Before You Get On
September 19th, 2018

It seems to me that we spend way too much time focused on riding and not enough time on anything else. Time spent at the barn is categorized as before riding, riding, and after riding. Instead of spending quality time getting ready to ride, we rush to mount and deal with the issues as we go.

I will admit, I do this all the time. My clients want me to spend time in the saddle riding their horse instead of working on leading, tacking up, or standing at the mounting block. Recently, I have been trying to be stricter on myself and my clients to make sure that we all take our time. I would rather spend 15 minutes getting the leading soft before tacking up, 20 minutes making sure the horse is okay with the girth, 10 minutes asking the horse to relax at the mounting block, and 15 minutes riding than throw tack on and ride for 60 minutes. I find that when I can take my time with each and every step, I soon have a horse that locks on as soon as I engage with the horse. In fact, when I initially take my time, I can soon tack up and hop on in 10 to 15 minutes. The horse becomes so comfortable with every step and so used to being fully engaged that it no longer takes very long for each step to be relaxed and effortless.

In addition, when we take our time the actual ride vastly improves. Instead of spending the first 30 minutes of the ride getting the horse to relax and pay attention we can jump right in to warming up the muscles. The horse is quickly ready for more challenging work because the horse’s mind in the right place.

I challenge everyone to recategorize what you formally lumped together as “before riding stuff”. Try calling it “ground work” instead. Don’t hurry through it to get to your ride. Treat all of these small tasks as an exercise to get your horse relaxed, supple, and engaged. Pay as much attention and move as diligently as you would when doing free work or line work. Although you will initially spend a bit longer, you will find that your horse is more pleasant to ride. When you are able to find that connection you seek under saddle through all of your ground work it will become easier to find and keep it under saddle. In this way all that preparation you do to ride can both physically and mentally prepare you to get in the saddle.

I hope that once you get used to this new approach to horsemanship, you will start to enjoy the challenge of getting your horse ready as much as you enjoy riding. It took me a long time to develop the patience and understanding that good horsemanship requires. For years I enjoyed riding and had no concept of building a relationship or connection. Now, I strive for the simple moments where I can just be with a horse and feel that our every breath is in unison.

These moments can be found standing at a tie rail, cantering over a fence, or walking from pasture. I try to find and keep that moment from first greeting a horse, through our entire ride, to bidding the horse goodbye at the end of the day. As you and your horse grow accustomed to this deeper connection it becomes easier and easier to find.

Take a deep breath, leave your agenda behind, and find peace in each step along the way as you prepare to ride.