When you ride horses, you’re guaranteed to experience highs and lows, which can take a toll physically, mentally and emotionally. The time and effort involved in caring for and riding horses, not to mention the expense, is considerable and, unfortunately, isn’t always as fulfilling or rewarding as we’d like.

If things aren’t going quite right or you feel like you’re in a rut, it may be time to re-evaluate your approach. Here are some ways to gain a brighter perspective and bring the fun back to riding.

1. Lower the Bar
Start by lowering your expectations. Maybe you’ve been working toward a goal with your horse that seems out of reach and you’re frustrated. It’s possible that in your quest for perfection, you’ve missed a step in your horse’s training. You may need to back up, look for the holes and make corrections. Perhaps you’ve been drilling the same movement or obstacle so often that one or both of you has zoned out. Remember, if you’re tense and frustrated, your horse will be tense and confused and, at a certain point, you’ll both become too anxious to learn.

2. Take a Break
Spending time with your horse out of the saddle is a good way to connect without pressure. Go visit him in the paddock. Observe him in his element. Breathe it in, relax. Take him out for a hand walk, let him graze. Scratch him in his favourite spot, give him a treat, tell him about your day. Doing nothing with your horse can be more valuable than you realize. It helps him learn to associate you with something more than work. It fosters a bond.

Spend time out of the saddle with your horse ‒ even teach him some new tricks! (Annabell Gsödl – stock.adobe.com)

3. Play a New Game
There are all kinds of behaviours and tricks you can teach your horse if you’re willing to put in the time. Using positive reinforcement (think clicker training) you can improve your horse’s ground manners, making him both easier to handle and super impressive to onlookers. Maybe he isn’t great at picking up his feet, refuses to stand at the mounting block or absolutely hates taking oral medications. Eliminate the frustration and boost his ability to learn by breaking each process down into tiny steps and rewarding him for participating. You can use this type of training to teach your horse to do cute things too like bow, smile or hug. It can also help take the fear out of scary things.

4. Put Your Skills to the Test
A really fun way to strengthen your bond and expose your horse to a whole host of potentially horse-eating monsters is to set up some obstacles. Get creative with things around the farm like rain barrels, tractor tires and tarps, borrow a kiddie pool and stuffed animals, create grids or patterns with trot poles and pylons, build things! If you’re not the DIY type, check out an equine obstacle park. There are some cool pay-to-play courses around. Go with some friends, make a day out of it. Remember to introduce your horse to the obstacles in-hand first; only mount up once he’s feeling comfortable.

5. Hit the Trail
Whenever possible, escape the confines of the arena or sand ring and go for a hack. Horses and humans alike can get ring sour and trail riding is an excellent way to liven up a stale routine. Ride with trusted companions on reliable horses. For safety’s sake, carry a cell phone on your person. Use a GPS app, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the area. Riding-specific apps will track your ride, including how far and how fast you’ve ridden. This data, along with the aerial images of your treks, make for a clever collection to show off and reminisce over. The biggest plus though, is being out in nature, enjoying a change of scenery with your equine bestie.

6. Go on an Adventure
It’s easy to get a taste for exploring on horseback. Before you know it, you’ll be searching out exciting new destinations for day trips. We are fortunate in Canada to have many options between our trail systems and public forests. For the most adventurous among us, there are also campgrounds and “bed and bale” rentals across the country where you can stay with your horse for extended periods of time. Be it a girls’ weekend, a cowboy retreat or a romantic getaway, the opportunities for fun, learning and growth are boundless.

7. Try Something New
Could it be that you’ve become bored by your chosen discipline? Or that it never was a good fit for you and/or your horse in the first place? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider what you really want out of your time in the saddle, or to simply try something new and see where it takes you. There’s no saying you have to be team dressage, team barrel racing, team jumping or team reining alone – take a cue from the eventers! The more you do with your horse, the more wellrounded and versatile you will both become.

8. Swap Mounts
Maybe it’s not your riding activity that’s got you down. Maybe it’s your partner. Once you’ve invested your time, energy and love into a horse, it can be hard to admit you simply don’t jive. If possible, try a different horse. Borrow a friend’s, take a lesson on a well-trained schoolie, find a good part-board arrangement. If you’ve hit a wall on your own horse or become stuck at a certain level, it can be freeing to push past your limits with another. You may find the key to unlocking your horse’s potential by learning the skills first on your own. Or you may decide it’s time to part ways and find him a new person to love and appreciate him for who he is.

9. Seek Help
Before you make the decision to split up, you may want to consider getting some help from a wise and experienced counsellor – aka trainer. Having a set of eyes on the ground watching for missteps and offering advice on how to make improvements is invaluable. Find someone who understands and supports your goals, is gifted in the equine arts and is a skilled communicator. In the right hands, you and your horse can transform.

10. Educate Yourself
Taking the time to discover how and why horses learn will save you from much upset and confusion and make riding and training a much more enjoyable experience for both of you. There are countless resources out there to help you become a better horseperson. Studying equine science and learning theory, developing patience and understanding and being grateful are all keys to a long and happy horse life.

Give your tack some (likely) much-needed love and attention. Get down deep and remove all that accumulated sweat, dirt and slobber. There’s something totally therapeutic about the process. Plus, it offers some incentive to go for a ride when your deep-cleaned tack looks so nice on your horse!