Riding horses is exhausting. No, I’m not talking about the physical exhaustion that comes with hours in the saddle. I don’t mean the sore muscles, aching back or multitude of bruises I deal with every day. What I’m referring to is the emotional toll that riding several horses a day takes on your mental health.

And yes, this is a call for help.

Think of it like this: riding multiple horses every day is like dating numerous men at the same time (I would assume…).

At first, you may feel on top of the world, like you’ve got it all figured out and everyone loves you! Life is good…or so you thought. Then you realize just how much work it is. You have different people pulling you a million different directions, and you feel like you have to make everyone happy. Where is the ME time?!

You have to remember that boyfriend #1 likes pepperoni on his pizza but boyfriend #4 is allergic to dairy so don’t you dare suggest pizza for dinner. Meanwhile, boyfriend #6 wants to talk about the argument he had with his mom last week and you’re scrambling to even remember his mom’s name. And who knows why boyfriend #2 is giving you the silent treatment.

Just like your 6 different boyfriends, horses are needy creatures.

Each horse demands your full attention from the moment you step into the irons, or maybe even the second you pull onto the farm. In order to find any success in each horse’s training program, you have to be willing to listen to their problems and remember all the details of their lives, and offer solutions tailored to each horse’s individual needs.

Relationships are a lot of work, whether it’s with your 6 boyfriends or your stable of training horses. Each and every partnership will only succeed if you’re able to actively listen to their problems and offer your full attention to their needs.

No wonder boyfriend #6 is upset with you—you were too worried about why boyfriend #2 was giving you the silent treatment that you couldn’t even remember his mom’s name, let alone actually listen to his problems. And while your Thoroughbred may not know their mom’s name either, he does expect the same type of active listening in your day-to-day interactions. When he swishes his tail and tosses his head, he expects your attention to be on him and why he’s saying “no”, rather than why horse #2 has decided to randomly come up lame.

Actively listening to each and every horse you ride requires a mental stamina that not everyone is able to employ. When you ask for the canter transition and your horse responds by flipping you the bird and running through your aids, a rider who is passively listening (not actually paying attention or present in the moment) may respond by interrupting their horse. They may amp up their aids, ignoring what the horse is actually saying, effectively shutting down the lines of communication.

Rebel said “NO!”

Then we talked about it and tried again!

Meanwhile, the rider who is actively listening, who is focused on their mount and understands that communication is a two-way street, thinks their way through the problem. When the horse runs through the aids, rather than interrupting and just making them louder, they ask why. This rider wants to open the lines of communication and understand exactly where the problem lies.

Are you unbalanced?

Did I not set you up properly?

Are you uncomfortable?

Being an actively listening rider is exhausting. But, in the end, each and every horse you sit on deserves that type of rider, the one who doesn’t interrupt and who wants to truly understand each horses’ needs. So, dump those 5 extra boyfriends, clear your mind and be ready to listen to your ponies!

About the Author
Lindsay Gilbert is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, KY. She specializes in repurposing OTTBs for careers in eventing, jumping and dressage. She also publishes a blog chronicling her road to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover.