I think it’s safe to say that everybody, rider or not, gets frustrated at one time or another. Everyone deals with this in different ways, but we as riders have to think about this differently. We are responsible with the task of keeping ourselves in check for the sake of our mounts because in our sport, it’s not just us that it affects. Horses are sensitive animals and often know when we’re not feeling our best.
As a trainer, one of your many responsibilities is to help your riders through times of frustration. We can probably all say that not every ride we’ve ever had has gone perfectly, so it’s easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but some people just get frustrated more quickly than other people do and let it slow their progress.
Riders that tend to be easily frustrated on a horse generally come from one of two categories: those who are frustrated because they can’t get their horse to do what they ask and those who just can’t get a concept to connect. Again, most riders have probably been through both of these scenarios multiple times so it’s easy to sympathize and to relate. Trainers are there to guide you through these moments and make them good learning experiences for both you and your horse.
I’ve learned that when working with someone who’s frustrated because they can’t get their horse to do what they ask, it’s best not to repeat the same thing over and over again. That would drive anybody insane, but some people feel that it’s best to do something until you’ve done it right and then move on. Not everybody learns well that way—especially not people who get frustrated easily. Try something similar, but modified, so that they can get a feel for what they’re supposed to be asking for, then go back to the original exercise and apply what worked in the modified version. Preemptively modifying exercises so that they’re close to the original but focus on something more specific about it is a great way to ease somebody into an exercise slowly, so that they’re more confident doing it in the first place.
When working with somebody who can’t get a concept to connect it can be more challenging because you have to put it into terms that each individual person can understand. I like to break things down into steps so that there are guidelines to follow for the rider, and once they are confident in the application of the concept you can work on fluidity. There are times when I didn’t understand a concept but it would connect after an instructor would get on and say out loud exactly what they were doing or exactly what was happening with the horse that I wasn’t understanding. This is something that I’ve noticed has helped people that get frequently frustrated with a concept. Even better if they can see you from above (it gives them more of a complete view), like in an observation room.
Sometimes solving one problem will solve the other problem. If they’re not getting what they want out of the horse, working on a separate concept with them can help them better understand how to use their aids or boost their confidence in working with that horse. If they can’t get a concept to really click with them, it can help to go back and do things with the horse that the rider is already familiar doing to reinforce their aids and to reassure them that they are able. The important thing is that the rider doesn’t take their frustration out on the horse; they need to learn other ways to cope with the situation and you as the trainer are there to help.
Although we want to push ourselves to be better as riders and as trainers, don’t forget that riding horses should be fun. Obviously in any sport that is taken seriously by its participants there are going to be moments of frustration, trying us in many ways, that we have to get through to be as good as we want to be. Regardless of your discipline, don’t let your riders lose sight of why we work this hard and why we love this sport. It’s all about the horses.