Timmie Pollock, Ph. D , C.C. – AASP
Equestrian Athlete Sport Psychologist
Your Horse Is Your Mirror Series
The Horse-Human Partnership – Part 1
Unlike most sports, riding involves developing a relationship with a living, breathing creature. As a result, a rider’s interpersonal problems may “play out” -usually to the detriment of the performance- with their horse. Both rider and horse frequently suffer as result. If the rider can identify and resolve their personal issues, their riding usually improves along with their interpersonal relationships. Let me give you an example of an interpersonal issue that frequently affects riders’ effectiveness. A good rider is appropriately assertive; if a rider lacks assertiveness in their other relationships, you can bet that it will show up in their riding as well.
A dressage instructor and I once gave a three-day clinic on improving both riding and sports-psychology skills. One of the participants was a woman named Sherry. Sherry’s horse was a bully and liked to take her for a ride, with the annoying habit of pulling to the left. The instructor suggested that Sherry carry her whip in her left hand. Sherry responded that she couldn’t because the horse would run through the whip and try to slam her left leg against the wall. With the instructor’s guidance, Sherry learned safe and effective methods of getting her horse to listen and respect her. By the clinic’s end, the horse was behaving quite well.
In the clinic wrap-up session, Sherry brought up a personal issue. Her husband, she said, was unsupportive of her riding and had ordered her to spend no more than six hours a week at the barn. If she exceeded his limit, he would give her the cold shoulder. One time , she said , he left the house for several hours, refusing to tell her where he was going or why, to “teach her a lesson.”
Tears in her eyes, Sherry became quiet at the end of her tale. Suddenly she began to laugh. She looked at the group and said, “I guess I need to learn to carry my whip in my left hand with my husband, too!”
Lack of assertiveness can lead to other riding-related problems as well. In Linda’s case, it was her trainer, not her horse, who took advantage of her submissive nature. Linda was a 40 year old beginner rider who had a nice horse in training with a reputable professional. The problem was that the trainer would not let Linda ride her own horse.
I wondered whether the instructor had safety concerns regarding Linda’s ability to handle the animal. However, Linda claimed to feel completely at ease with the horse and said that he’d been sold to her as “bombproof.”
To complicate matters further, the instructor didn’t even want to teach Linda, saying that “I only work with talented riders.”
Ouch! And Linda isn’t alone in her situation. There are other horse owners and riders who not only put up with this kind of abuse; they also pay for the privilege. Linda’s story has a happy ending. After we worked on improving her assertiveness and her self-esteem, she fired her trainer. She now rides with a good trainer who, like herself, started riding later in life. Linda is now having fun and riding her own horse. The last time I heard from Linda, she was preparing for her first show.
Dr. Pollock is a Clinical and Sport Psychologist based in La Jolla, California. She has worked exclusively with equestrian athletes from all disciplines of riding for over 20 years. In her practice she uses a variety of techniques including biofeedback, hypnosis, EMDR and TFT in addition to the basics of mental skills training.
Dr. Pollock is a lifelong horse owner, breeder, and rider and has competed for over twenty-five years, primarily in dressage. She has also competed in Hunter/Jumper and Eventing divisions as well. She can be found on her new equestrian athlete Sport Psychology at EQUExcellence.com