Hope you’ve found the first 3 posts in this series helpful! Today’s step is:

Be Open

To set the stage, let’s start with what “openness” is in this context.

In an article on PsychologyToday.com,  Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D., states that to” be open” means the following:

“For starters, I think it means that we refrain from shutting down possibilities before they’ve had a chance to breathe… ‘No’ feels like a safe choice. There’s nothing to risk and I stay in my comfort zone.” Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D.

Sound familiar? Some examples in your Horsey Life might be:

  • You’ve always ridden hunt seat, but your friend suggests you try balanced seat or dressage to help improve your balance.
  • You typically buy one brand of fly spray or shampoo, but someone tells you about a brand you’ve never tried.
  • You’ve always ridden the same horse at your lesson barn and your instructor wants you to ride a different one
  • You always ride in a ring and a friend invites you on a trail ride

All of these scenarios offer some risk (as does getting out of bed in the morning)’ however, staying safe has its own risks – ie burnout or boredom – for you and your horse.

I’m definitely not suggesting that you should decide to go out cantering in a field if you’re not yet established enough in the canter for it to be safe, but there’s a difference between being safe and being stuck. Being safe is realizing that any activity with horses carries some inherent risk and preparing accordingly –  i.e.wearing a helmet, not riding alone, letting someone know where you’re going when you go out on a trail ride, (and when you expect to be back). Staying stuck is letting the degree of risk escalate to the point where nothing new feels safe.

As humans, we’re evolutionarily programmed to avoid risk; running when a saber-toothed tiger approached was a matter of life and death. Fortunately, most experiences with horses don’t involve that level of risk. Taking small steps outside our comfort zones is how we grow, as a rider, and as a person.

The benefits of being open to new experiences don’t just affect you, they’re also beneficial to your horse. As a dressage rider/trainer/instructor, I understand the importance of geometry and precision. I know how to plot a perfect 20-meter circle, I know how to ride into corners and make transactions at the letter rather than somewhere in the vicinity of the letter. I also know drilling on the same thing day after day after day can be about as stimulating as watching grass grow. If you’ve ever watched (or scribed for) 32 Training Level rides, you know the depths of hell that unprepared riders can drag you into (a rant for a different post ;-).

If you’re bored stiff watching the rides, imagine how bored the horses are having to drill on them day in and day out. Your horse needs some variety in his work for both physical and mental health. Trail riding can offer fresh perspectives. Trying out a different discipline (i.e. hunt seat, saddle seat, stock seat), can be fun and help you learn how your position affects the horse.

Don’t let “no” become your default setting. View each new opportunity as a bridge to a broader experience. You don’t grow as a rider (or a human) by being afraid to cross the bridge into a new experience. It’s time to be open.