I didn’t start breathing (probably at all) when I first mounted because it was bareback and I was only going to lean across her but changed my mind and then ended up clinging to her side wondering what to do! And then I thought of you and remembered to breathe and say “whooooooaa”. It worked! Funny now, not so much then. Lol. After I got seated I remembered to keep breathing AND I WAS SMILING! I am even more aware of how Peaches looks to me to know she’s safe. She was wide eyed but such a good girl. I just love her all the more for that because she sure hasn’t been that way for the previous four riders before me. So as much as I am an “emotional slob” she appreciates that I mean well and am trying. I retire in three years and I’ll get to finally live at home. Maybe we’ll get put of the horse pasture? If not riding at least walking 😉

    • Where would any of us be without the kindness of our horses and the exhale of the word Whoooaaa… Happy soon-to-be home, Joan!

  8. This is a classic Anna, so very well said! Thank you for the time, thought, and consideration you put into your posts. Stray socks…underwear drawer! Hah – who would have thought! I really like the images. And as always, so appreciate the focus on the horse and our inner being.

  9. *sigh* Being a fairly visual person, I appreciate the images you’ve given here. I for one, am always trying to quiet my mind, breathe deeply and ride from a peaceful place. Not always an easy thing for me, but I will continue to try. Thanks Anna.

  10. This is VERY helpful as I struggle with my mind and too much intent all the time. Whenever I can let go mentally of all the “shoulds” I can ride more peacefully and achieve harmony. Anytime I think too much or start worrying that I don’t know how I gor to the great place of self carriage, I get too tense. This gives me a few tools to deal with myself

  11. I loved this post! I recently wrote a blog about mental state (especially relating to going through non-horse stressful things in the outside world) and thought I would be strung up for saying:

    “That thing I need to straighten out my mental and emotional state is NOT barn time. It’s NOT time with my horse. It’s NOT barn therapy. My horse is NOT my therapist and it’s not her job to be. ”

    This was with the idea that to be at my best I need to take the time I need in my life to take care of my stress and come to the barn without a lot of distraction and mental garbage so I can be my best. Yoga… journaling… coffee with a friend… whatever it is that helps us process and move forward more clear headed.

    But your blog (related but not exactly the same) struck a chord and I loved the concept (and analogies) of doing mental work to get there.

    It reminds me of hearing Buck say that for now your horse might have to fill in for you- but you want to get to where you can fill in for them.

    Thanks- I hope it’s ok that I reference your blog in my next one!


    • I like what your’re saying, and yes… just because the “can” do it, doesn’t mean they should have to fill in. And if the plan is to actually improve… I like your self-care ideas, too. Thanks for commenting, Jaime” Reference away!

  12. Dear Anna,
    This article is just awesome. You perfectly sum up the key to our relationship with our horses…and to life itself! So yes, time to take down the Megadeath posters and maybe even see what an empty drawer feels like!

    thank you!

  13. Anna,
    I find that I must tell you again how I appreciate your writings. I marvel at your depth of observation, and your ability to form words that reflect my own experiences. Oh what fun it is!

    This last post regarding energetic tidiness is oddly enough a favorite topic of mine–I encourage my riders to be ‘tidy’ in the saddle, and to expect the horse to respond in kind. An ‘economy of motion’, to paraphrase writings of a riding master, which morphs eventually into a tidiness of mind, both of rider and horse.

    But boy, is this hard stuff!

    But when the horse answers, in that deafening whisper, is what has me at times bawling in the saddle like a baby at the profound wonder of it all, while my chest actually aches–swelling with love and awe and total humility at the gift.

    The impossible gift from the horse that cares enough to listen to the stillness of the inner me.

    • Ardie, it’s all about that deafening whisper. We have so much to learn; that’s my favorite thing about horses, too. Wonderful comment, thank you.

  14. I love this idea of energetic tidiness. I have started to learn over the last few years just how important it is to be a leader for our horses and to be aware of our thoughts and how these impact upon our communication with our horse. Brilliantly explained


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