Updated: May 26, 2020
For the past few years I have been riding english disciplines. Before that I rode western
mostly just for fun. I wanted to improve my riding and understanding of the sport, so I challenged myself with dressage and hunter/jumper lessons (what an eye opening change!).
What I learned through switching disciplines and being active in lesson programs is that there is always more to learn in the world of horsemanship. But what was most fascinating to me was how I discovered how much what you do away from the barn can affect how you work in the saddle.
Not too long ago I made a major career and lifestyle change. I used to work 45+ hour weeks in a veterinary hospital wearing every hat the business had to offer. Half of my time would be spent at a computer screen while the other half was spent assisting in exam rooms, overseeing the pet resort, maintaining the website and social media, payroll and time sheets, and just managing the business in general. I was even on call for emergencies and business related issues on my days off.
When I would spend time at the barn 1-2 times per week it was a sanctuary, and a way to turn off the thoughts of work to focus on the beautiful horses I was working with. However, I constantly would hear from both my dressage and hunter/jumper trainers that I needed to relax my body and that I looked very tense in the saddle.
This was frustrating to me because I didn't feel what they were seeing!
"Relax your shoulders!" "Loosen your neck!" "Your elbows are too stiff!" "Relax your core!"
Everything I was doing in the saddle felt "normal", not stiff or tense. I would think to myself "This is just the way my body is" and that I couldn't change it. It wasn't until I left that job that I realized my trainers were 100% correct!
The very next week after making my career changing decision I was getting complimented on my fluidity and form. I had no idea that my life outside of the barn was affecting my riding ability so much! In fact, I didn't even realize how stressed I was until that stress was gone. While my mind felt at ease, my body was clearly affected by my work load.
Not only was my body more "with" the horse, but my mind was too! I was suddenly making more of my distances to the jumps. When riding dressage I was able to more affectively communicate and execute certain movements. Everything was falling into place!
It just goes to show you that the way you are feeling, even if you don't realize it, can change the way you and your horse work together. If you're struggling in the saddle, think about what's going on outside of the barn. Maybe you can make a change that will improve your riding too!