Ever heard the saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should?” 

That applies to lots of things with horses, including choosing to ride. I’m not talking about giving your horse a day off because he walks into the barn lame or missing a shoe. That’s a no-brainer; we should always prioritize our horses’ health and wellbeing over work. I’m talking about when it’s a better training strategy to choose not to ride. It might not be as obvious, but that is also a choice that prioritizes your horses’ health and wellbeing.

In the previous weeks of this series, I’ve discussed getting into a good mental state before (and while) you ride, but I want to provide a big caveat here: there will be times, over the course of your riding career, when that might not be possible.

We are humans, and that means that sometimes we’ll be in a state of distraction, stress, anxiety, you name it—where we need to prioritize taking care of ourselves above riding. If you’re an amateur, meaning your livelihood does not depend on riding horses, this is especially true. You probably have a career, a family, and other responsibilities that put limitations on your time and mental bandwidth. Recognizing, accepting, and even embracing the moments when you need a minute that doesn’t include riding is part of being a better rider.

Chelsea Canedy is teaching a course on showing up mentally and emotionally for your horse in her newest Equestrian Masterclass.

Let me give you an example. 

Suzy has a sensitive mare and, through working with her trainer, Suzy and her mare have come a long way in their understanding of each other. Suzy has learned the thoughtful and present kind of ride that her mare needs, and is conscious of putting only the smallest amount of pressure on her mare to get the desired result in their training. She also recognizes that her mare needs about 15 minutes of groundwork before each ride in order for them to connect and really feel in sync before the ridden work. 

Suzy gets to the barn on a particular day, dressed and ready to ride. However, she’s just learned that her friend was in a distressing accident. She looks at the clock and realizes she only has 45 minutes to fit in a ride. 

This is a case for choosing NOT to ride. Suzy might need to prioritize using her energy to cope with the news of her friend’s accident, and she likely doesn’t have enough time, knowing her mare as she does, to have a low-stress training session. In this case, it’s actually a better training strategy to skip the ride, even though she intended to get a session in that day. It’s a success for Suzy to recognize that she is not in a useful emotional state to work with her horse that day, and to choose a different way of being with her horse instead.

Whatever the circumstances may look like for you, it’s important to acknowledge that these situations come up.

Whether you’re not in the right headspace to ride, or you don’t have the time that day to allow for a rush-free session, you can find other ways to solidify your bond with your horse; such as grooming, groundwork, a hand-walk in the woods, or a simple grazing session. These are not a waste of time. They are money in the proverbial bank of your relationship with your horse.  

There may also be a day when you are part way through a ride before you realize that you probably shouldn’t have gotten on.

If you find yourself in a battle of wills with your horse that just isn’t going anywhere, or your horse is getting more anxious instead of more relaxed during your session, it is NOT A FAILURE to get off your horse. You aren’t teaching your horse a bad habit, or letting him “get away” with something. You are simply recognizing what is in that moment, and responding appropriately to your and your horse’s needs. Change tactics. Do something simple and small that you know your horse can be successful at, and then reward his effort. End on a positive note, and then bank some quality time together.

Above all else, absolve yourself of any guilt around skipping or ending the ride. Any time you spend with your horse is part of your progress together. Keeping it positive is always more important than any preconceived idea of progress. We’re lucky that this sport can last a lifetime for many of us, so rest assured that there will be a better time and day to train. 

Want more? Chelsea’s new Equestrian Masterclass is all about showing up mentally and emotionally for your horse.