Many of us began our riding careers as horse-crazy kids. At that young age things were pretty simple, we loved horses and wanted to spend time with them and ride them, because it was fun. It is so easy as a child to live in the moment, to be unfazed by problems, and to play. But as we get older, it suddenly dawns on us that we aren’t actually invincible. We begin to experience the pressure of expectations, schedules or competitions, and financial, physical, or other limitations. Things can begin to feel very serious, so it’s important to remember why we fell in love with riding in the first place– because it was fun!
Kids do some crazy things on horseback without giving it a second thought. Although we are wiser now and may not be quite as eager to tear around bareback anymore, can we still recall how great it felt to just let loose and have fun, with no agenda? Of course we like to have goals and we can always be learning and working to improve, but any horse will feel happier and more open to learning if training doesn’t feel too much like work.
With young or green horses especially, we never want things to feel too serious or difficult. Keeping it interesting, short and sweet is always the way to go, and there are many ways to freshen up a routine to make it fun. There is so much to do without even getting on the horse’s back–from playing in hand (practicing leading, yielding to pressure, testing whether your horse is tuned in to you) to obstacles and introducing new objects (horses are curious and love to check things out) to ‘follow the leader,’ as a way to casually introduce a horse to trails, water, logs, etc. It’s about spending time with a horse, working through things together, and developing a partnership.
Even with the well-trained, experienced horse who loves their job, it is still important not to forget the element of play. Who says we can’t still hop on bareback, or try something totally new? Although most of us at Horses With Hope have English riding backgrounds, we had a blast learning the basics of ‘moving cows’ at a local farm, and the horses seemed to relish the change of pace. There are so many ways to keep things fun and interesting for everybody, such as leisurely trailrides, galloping on the beach, popping over jumps, activities with other riders such as drill teams, or experimenting with a completely new discipline.
There are endless ways to have fun with our horses, and they will always be happy when work feels more like play. Embrace your inner carefree horse-crazy kid, and just enjoy the ride!