Sometimes the horsemanship journey requires the horseman to go a little “meta.” Riding with purpose is one of the best ways to anchor ourselves mentally and emotionally. This purpose can solidify the foundation of our horsemanship by reminding us of the basic reasons why we do what we do. All of us started down this pathway, and choose to stay on it every day, for a reason. An awareness of that reason provides focus and purpose, and guides us forward on our horsemanship journey. Revisiting basic purpose helps overcome training plateaus, find courage, and recognize progress made.
Maybe it has been a while since you considered your purpose for horsemanship. Maybe it is something that you have never drilled down to defining at all. Every rider is unique and has their own background and story, but here are some very general categories to get you thinking.
Riding with Purpose: Partnership
One purpose you might have is the partnership aspect of riding. There is little more rewarding than working in harmonious tandem with a creature that outsizes you tenfold and speaks no human language. Perhaps that is the nut of the equestrian bug itself.
When the partnership element forms the root of your purpose, you find yourself focusing on that element of your horsemanship. You likely derive a lot of satisfaction from improving your communication. Additionally, you probably have a “trainer streak” that draws you to teaching horses new movements or polishing their understanding and skill.
Partnership is something that all horsemen should strive for, and necessarily forms at least a part of all riders’ purpose. If it didn’t, why go into the horse industry? Are you a masochist?? I kid…
Riding with Purpose: Building Better Riders… and Horses
Some of us find our purpose in the athleticism of equestrian pursuits. We find fulfillment in honing our own physical skills and abilities, and in building better athletes of our equine partners. We revel in our ability to ride a jump with enough strength and balance to give a full following release of the reins. Or our control and subtlety of seat to influence our horse with whispered aids. We take the No Stirrups November challenge head-on. For the riders who find purpose in the athleticism of the sport, horsemanship provides a venue for improving physical fitness.
Related to this is the purpose of physically improving and conditioning the horse itself. There is great pride to be had in the transformation of a young or green animal into a strong, fit athlete. The process can be intensive, encompassing a mastery of equine biomechanics, cardiovascular fitness, nutrition, and strength training. Some horsemen embark on the process of breeding stock. Responsible breeders to remarkable time and expense to select the perfect crosses and bloodlines to produce superior offspring.
Riding with Purpose: Challenge
This purpose can also overlap with the athletics, to a degree, but not necessarily. Horsemanship is by nature a deeply challenging endeavor. Even “just a trail rider” often pursues challenge in finding new trails to explore and new obstacles to traverse.
The obvious challenges come with competitive riding. No matter what your skill level, budget, tack, or breed, there are innumerable avenues to get into showing and competition. At these events we can test our skills against discipline, breed, and association standards, against our own previous results, and against other riders. Many horse enthusiasts find formal competition highly rewarding.
Organized riding clubs often provide opportunities for friendly competition. Schooling shows, organized and judged trail rides, and mileage challenges are often more accessible to the average rider, and can be just as rewarding to participate in. For younger riders, 4-H and Pony Club offer a framework to learn and progress through “levels” of horsemanship. The materials used by these organizations are readily available, and can be an excellent personal challenge for a non-member rider looking to test their skill or create a goal.
Riding with Purpose: FUN
This purpose is something that should come along with any of the others. If being around these magnificent creatures wasn’t fun, why would we bother with the time, expense, and occasional pain (physical and emotional)? At the end of the day, it is all about the fun and joy that your pursuit of horsemanship brings to you. Something about the pursuit of horsemanship sparks joy in you.
When to Revisit Your Purpose
There are times in every rider’s career when revisiting or rediscovering their purpose can be beneficial.
Fighting the Fear Monster
Every rider has struggled with fear. That is an axiomatic truth. And no wonder, given what it is that we do. Fear can be a good and healthy thing, keeping us safe from the consequences of doing something truly stupid. Other times, fear is less rational, and prevents us from enjoying comparatively safe activities.
When dealing with fear of the enjoyment-robbing variety, revisiting our purpose is a powerful tool. By focusing on that purpose, and our reasons for riding, we can muffle the inner lizard-brain voice that stops us. Our purpose has motivating power to it that often outweighs our fears and worries. This allows us to recapture more positive emotions in the saddle.
Stuck on a Plateau
The nature of horsemanship, as a progressive discipline, means that all riders will at some point hit a plateau in their riding. We might feel like we aren’t improving, at least not as tangibly, as we used to in the beginning. Maybe a movement or a skill is eluding us. Maybe we feel stuck in a rut. Revisiting or redefining our purpose can help here, too.
The reason that purpose gets us off of training plateaus is it takes us back to something more basic, and lets us see the grand scheme again. Meditating (as formally as you like) on that larger purpose relaxes us, and allows us to see what the next step is, or a new track to take. Sometimes our purpose helps us pivot or tweak what we’re already doing. Sometimes allowing our purpose to get us off a plateau takes us into a whole new discipline or focus. There is always something more to learn in horsemanship, and revisiting our purpose in general terms does wonders for helping us see where we can go from here.
Finding Motivation and Defining Goals
Another useful feature of understanding our purpose is the way that our purpose influences and helps define our goals. Defining our purpose is a powerful motivator. Because they have a foundation, our goals tend to materialize and become clearer when we have a clear purpose behind them. Without a basic purpose, our goals tend to be fuzzy and indistinct, and therefore much harder to attain. When our purpose is clearly understood and defined, goals have a way of making themselves.
Despite the slightly woo-woo and meta feel of focusing on root purpose, the exercise of defining purpose can profoundly help our riding and horsemanship. While our purposes are as individual as we are as riders, knowing what they are is crucial to focusing and moving forward on our horsemanship journey. Without purpose, our progress stalls and stagnates, and we can lose sight of what brings us to the barn every day. Horsemanship without purpose becomes a chore… and none of us needs more chores. Horsemanship is an art, and all art, amateur or professional, is built on purpose.
How do you ride with purpose? What is your purpose in riding and horsemanship? Has understanding your purpose helped your riding?