Susanna Halonen about Learning to Deal with Uncertainty with Horses

Horses are your love, your energy, your oxygen. Yet sometimes you have moments in which you are so exhausted, frustrated or overwhelmed that all you want to do is give up. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. And this doesn’t happen only with horses, but also in life in general! This is why resilience is such an important skill to learn and continuously develop.

Psychologists refer to resilience as the ability to cope with problems and setbacks, something which is common with both horses and in life. Some people are naturally more resilient than others, but the good news is you can learn to become more resilient so you can recover from setbacks quicker, overcome challenges more effectively, and have more fun while doing it.

There are two key factors which make up resilience: persistence and flexibility. Persistence is driven by the inner hope you have, whereas flexibility enables you to try different things to overcome things which stand between you and reaching your goals. This is wisely put by Charles Darwin, and is equally relevant to your success with horses than to the survival of our species: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

So how do you make sure you bring persistence and flexibility into your training with your horse? There are a few simple steps that will help you get started.


1. Identify the key goal you have with your horse. E.g. “The one essential goal I would like to reach with my horse in 2014 is…”

2. Avoid distractions from other competing goals. Scratch things off the list which are not helping you reach your number one goal. It’s all about prioritising & focus!

3. List five alternative pathways to achieve this goal. Really get creative here. It’s these pathways that help you remain flexible and think of alternatives when a challenge or setback appears.

This exercise has definitely helped me focus my training with my young horse Mickey (aka Eurythmic). I’ve outlined my answers below to give you inspiration for you to try the exercise yourself.

1. My goal is to finish in the top 10 of a Premier League 5-year old young horse class.

2. Now that the first show is weeks away, I’ve cut down on jumping and upped the number of schooling sessions we do in a week. Every time I get on him, regardless of whether it’s a hack, jump, gallop or schooling session, I make an effort to ride him properly so he’s working through the back into the bit whilst on front of my leg. I’ve also become more aware of my posture as well and how it affects him.

3. – I travel to my dressage trainer Sarah Millis bi-weekly for a focused schooling session.
– I get another dressage trainer to come to me weekly or bi-weekly if I can not make it to Sarah’s.
– If Mickey gets stuck in the schooling sessions too much, I make an effort to school him on the gallops as I would in the arena to get his mind and body in the right place.
– I use pole work and grid work regularly to strengthen his hind end and teach him to use it more effectively.
– If we don’t finish in the top 10, I make an effort to take him to a few novice tests in the fall to get him more familiar to a show environment, making him ready for the 6-year old classes in 2015.

Now I want you to put your resilience into practice. Complete the exercise yourself so you’re ready to persist and remain flexible when you work towards your main riding goal for 2014.

Would be great if you wanted to share some of the exercise in the comments below – the other readers can help you come up with other pathways too!

4 thoughts on “Susanna Halonen about Learning to Deal with Uncertainty with Horses”

  1. Good luck with your goal Susanna ! Totally agree with the single minded focus often required. The unpredictability of horses often makes us reluctant to plan anything and therefore we might end up without any purpose. I do believe horses behave and work better when they sense purpose from the rider, whether be it a competitive one, schooling one or a trekking one (certain route to take/do) 🙂

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