Neu Perspectives

Reward the Try

Horsemen reward the try

If we understand the value of rewarding a horse for the slightest try, why is it so hard for us to take pressure off ourselves?

Can anyone else attest to the saying “the struggle is real?” 

Lately it seems to be truer than ever. Summer is heating up, our whole world seems a little upside down and every time I swing into my saddle I’m trying to become a better version of myself.

Yes, I’m happy to be here. No, I’m not thankful all day, every day. But I’m thankful every day I get to do what I love, whether it’s riding my favorite mare, doctoring an abscess or digging up by hand a septic’s lateral line that’s gone south (true story).

Okay, the “doing what I love” part doesn’t necessarily encompass all of the above. It true, however, that I have opportunities to learn and grow every day in areas that are important to me. 

I find we walk a fine line between confidence and humility. Optimism and realism go hand in hand in my life, despite the skepticism and negative thoughts that sometimes creep into my mind, especially when it comes to working with animals and children—animals in childlike stages and children who act like animals. 

Horsemen reward the try
Photo by Ross Hecox

As with everyone who wants to be at the top of their game, a lot of the horsemen and -women I know—both professional and novice—have a hard time cutting themselves a break. It’s a relentless and difficult path they’ve chosen, and although it’s a labor of love, it’s also one of humility, hard work, humbling moments and, sometimes, a bit of heartbreak. Each horse is difficult in its own regard. They all have talents, strengths and weaknesses, and it’s our job as their people to responsibly help the best we can to blossom and shine as individuals. 

Although staying humble and working hard is imperative for a horseman’s perspective, I think there’s also a lot of value in the power of confidence. Sure, we all have moments of hesitation and bang our heads against a wall. But if we really don’t believe we’re capable of doing something, why do we bother trying?

I believe that in order to properly lead our horses, we must be confident in ourselves. That’s not to say we don’t have more to learn, and we must acknowledge that someone else might do it quicker and simpler than us. But we can’t lack confidence in ourselves. We also can’t deny moments of joy and growth when they happen, however fleeting they might be on a tough colt. It’s our job to build try in a hesitant horse, but we also must build self-esteem in ourselves. 

If a horse has even the slightest, itty-bitty inkling of thought about possibly moving in the direction that I’m trying to encourage him to go, whether it’s moving left, right, slowing down or jumping through a fiery hoop, I need to reward the try. This is how I’ve been taught to reinforce certain behaviors in my colts.

So, why is it so hard to do that for us as horsemen? We’re quick to keep pushing ourselves. We re-ride our horses in our heads, whether or not we are geared toward competition, thinking about how we can make something better, change our methods or improve a tried-and-true method. We remember the low spots and strive for timing, feel and improvement. But when something goes right or we’re rewarded for our efforts, we cast doubt on ourselves. We mentally shake it off and often feel like we could’ve done better. We forget to take the pressure off ourselves, even for a split second, when we find the right answer. 

I still think it’s imperative to stay humble. Keep digging in, working hard, pursuing self-improvement and continuing to learn, love and grow with our horses. But we can’t shy away from being impressed with our growth and drive once in a while.

Recognize and reward the try in your horse and yourself, and embrace the process. We learn something from each and every experience we encounter, so don’t discount the growth. Because hey, we’re just out here doing our best at doing what we love. 

Side note: If you have the number of someone reputable with a backhoe and leach-line knowledge, please forward it to me.

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