Riding Emotions: frustration, impatience, feeling of inadequacy…Discuss?

cant do it

Riding evokes multitude of emotions in riders regardless the level of the skill. A couple of weeks ago I light-heartedly suggested in a conversation with a fellow instructor and several riders that should there was a possibility to run a psychology clinic alongside riding clinic we would have much better results altogether. What started as a joke and a laugh with a group of riders led to a very interesting exchange of experiences…

It seems that frustration tops the list of emotions riders often feel when schooling their horses or when trying to get the hang of a skill. Impatience with oneself and/or the horse follows suit as does feeling of inadequacy. Small degree of frustration appears to have a positive effect. To me personally, the fact I can’t do something as well as I wish is a driving force, it motivates me to practice or learn more about whatever it is that I can’t do well.

However, I meet riders whose frustration levels are so high they in effect paralyse their ability to progress. They often become aggressive towards their horses and don’t know how to break the cycle of inability, disappointment and anger.

Why is it so do you think?

Could it come from lack of understanding of how we learn? Lack of understanding of how horses learn? Perhaps it’s because we humanise horses and assume they behave in a certain way “on purpose” ?

Maybe it’s the desire to be very good and perfect as fast as the newest sat nav app which avoids all traffic jams that makes us impatiently demand instant results both from ourselves, others around us and our horses?

I don’t think there is a single answer to emotional riding issues which is why I am hoping you will pitch in and leave a comment 🙂 I personally deal with my own impatience and frustration by seeking the answers to the “why” questions as well as never involving myself in horse’s problem. I received the latter advice some years ago and it stuck with me ever since. If I ride a horse that is very crooked or runs through the bridle or works with a back so hollow I feel like I am climbing out of a ditch each time I try to do rising trot on it, I make sure I take care of my part of a deal and ride as balanced as I possibly can given the circumstances and my own skills. I find that even if I need to be strong for a stride or two but do so without anger or annoyance, I eventually get the response and trust I was after.

From my observations of many riders of different levels, in different countries and riding very different horses, the most destructive emotion in a rider is anger and most misunderstood is the assertive reaction.

This also applies to coaching riders. Thinking of some of my “shouty” instructors over the years I can fairly easily divide them into those who shouted without anger and those who were somewhat eaten by great frustration at my inability to follow this or other exercise. I don’t have to think long to know who I learnt more from and enjoyed lessons with more…

jodie Collage
Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Charlton Stables, 1st June 2014. Teaching awareness of balance to a young rider. More photos from this and other clinics on Aspire’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/aspireequestriancademy

When I teach I try to see a whole picture, a process if you like, and this gives me a lot of calm and confidence that with time, the rider will be able to do what I want them to do. I feel this is a great control tool for any feelings of disappointment I may have in myself as a teacher or in the learning ability of a rider who most of the time do the best they can at given moment.

Then there is the feeling of inadequacy…not being good enough…I think we all have days when we wake up feeling like anything is possible and days when we feel like everything we know and everything we achieved in life is absolutely useless. Days when we have a great ride as if all puzzles of all riding knowledge all of a sudden slotted together into this grand masterpiece and then days when we can’t even ride simple 20m circles without feeling somewhat unbalanced and out of sync.

Sometimes I look at a rider and with no effort or concious thinking I know what I need to correct for them to feel and ride better, for the horse to go better and for the whole combination to move forward. Then there are days when I look and look and look and have to employ all my grey matter to come up with something of meaning and relevance!! It can be painful and sometimes disheartening but I reckon it’s how life goes…Perhaps we need to doubt ourselves and question everything form time to time and feel low at times because that’s when we have a chance to consciously deepen our knowledge and understanding…

Classical riding masters used to say, show me your horse and I will tell you who you are. What do you think? How do you deal with negative emotions when riding? 




25 thoughts on “Riding Emotions: frustration, impatience, feeling of inadequacy…Discuss?”

  1. Horses are so intuitive, and feed off of everything we are feeling. Personally, I try to stay as unemotional as possible when I ride. It’s tricky, but sometimes tuning out everything and focusing on the physical aspects of the ride helps. Great post!

  2. I don’t think there is a simple answer to anything involving human psychology – nor do I think riding psychology can be separated into it’s own silo since we cannot separate ourselves from what else is going on in our heads the second we enter the stables. And here I do not mean the usual “I had a stressful day at work and my horse bucked me off” kinda superficial stuff – but real deep stuff about worthiness, inner expectations and the evil ego telling us “what will people think” etc…

    When we try to be good (and even “good” means different things to each of us) at something that is close to our heart and soul, and horses are that to most of us, it brings all our vulnerabilities to the fore. We cannot selectively choose to feel/numb vulnerable emotions (there is actual proper peer reviewed research papers on this, not just something I think) and our hearts are so wide open with horses it all ends up hanging a bit loose, even the darker side of us. Psychology is deep stuff, not just a handful of simple handy fixes and tips and one size doesn’t fit all. Human minds are very complicated and we can only hope our horses bear with us while we figure ourselves out!

    Just my personal, and hence also rather subjective, opinion to a very complex subject!!

    1. Thank you for your comment myworldofdogs and I agree with you re complexity of the subject. This is why I only really mentioned my way of dealing with the issue and inviting discussion rather than giving tips for all as the more I teach the more I see what diverse yet incredibly important the case of emotions really is…I do think it’s a subject that would really do with being brought to surface on regular basis. Last few years really showed me that huge amount of schooling problems with horses can be resolved by working on rider’s mental approach rather than actual riding technique…It seems to me that the case of emotions in riding is overlooked and at times perhaps even dismissed whilst, if addressed, can progress the rider more than hundreds of “physical exercises” focused lessons…

  3. OMG, I can see myself in ALL of the scenarios you mention, up minute, down the next, what I thought was pretty good a month ago, now looks blooming awful lol. Self talk has a lot to answer to, we all do it and we know we shouldn’t. I guess the best solution is take one minute, 1 hour, day, week, month, year at a time and remember the rubbish feelings do pass and the good feelings come back.

    There will always be something good, not matter how tiny, even if I manage to do something well for just one or two strides (watching my videos frame by frame lol) I am chuffed to bits, because then it will be three or four strides and then four or five strides as my training progresses.

    Thanks to Wiola, my riding has improved so much, even though at the time I feel my riding is awful, when I watch the video, it isn’t that bad and even some good bits. I have a long way to go and I am thoroughly enjoying training with Wiola.

    Keep at it everyone.

    1. Your comment about remembering little things makes me think we must celebrate your epic sitting/floating trot on the long side trying to canter because that was just AMAZING! 😀

  4. I think there are a few factors involved, which riders have to learn just as much as the technical riding itself:
    there are 2 beings, rider and horse. you might feel great one day, but the horse doesn’t, or the other way round. the rider has to also learn to influence the horse, maybe wake up a flegmatic horse or calm a spooky one. very often riders look for faults in the horse, which is of course wrong, but sometimes it’s the other way round and we blame ourselves for something we can’t really change.
    I think most importantly we need to remember to enjoy what we are doing and ride happy. I read an article the other day about some famous teacher who watched his pupil mount a horse and stopped him before he got on. he told him that he seemed angry and negative and should never get on a horse in that state. it would ruin everything. you need to leave your everyday troubles behind and always ride with a positive attitude.
    I really liked that and try and remember that when I get on.
    I was also told to remember that I am not the only one who struggles, everybody goes through the same and that not everybody can ride every horse. These few things really helped me to cope and not get too frustrated.
    just be happy you are riding! what can be better 🙂

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Mariana – “I think most importantly we need to remember to enjoy what we are doing and ride happy.” – that’s a great one 🙂 I think I should print some T-shirts with “Ride Happy” on them next time!
      I do agree that we need to pay attention to our state of mind and if we do feel angry then perhaps it’s not the best of times for schooling session…
      The “leaving the troubles behind” is not easy for sure. I many see riders who really struggle with that aspect of training not through lack of will but they just don’t know how.

      I think that as teachers/instructors we need to do the same – leave any anger, frustration or negativity well out of the arena…

      Love all the thoughts and ideas – keep them coming everyone 🙂

  5. If I feel frustrated I try to leave the horse alone. Do only what is necessary and then bail out. I know if I don’t have my emotions under control I will get angry and unfair very easily. I will take that out on the horse and that ruins what I have been laboring hard to build: trust and respect. And funny enough, the horse brings out that nasty side of me. If he wanted to provoke me, he couldn’t be more successful ( I know that he does not intent to annoy me – he just shows me where I am at and is honest about it). My latest post covered the topic of frustration too.

  6. What I’m learning more and more is that a riders emotions quite often tie hand and hand with their posture and body language in the saddle. Improve their mindset, and their position improves- and sometimes even vice versa- as many frustrations can be caused by those pesky bad habits. Horses can no doubt read our minds- but they can for sure read our bodies. Position biomechanics, thought process, and resulting performance are all within the same dynamic process.

    1. Hello Katmah, you are so right regarding relation between posture and mindset! Thank you for bringing this subject up, I will look into putting a whole post about it as it’s so often overlooked. Thank you again 😀

  7. I love that last quotation – I totally agree. I get very frustrated sometimes at my own inadequacies but usually take that as a sign to stop what I’m doing and take a breather to get myself back together. And if I can’t control my emotions, it isn’t a day to school! Dressage is at least 50% emotional control as far as I’m concerned – physical ability and understanding are only half the challenge 🙂

    1. Hello 🙂 I am with you on emotional control being a huge deciding factor in dressage (and riding/schooling overall).

      I think many problems escalate in lesson environment as riders put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform, they work hard to afford the lessons and they have high expectations of themselves and the horse.

      When we ride by ourselves we can learn to stop when we know it’s not the right day.

      1. Oh gosh yes – in lessons if it’s not going well (and the trainer isn’t tactful enough to change the question first) it is a hundred times worse! I think some instructors notice these things and can avoid pushing their students to a meltdown in many situations. I know that sometimes all I need is them to back off for a minute! My current one us great at this – a well timed “and go sitting / pick up canter / let him stretch” saves the day!

      2. Yes 🙂 Easier with riders I know than first timers as some like to hide their frustrations well 😉 I also try not to be severely strict with time so the riders don’t feel like they have to get something in that very minute or I would walk out of the arena!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s