(“Everything went black around him.”)
As the story goes, late in the afternoon of November 9, 1965, a young boy in the Bronx was goofing off throwing rocks. Just as he bounced one off an electrical transformer on a power pole— at 5:27 to be exact—everything went black around him— his street, his neighborhood, the whole city, the entire Northeast. Purely by coincidence at the same moment that his stone clanked off that box, a relay switch failed at a power generating station in Queenstown, Ontario, near Niagara Falls, plunging more than 30 million people into a long night of darkness. Despite endless reassurances from his family and his teachers, he could never be convinced that it was not all his fault.
This is called concurrence without causation. It happens in the minds of many inexperienced riders too. “Is this my fault?” “Am I making him do that?” I hear it a lot. Occasionally the answer is “yes.” Or the cause of the horse’s behavior is a sin of omission— something you DIDN’T do. But lots of times it is neither. The horse came off the track. They tried him as a jumper and he failed. They thought he might be a polo pony, but he was afraid of the other horses. So some kid ran barrels with him for a while, and after he was good and fried, he was rescued to become a dressage horse. Now the horse is tight and anxious. He won’t take the contact properly and sometimes he tosses his head. As a rider you are slightly collapsed in your left hip and you tip a bit forward in your upper body. You are very concerned that you are causing your horse’s problems.
Here’s another one. Once again a horse with baggage, and this time your job keeps you from riding him every day. You last worked with him on the weekend, and now it’s Thursday. You put him on the lunge line, and his first few canter departs are explosive. What are you doing wrong? Nothing more than expecting that somehow he wouldn’t be as he is.
There are so many examples, one as simple as “When I bring my horse out he doesn’t bend very well to the left.” “Does it get better?” I ask. “Yes, after he warms up for five or 10 minutes.” To which my answer is, “And do you suppose that is why we have warm-ups and don’t just take them out of the stall and into the show ring cold?”
As I said in the beginning, the rider may be the cause of the behavior whether from action or inaction. One reason you have an instructor is for guidance on these issues. But some riders obsess, obsess, obsess about things beyond their control, and it’s also your instructor’s job to nip those ideas and keep your head screwed on straight. Over cluttering your mind with true but irrelevant information does not improve your riding.
Of course, it’s about perspective. It’s about knowing “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” It’s about boldly voicing a “Ce ne fait rien” because you know when it really doesn’t. And especially it’s about patience. In chemistry class you may have learned that water is the “universal solvent.” With horses often it is time.