There is a particular image many of us have in our heads when we think of retired racehorses or OTTBs. It usually involves a sleek, beautiful athlete, prancing around. The sun glistening off its deep, beautiful coat. The same coat drenched with sweat…
Unfortunately when we think ‘thoroughbred’, it is easy to also think ‘a little crazy’ at the same time. There is a connection that society has made, and continues to make, between hot, anxious and jittery horses and retired racehorses.
And while, yes of course, you are going to meet the odd one or three that proves society at large correct. The rest, for the most part are, far from being crazy or ‘mad’ are not like that at all.
They are simply misunderstood. Often by riders who have yet to develop the required skills to effectively manage their own actions and emotions.
Relaxation is the Riders Responsibility
Oh, that statement is going to ruffle a few feathers; however bear with me while I explain why I think this is true. Especially when it comes to the riders of OTTBs and retired racehorses.
Thoroughbreds are , by nature, sensitive and intelligent. A great mix when coupled with a rider who is mindful and self aware.
And this is where the issues often arise, the mindfulness and self awareness that most novice riders are still trying to develop. A swinging leg. An inconsistent contact. Or, worse still, depending on the contact for balance every now and then. Aids that struggle to work independently of each other, resulting in literally knee jerk actions.
Be Mindful About Your Mindset
This is not even mentioning the mindset that many riders of OTTBs approach their riding and their horse with. Your thoughts produce ‘things’. This is true whether you accept it or not. Why it is true is a whole other debate, but trust me.
After working with thousands of riders in arenas, I can assure you that what you think about continuously will, in some form or another, play out!
Expecting your horse to give you their unique performance of the Highland Fling, will result in your body reacting a certain way. You will be tense and rigid. It will become increasingly more difficult to focus on what you really want to do with your ride, your intention.
You will rather find yourself looking for proof that your horse is, just as you suspected, a crazy horse. You will find ways to prove yourself right.
The Mechanics of Relaxation
If you can focus yourself, physically, emotionally and mentally enough to realise that you are possibly producing a lot of the behaviour you are experiencing, I’ve got good news for you.
Once you see how much you are influencing your horse, you can begin to focus that influence towards what you actually want to experience in your ride.
Relaxation in riding is one of the most misunderstood concepts. I think this is due to the word, relax, itself. Normally we think of it as being ‘down time’. On a beach. Or for me personally by a fire, a warm blanket across my shoulders and a glass of wine in hand. But, this is not what relaxation is in riding. It cant be…
If relaxation is the foundation for everything, which it is, then how could this ‘downtime’ approach be used when, let’s say, jumping?
So What is True Relaxation in Riding?
You should rather think of relaxation as being ‘tension management’. That is what you should be focusing on when trying to master ‘relaxation’.
Excessive tension is what leads to the ‘jig jog’. Just as insufficient tension leads to a lack of engagement.
Learning how to manage both you and your horses tension is key to helping your horse cultivate ‘relaxation’ throughout everything he does. This starts with having a clear picture in your mind of what you actually want to achieve.
If you can remain focused on the outcome you desire, you will naturally move your body, and therefore through your positive influence your horse, in that direction.
Applying this when Faced with the ‘Jig Jog’
You’re probably thinking; ‘All well and good Lorna, however when my horse is in full ‘highland fling mode’, all focus goes straight to ‘survival mode’ for me!’ And this is where that mindfulness I spoke about earlier comes in.
Mindfulness is being aware of the moment. However it can also be about how mindful you are when approaching any situation. Forward planning, in this situation, is another name for it!
What triggers your horse? How can you nullify or begin desensitising your horse to those triggers? Is there another calm, ‘relaxed’ horse you can ride with? Is there a rider who can accompany you that can help you to remain focused when ‘the fling’ begins?
The Mindset of Leadership
I have found that if you can begin seeing yourself as the leader in your relationship with your horse, things will begin to change. It will force you to begin paying greater attention to detail when planning for your interactions together.
It will also remind you to model the qualities you are looking for in your horse. This is especially important when your horse is ‘not’ displaying those particular qualities in a particular situation!
So, even if you do feel a little less than competent at times, especially when faced with an energetic OTTB, put your leader hat on. The energy you display when showing up as a leader, is very different to the one that projects when showing up as ‘clueless rider’.
Relaxation is Achievable for You & Your Horse
You don’t have to have it all figured out all of the time. But having a clear ‘this is how I want things to be’ picture in your head, will allow you and your horse to begin working on smoothing out that tension in your rides.
I will be hosting free live trainings on all of the above and more over the coming weeks and months inside of my free private group. If you are interested in learning more, please join us inside of the group HERE.
Some additional links to content & resources on this topic:-
- Join the free Virtual Lounge for Riders on Facebook
- Relaxation; Building It Before You Get Into the Saddle – Daily Strides Podcast episode
- Relaxation when Riding a Hot Horse – Daily Strides Podcast episode
- Basic Exercises for Your OTTB (Daily Strides Podcast episode)
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- Daily Strides Podcast on Google Play
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio
- Join Daily Strides Premium