Riding a Suspension… of Disbelief


Some of us are okay with who we are in the saddle. We don’t question the ride, or if we do, we put it on the horse and he’s fine with that. It is what it is, and it works for lots of horses and riders.

Some of us pause in the saddle; it starts with a small moment of awareness that there might be more possible. Maybe you are crossing a log and you feel your horse lift his back. Maybe in a canter, there’s a moment of body-to-body unison that hooks you in the heart. Or maybe in a blind or uncertain moment, your horse moves under you and offers more, when he didn’t have to. And then the air feels richer.

It’s a wake-up call and in that instant, there’s a shift in perception; a teasing glimpse into a hidden place. I think it’s horses that call us there, but it’s our choice to listen or not. It’s the threshold where things get complicated for our species. At one extreme is a desire so hot that we fight and try to control–dominate–a horse’s magic. On the other extreme is a whiny envy without action; a fierce fairy-tale prayer that our horse will do it all for us, if we just give them treats.

I’m particularly interested in what it takes for riders to progress; what we have to do mentally to go from being a passenger to a true partner. In the best sense, it’s the transition, beyond fighting or dreaming, to an honest connection. I know; flowery words.

For a novice rider, even one who’s ridden for years, the reality is that we get the ride we ask for. If we want something more, we are the ones who have to change. So we try to do more–we kick and pull and things get immediately worse.

The harder we think the work is, the harder we ask. Not always with force; more often with micro-managing doubt. We think too much. Even if we know that somehow less is more, we try so willfully hard to do less, that our horses wish for a whip… just for clarity. Our desire just looks like dense fog to them.

We are limited by the extra layer of false gravity that we create; we make it harder to accept our own worth because we are always looking at what’s wrong with us. What if the real meaning of improvement was letting go of being our worst critic in our own mind?

We are a species who thinks we can control outcome. We like to focus on what’s wrong, immerse in those problems, and then make them right. Even with good intentions, it’s a negative approach.

Let me be very clear; attitude doesn’t create a balanced riding position or correct bad hands. Your horse cares about those technical qualities and so should you.

But if I could give riders a gift, it would be a suspension of disbelief.

“The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.” –Wikipedia.

The reason to suspend disbelief is simple. Disbelief is the sarcastic voice in your head that says, “Who do you think you are? Your horse is nothing special. You aren’t good enough; you don’t deserve what you want.”

Suspension of disbelief is a cue to your inner demons to just shut up; a half-halt to give us a chance to prove to ourselves that we are enough–until WE believe it.

A suspension of disbelief would be a perfect moment when your rider to-do list gets extinguished by a dance where your horse freely lifts you and holds you in the light. Oneness is not a destination you can chase down. It’s something your horse has already, but you have to sit quietly enough to notice and then claim it for yourself.

Maybe when riding, the best thing to straddle is that line of possibility, with one foot deeply grateful for all that the two of you have shared together, and the other foot holding a space of absolute wonder. Good riding is naturally uncertain ground; that’s why riding is an art.

How can you tell you’re on the right path? It becomes forever less about you and more about doing the best for your horse. To truly put your horse first is much harder than it sounds; it requires a humbling level of honesty that will be fact-checked by your horse.

He’ll let you know that humility and insecurity are not the same thing at all. Humility is a place of openness where a horse and rider find balance. The other word for that is grace.

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

0 thoughts on “Riding a Suspension… of Disbelief”

  1. Darn onions!!! Two comments…I have always said that dressage is a discipline of moments. How many rides did I have when, after working hard for 45 minutes, I felt that unity, if even for a brief moment…the rounding of the back at the canter, a lightness in hand beyond the norm, or even being on a hack and standing surrounded by quiet in a clearing, and having my horse reach round and nudge my foot to say “See? This is what it’s really about, remember?” Towards the end of my time as a rider, it was the latter that became the most important.

    Once, when I was quite young, I wanted to be a professional musician. Music and dressage are so closely linked as disciplines…both require that suspension of disbelief, that striving gently and unconsciously towards grace. So I embarked on a music degree. I’d been playing the piano most of my life and my technique was pretty good. but improvisation was a closed book to me…until one day in class, we were all given a short melody and asked to improvise for a minute on it. For some reason, that day, it took off…I lost sight of the others in the class, of the professor, of everything but me and the keys, and then I lost sight of them too. And off I went. Now, almost 40 years later, I still remember that moment. I remember being more involved in the moment than the surroundings, than in my ability to remember chord progressions, or than the sound I was creating. Just me and the music, just me and my horse, working together to create, well, as you said so well, Anna, grace. I gave up on the idea of being a musician; I just wasn’t talented enough to make a career out of it, just as I was never a good enough rider to make a life there either. But those moments have stayed with me…and I have come to believe that my truncated music degree was so that I would experience that one class. Now the grace comes more easily when I’m hanging out with my oldies, both dogs and horse, or looking out over the ocean from my home office, or, yes, listening to music. Thanks for the reminder, Anna: when we allow ourselves to get out of our own way, good things happen.

  2. Love this, Anna. My favorite line: Oneness is not a destination you can chase down. It’s something your horse has already, but you have to sit quietly enough to notice and then claim it for yourself.

  3. For me the hardest thing I’ve ever done was follow that perfect horse with the next clean slate. Oh, she was perfect alright. And make no mistake, she came that way. I had rides to die for over and over again. At first I didn’t know it was collection and I was so naive that I didn’t even know she’d been trained for dressage. But I knew riding her was not like anything I’d ever ridden before in my life. We danced together for 23 years and it was spectacular. I’m so thankful I learned enough to truly appreciate her. Next horse … totally green, hollow, fussy, braced. She came that way too, but my ability to help her blossom has been somewhat limited. You see, I can ride a perfect horse perfectly. I’ve done it and I know I can do it again. But TEACH a young, green horse how to relax and respond? That’s a whole ‘nuther story. We’re working on it and with the help of a great trainer we’re making progress. But sometimes the memory of what was makes the reality of what is a hard pill to swallow. The body, the heart remember. Just being honest here. Thanks for that.

    • For what it’s worth, Cheryl, I’ve blamed horses for not being someone else, too. Having the horse of a lifetime early is a mixed blessing. But it gets better, and even trying to give that gift to another horse is a challenge worth taking. Glad you have good help; glad you’re trying. Great comment– thank you.

    • I got LUCKY. After riding school horses for a few years, I was blessed with an upper-middle-aged gelding of my very own….who promptly got very anxious and scared the crap out of me. My fabulous trainer talked us through it and my ability to stay calm when things go to crap is now extremely well developed. BUT- one of the things that was immediately apparent is that while he’s well BROKE, he was not well TRAINED. Like your green one, hollow, braced, and crooked as all hell. But here’s where the luck comes in. He taught me how to say please, but accept no shenanigans. He taught me the value of a well timed “good boy” and a pat. The tiniest moments of anything even remotely close to improvement got him his “good horse”. And he improved. It’s been nearly two years together now, is he “fixed” yet? Well no. He’s 23 and we’re battling ageing joints now, though his flexibility and muscle tone are miles better than when he came to me. But he’s willing to try anything I ask, and that counts for a lot in my book. He taught me how to accept tiny success and reward generously, and to find the JOY in that. Do I get a “perfect” ride? Every time. Is it classically perfect? Of course not. But it’s perfect to US. I don’t think of it as lowering my standards. When the goal of the ride is to enjoy our time together and improve ourselves, EVERY ride is perfect.

  4. I have one of those horses that was born knowing what to do–the only catch is that she will only do it if asked perfectly properly by a perfectly balanced rider. I am slowly learning to use the least number and lightest of aids possible, and most of all, to believe that she will answer them without any useless super effort on my part. A couple of days ago we easily got half pass in both directions. It was not a grand-prix half pass, but the fact that she answered me at all left my heart in the clouds for the rest of the day.

    • That sounds like elevating your skill level, good for you. I think all horses know what to do… mares require us to have better manners. Give that good girl a scratch from me. Great comment, Alli.

  5. My mares love the fact that I am reading your posts, asking politely and quietly, suspending my disbelief and humbling myself to THEIR grace. They really do respond and they love the “newer” me. Thank you Anna for sharing so well what one needs to learn!

  6. Right then, with this piece, you’ve agreed to be my instructor (there’s a marriage you did not see coming, complete with vows–mine).

    All I need to do is shrink the distance between Co Springs and Manhattan, Kansas. What’s your winter teaching schedule like? I bet Michelle and I would fit right in. We’d both bring humility and a horse.

    Lover, love, love how you see me so fully, Anna.

  7. Transcendence. To go beyond that norm where the automatic response is to dominate. You really want to not only become the partner, you want to become a corporate being, two parts becoming a whole but more than one. I think it is getting out of our own way, taking into account the fact that the horse (dog, person) has a mind of their own, to coerce does not work, to dominate doesn’t either. There is a yearly festival at an equestrian center not too far from me in October every year. People bring their horses, of different breeds, have a short program in the arena to demonstrate a lot of different things horses can do and various activities with them. A few years ago a man had a handsome Friesian gelding and gave a short dressage demo, it didn’t go well. It wasn’t the horse, it was the rider, he was, frankly, abusive. He was going to MAKE that horse do what HE wanted as though it was a machine. I don’t think he’d had the gelding too long, because he had a soft eye, a gentle demeanor and was doing more than was asked of him until the crop really hit hard for no good reason for at least the sixth time and he started bucking. That gelding made short work of getting that jerk off his back, took a trot around the arena, shook himself and finished the program riderless while the rider picked himself up. It was a surprise to a lot of the people watching, I was surprised it too that long before the horse did something. The rider made no attemt to catch the gelding, he just went over to the announcer and yelled that the gelding was for sale, climbed the fence and went to the barn. But the horse finished the program, alone, in the arena, with everyone watching in stunned silence at the infantile display of a human who should’ve at least controlled his temper and a horse who knew his job. Through friends I later found out that the man packed up his gear, had someone else catch and unsaddle the gelding, and abandoned that marvelous horse at the event. The equestrian center put him up and the man finally just signed him over to them. He was sold about a year later to a young lady who rode him at the following year’s event and both horse and rider showed great love and respect for each other.

    • The B EST thing for that horse was to be “abandoned”! Could have been lots different! Must have been fantastic watching him “do his job” all by himself! Now hes where hes cared for – which is what matters.

      • Considering how expensive Friesians are, it was certainly a surprise. The last I heard he is doing well, dearly loved and well cared for by his girl. I just hope the idiot who abandoned him never got another horse.

  8. There are, rarely for me, those “moments” when we are one…and they seem to come when I am not “trying so hard” but letting things flow…. your words give me more to think about!

      • I not only love your writing, Anna, I love your readers’ comments. Rontuaru’s comments remind me of my little horse story – at a different level! My first mare was the perfect babysitter for this middle-aged, aren’t horses beautiful novice, novice rider. We moved to keep our horses, so the learning curve was faster. I was actually cantering bareback for short periods of time when I lost her. And she left me in the spell of the horse’s magnificence and sensitivity. Currently I am in awe of a very under confident,smart, gorgeous boy who dumped me a few times to save himself (horse-eating demons in the woods!) With the support of an amazing young trainer he and I are progressing and best of all, he is enjoying our journey almost as much as I am. I long for our time of oneness and invite my mare on each and every ride with us as I owe it all to her. Like Rontuaru, I sometimes long for just one more carefree ride on her. And know one day, if I am steadfast, we’ll get it.

        • Just in case it isn’t obvious, I’d make a deal with the devil for one more ride with my Grandfather Horse, too. Instead, I look for sparks of him in the horses I ride. Your new boy sounds wonderful. I never think we are fully aware of how hard change is for a horse. But you have time and a good trainer. I think you’ll get there, too. Thanks, Lori. Great comment.

  9. I love your writing Anna, and love your readers’ comments as well. I love horses, animals of all kinds really and cannot imagine a life without them in it. They just make everything richer, better and add another layer of dimension that I don’t want to ever do without. But horses, oh the horses are just magical! I’ve ridden all my life, but in technique am without a doubt, a novice. I have no real training, but have experienced those graceful, perfect moments of what seems like an altered state of time and mind, where they are so beautiful and magical that they really do seem other-worldly. Those are the moments that I strive for. They don’t happen very often, but always giving respect to my horse and trying ever so hard to do less, and do it sooner, is my goal. My horse is perfect – in fact have all been perfect – I just need to learn to allow them to be, and follow in their wake. Thank you again, for a beautiful lesson in graceful horsemanship.

    Merry Christmas

    • What a beautiful comment. I’m like you, I just love the comments here, your’s included. Reading this, I’m struck with the frail balance of equality. To not be more than or less than, on either side. Thank you Lorie.

  10. Love this!  Thanks!!

    From: Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog To: [email protected] Sent: Friday, December 16, 2016 8:19 AM Subject: [New post] Riding a Suspension… of Disbelief #yiv1346950780 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1346950780 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1346950780 a.yiv1346950780primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1346950780 a.yiv1346950780primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1346950780 a.yiv1346950780primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1346950780 a.yiv1346950780primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1346950780 WordPress.com | Anna Blake posted: “Some of us are okay with who we are in the saddle. We don’t question the ride, or if we do, we put it on the horse and he’s fine with that. It is what it is, and it works for lots of horses and riders.Some of us pause in the saddle; it starts with” | |


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