How to Ride like a Kid.

WMQuietEyeRemember riding when you were a kid? We climbed on top from a gate or a truck bumper. No bridle, no saddle, no worries. Remember the way the sun felt on our shoulders? If it was hot enough, there was a thin layer of sweat between our horse and our cut-offs–intermingled sweat. We didn’t take lessons, we were free. In our mind’s eye, when we look down we see our tan legs against his flank and sometimes our colors ran together. We were chestnut tan from the sun; we were dirty bay at the end of the day. It was fun and wild and we didn’t always make it back for lunch. We were fearless.

May I break in on this idyllic memory for a moment? There are a few reasons it went so well; first off, we didn’t fight. Most of us had no steering and didn’t care; if our horse didn’t go where we wanted, we went where he wanted. The plan was to ride; that was good enough. If we were still on an hour or two later–it was a great ride. If we had to get off and lead our horse that was good, too. It was summer. We had very low expectations and no thought of controlling anything.

As adults, we get to the mounting block carrying a mental load that weighs four times what we do. And those are just the day-to-day stresses: time, money, relationships. We bring a list of things to do, but we don’t exactly remember what’s on the list. Still we hold on. Most of all, we are on a time schedule. Maybe there is a show coming, or we have another appointment, but usually it’s because we are in a hurry all the time and it’s a habit now. All of this, and we aren’t in the saddle yet.

The biggest killer of the long-lost kid-ride? We worry about how we ride, how we look, how our horse looks; even if we don’t compete we judge it all–usually harsher than a trainer or judge would. We have self-doubt. Sometimes it’s just a feeling; a sticky green nonspecific frustration with a red ric-rak fringe of impatience. It doesn’t look good on anyone.

In truth, I don’t know if our childhood rides were actually all that blissful. I doubt it. I do know that we’re more self-conscious now, and it gets in our way. Maybe if we heard our thoughts in someone else’s voice they’d sound silly, but inside our heads, they seem sacred and true, and a bit more so each time we repeat them. Our favorite jab–we wish we rode like we did as kids. Even if we didn’t actually ride as kids, we still have that fantasy.

So, we grew up and got self-conscious–feeling an over-sized awareness that included uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment and nervousness. Self-consciousness comes with judgement. Humility is good, but if our confidence suffers, so does our leadership. Then we sit on our horse’s back talking to ourselves about our horse and his problems. We leave him out of the conversation entirely. Meanwhile our horse is out there in the real world looking for some help.

We can’t become childlike again. Our hormones see to that. And frankly, riding like we did when we were kids was dangerous and if we keep doing that indefinitely, our guardian angels will give up on us.

Maybe the closest we could get to being childlike again is to replace self-conscious thought with self-aware thought. Less judgement and more openness. It means experiencing the world through our senses instead of our intellect. It’s closer to how kids and horses do it.

Here is where your riding instructor sounds like a yoga teacher. The first step is the hardest: to let our brain rest and open our senses to listen and feel. Breathe. Then be aware of your breath. Count an inhale, 1-2-3. Feel your body soften. Exhale, 1-2-3. Feel his strides under you lifting your sit-bones one at a time.
“Is he forward enough? Why is he fighting my contact?”
Yes, that’s the voice of the self-conscious judging part of your brain. This is important: be kind to it. If you judge yourself for having a thought; if you feel like you need a whip and spurs to push those thoughts out of your mind, then start over. Be gentle with yourself, excuse those thoughts with a breeze of a breath. When they come back again in a few seconds–no problem. Breathe them away again and replace those thoughts with the feel of his barrel relaxing. 1-2-3, soften your jaw. Feel your horse follow suit.
(Yes, I am aware that this is my two millionth post on breathing, cleverly disguised. But I mean it, there is nothing more important.)
Every time you breeze-away a thought, know that you’re being lifted and held in a sacred place. Be grateful and feel your heart melt. You can keep your adult insecurities; be critical and doubting out of the saddle if you need to, but for these few mounted moments, let go. Let your ribs expand, soften your belly, be aware but thought-less.
It’s about then, in a connected moment, that you feel his stiff shoulder. All horses have one, but this time you feel it small and without judgement. You let your leg warm that shoulder while you count your breath, 1-2-3, and give him time. He isn’t pretending and this is an opportunity for hear him with physical kindness. The same kindness that you’ve shown yourself.
And with a breath, you excuse this good thought as well. 1-2-3, and in this discipline of breath and mind, there is freedom from reaction and judgement.
There you are, riding like a kid. Easy as 1-2-3.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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

0 thoughts on “How to Ride like a Kid.”

  1. I can’t say why this brings tears to my eyes… maybe it is because with your guidance I have occasionally taken that extra breath…maybe it is because on occasion I can actually feel my horse under me, telling me… Mom, wait a minute, I don’t feel very secure and I’m not as comfortable as I was just a minute ago. I would like to say I felt that all the time, but maybe in time (I have another 20 or 30 years right 🙂 ?

    • The only thing that matters is that one moment when you hear your horse. It isn’t the years that matter to her at all. Just now. Hooray for now. 🙂

  2. Great article!! So true and this can be debilitating! I just crawled out of a black whole of self doubt after achieving new great heights in harmony and connectives. This feeling of oneness was so exceptional that it created fear of recreation and loosing it which I did of course by overthinking and over analyzing as to what I did to get there.

    Letting go to be able to feel and not to worry about loosing the touch us an ongoing struggle but more important than anything.

    Thank you for sharing that I am not alone and giving assistance with how to deal with this.

    Ruth ?
    Sent from my iPhone


    • No where near alone, riding is a mental sport most of all. Easy to grip that a little too tightly. Keep breathing, great comment.

      • Yay and good for you. But please don’t give up on trainers. We aren’t all drill sergeants. Great comment, love your ride.

  3. Wow. This really hit home for me. I remember riding as a kid with our old, untrained horses, old tack – didn’t even know if it fit or not, and no fear. I loved riding and just being with the horse. No one there to tell me I was doing it wrong – no DVDs, trainers, clinics…. just me and my horse. And yes, we always went fast!

    What happened to that girl, I ask myself sometimes. The fear came in. I felt I didn’t know anything about riding, horses, or myself. I struggled with my own energy and confidence, which of course, my horse felt on every ride. This is the first year I decided to not to any more training – no DVDs, no clinics, no lessons. Just enjoy my horse and go on rides. Relax and enjoy this magical creature that allows me to get on his back and walk with him. Truly amazing. My horse already knows how to take me on a ride and I think he’s tired of all the “work” too. Let’s just enjoy.

    Thanks Anna. This was perfect for me to hear today.

  4. All this talk of the Now has been difficult for me to integrate until…..I started reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which was recommended on a horsie forum recently on a discussion of mindfulness and mindlessness (I suspect that riding as children was pretty mindless and self indulgent!!!).

    In my adult life, I’ve wanted to develop my own equanimity, which was ever elusive in all aspects of my life, especially on my riding journey. Never, having read a number of books on the subject of spirituality, etc., has the content really reached me in the way that Tolle’s book has–maybe I’m finally ready to receive the message…? I’m only on chapter six, and everything he says resonates with me so strongly that I think I may finally be “getting it” and I can apply it to horsemanship as well as my daily life. Meditation per se never did get through to me, and after reading a chapter or two or this book, I felt that I could be “meditating” on and off all day long, even if only for a few seconds at a time, just so that I could get my attention to my inner body, noticing the breaths and how it feels deep inside and in all parts of my body. He really explains why we should be doing this.

    Here’s a tip: “Whenever you are waiting, wherever it may be, use that time to feel the inner body. In this way, traffic jams and lines become very enjoyable. Instead of mentally projecting yourself away from the Now, go more deeply into the Now by going more deeply into the body.” If I do this by breathing consciously when I’m on horseback, the thinking (read worry, frustration!) goes away and I can actually feel. So I can switch from thinking to feeling, when necessary.

    So when I hear people telling me to breathe, I now have an idea of what I’m doing and why!

    • I think the most valuable thing I gained riding up the levels was this ability to free up and listen. In order to ride that way, I had to get out of my own way… It’s why dressage has so much in common with yoga, t’ai chi, etc. Now, describing that process is harder. Glad you found some words that make sense.

  5. Those cutoffs with the sweat-and-dirt encrusted butt that had to be hosed off outside. Before I got Coro, my mom didn’t make me wear a helmet when I rode, but she did make me wear shoes. I used to kick them off once I was out sight of the house, and pick them up again on my way back. Unencumbered. I remember riding double with my friend Misty while her Tennessee Walker, Rosebud, essentially ran away with us up her driveway. We laughed so hard we both fell off. Laughing?! Falling OFF?! It would do us all good to inhale our way back to those carefree days and exhale the weight of the years in between.

    • I remember some flat little tennis shoes that had no toes in them…barefoot was easier. You inherited this grace riding, I think I remember that your mother was not shy riding. In other countries. 🙂

  6. Just found your blog … beautiful to read. I have finally found a trainer is helping me reach my “inner child” through breathing and self-awareness of both myself and my horse. I look forward to more insightful posts from you. Thank you!

  7. I remember starting down the driveway bareback on my mare, with her colt behind us – he had a rope halter & lead – Goldy flipped her tail – Silky (for Silky Sullivan) pulled back – rope went under her tail & we had a brief exciting moment all our own! Needless to say, I “got” off & managed to unclamp her tail etc. Then got back on & went on my way. Truly riding like a kid! I don’t remember ever seeing anyone wear a helmet back then.

    • Yup, at that age nothing was a deal… but you won’t ever get to admit that we shouldn’t wear helmets, now that we know, every single ride.

      • True, Anna. In my fifties when I got back to horses, I wore a helmet! Not everyone did, but by that time had heard too many horror stories – I was converted.

  8. I grew up in Boulder in the ’50s and ’60s. We kept our rather rag tag bunch of horse on a farm out on the plains. Parents dropped us off in the morning and came around to het us sometime before dark. In between, we rode the prairie, floated in the little river, built forts in the cottonwoods….did it all! Ah, kids today. No such luck!

    • Thanks, Julie. And I have to laugh. Horse crazy girls are kinda easy to track. Especially having been one… We’re single minded.

  9. Nancy Tetrick – it is unfortunate that most kids today don’t get to experience the freedom we did when we were young. We had way more fun, I think, without television all day and all night, and no video games to keep us inside. Glad I grew up when I did!

  10. Thank you for providing the message that I need to hear today. I have leased the same horse for almost 3 years. My lease ends this week and I didn’t know how I was going to get through those last few rides without falling apart (I
    am so attached !). I am headed out now with a plan: to breathe and enjoy her in the moment. Thank you.

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