Most of the time that I’m riding horses it is in quiet.
I ride at a private facility, and I come and go based off my own personal schedule, dictated around my full-time job. This means some nights I’m at the barn until 9:30 p.m., or all day on a weekend, or early in the morning before work. And often, I ride alone. Especially this time of year, I’m usually riding alone in the dim light of a solitary outdoor arena light.
There are times Kelsy and Cheryl and Patti are there too, and they are there for me especially when I need help with a young horse or in prep for a show. But for the most part, I set my riding schedule, my routine, my agenda. I don’t have a trainer there for all my rides. I don’t have clients to impress. I don’t even have an arena mirror to see my own image. There’s no cell reception. No loudspeakers. No hustle and bustle of a competitive barn.
Mostly, it’s just me and the horse.
Sometimes when I ride alone, my horse and I will achieve a magical maneuver. That amazing sensation of horse and rider in perfect harmony. A perfect slow motion, hair-raising canter pirouette stride. Or a jump with a bascule curved like a rainbow. A halt so balanced not an ounce of arena sand was disturbed when all four hooves placed precisely into a square position.
Sometimes after those moments I can’t help but look around: Did anyone see that? But usually when I look up beyond the walls of the outdoor arena, there’s just the sky, the tall trees, the other horses in their paddocks, maybe a cow in the distance. Those moments are just between me and my horse.
It can be thrilling to go out in public and put on a great performance, but when I examine my best riding memories, most of the highlights are every day, hidden moments with only the horse as witness. Like walking my young horse on a long rein in the dark outdoor arena as snow gently falls and turns his black mane white. Clearing a 4′ roundbale on my pony just because it was in the way and we knew we could. Riding through a difficult exercise for the tenth or fiftieth or one-hundredth time and finally feeling it go right.
Riding alone a lot means my horse is the mirror and the judge of my riding is myself. It’s a big responsibility, and it can be challenging, and it can make progress slow.
But also it is peaceful, it fosters focus and critical thinking. And it helps me stay connected to the intrinsic motivation that fuels my riding.