Rider Insider: Finding Motivation

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Girl and Horse
Some riders are single-minded in their pursuit of equestrian excellence. They wake up every morning, ready to ride until dusk. It doesn’t matter if it’s blazing heat or driving sleet, or if their horses are having an exceptionally bad day. Even if they have a million things to get done away from the barn and are going on nothing but two hours of sleep and a big mug of coffee, they still seem enthusiastic to get in the saddle.

Most riders, however, are mere mortals, and sometimes getting out to the barn just isn’t the joy it should be. Winter weather and decreased daylight can put a damper on your enthusiasm at this time of year. A lack of light or good footing might confine you to tedious arena work, and you find it hard to get excited about being in the same old rectangle of sand when you’d rather be out on the trail.

Another common cause of rider ennui is the dreaded training plateau. While you’re working hard to perfect a skill or overcome a training challenge with your horse, every ride has the potential for an exciting breakthrough. But once you’ve achieved your immediate goals, things can get a little boring for a while. Riding can feel more like simply clocking hours in the saddle than improving your abilities as a rider or advancing your partnership with your horse.

Other times, a lack of motivation seems to come out of nowhere. You may be questioning how much of a real equestrian you really are if you aren’t constantly wanting to ride. But in any activity, enthusiasm ebbs and flows, and accepting the tough times as a normal part of life is the first step in getting through them and returning to the devoted rider you truly are.

Have you dealt with a lack of motivation? How did you get through it? Did you try a new equestrian sport, find a new riding buddy, or simply take a break and return to the saddle refreshed? Click “Submit a Comment” below and share your story. Some of the responses may be selected for a future issue of Horse Illustrated.

One selected response may be selected by the editors to win a monthly prize! If you would like to be eligible for the prize, please include your email address in the comment form (email addresses are not publicly displayed.)

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56 COMMENTS

  1. A while back, for quite a few years, my obsessiveness of horses sorta ebbed away a little. I have always loved horses as long as I could remember, but living in a big family of 9 it was kind-of hard to take lessons at all, seeing as when one kid did something ALL the other wanted to do it too. I am thankful to this day that my parent raised me with a great work ethic: If you really, really want something, your going to work to make it possible to happen. So unto this day now, my sister and I are happily taking lessons every Saturday…..and working for each lesson!! So not only do I get lessons, but I have the happy knowledge than I have worked hard to get them. And get to spend time with the horses when I am working in or around the barn, too! It’s a win-win situation: They get the barn clean and I get to ride horses!!!

  2. This summer, between showing every weekend and not getting enough quality time with my horse, my drive began to decrease. I almost had to force myself to ride at one time. However, when colder weather came I was able to spend more time with my horses and revive my passion and drive.

  3. My era of lack of motivation to ride was when My young mare was in training. She is a very stubborn horse and I was getting annoyed because she wasn’t understanding and we were constantly on ends. But, i looked at other people’s well trained horses and said ‘I was my horse to look like that one day.’

  4. I live in Minnesota so the weather here isn’t always… cooperative with my horse schedules. In the summer we often find it grossly hot and humid and in the winter its usually freezing cold with icy wind. Plus a lot of the time my horse doesn’t want to cooperate with me in these conditions. So the thing that keeps me motivated is once I complete the task at hand and have some fun on horseback I have the joy of getting it right! (Plus the air conditioning or heated house awaiting me will sometimes get things moving in the right direction!)

  5. After years of competitive riding on the “A” show circuit, my adult equestrian career has consisted mostly of trail rides and mind-numbing arena work. Time, money, and family commitments kept me from riding competitively. With no avenue to showcase the work that I had put into my new horses, I began to lose focus and motivation. That is when I discovered the local show circuit. We may only compete a handful of times a year, but those shows give me something nearby, affordable, and rewarding to work toward with “my boys.”

  6. I’ve spent time just doing little things with my horse, such as teaching tricks. It has really stregthened my bond with my horse.

  7. After I fell several times while riding and broke several bones in a hand my pride and confidence were shattered, as well as my motivation. I felt like letting horses go, but thanks to my mare I kept trying. She was merely greenbroke, but I loved her and knew that someone would have to train her or she would be passed off as “unrideable” from place to place and/or finally put down. I couldn’t let that happen. I read training books, watched videos of clinicians, read training articles, got help from a trainer—did everything I possibly could to learn more. And it worked! We learned all sorts of groundwork; hindquarter disengaging, forequarter yielding, backing, lungeing, etc until she respected me and I was confident enough to start riding again. Sometimes we’ll hit “plateaus”, but it’s comforting to remember that everyone hits a wall in their training. You can push ahead or take a break, whichever works for you, just don’t give up. I contribute my success to my faith and my wonderful mare. Please learn from our story.

  8. After being bucked off of a horse the first time, shattering my confidence at the age of 13, I vowed to never ride again. That only lasted about a month and since re-discovering the fun I have with horses, every free minute is spent with my equine friends. The best part is that I have met a new riding buddy, and her enthusiasm combined with mine helps us both fight Michigan winters and get out to the barn!

  9. I’m what you would call a “die-hard” when it comes to riding. Usually there isn’t much that gets my breeches in a bunch. The one thing that started getting me down a while ago, though, was the height of the jumps we were working on in lessons. They were the same height for months, and months and I was getting antsy. But then one day my trainer kept knocking the jumps higher and higher and I found myself excited and nervous again. It was just what I needed to remind myself how exhilarating this sport is!

  10. My horse’s saddle was fitting incorrectly, so he was behaving badly under saddle and since I couldn’t ride until I got a new saddle, I felt as if I couldn’t spend time with my horse. I was wrong though, and started grooming for hours, and doing simple groundwork such as longing or practicing voice commands. I realized that riding isn’t all about being in the saddle, it’s about being with your horse.

  11. Extremely sorry for the name below, didn’t know antebellum was racist thought it was a flower, used it from my fave band Lady Antebellum. So sorry for that!!! Don’t know why I didn’t use my real name, thought that sounded better. Sorry!

  12. When I was about seven years old I got kicked in the back by a stubborn horse. Before that time I never really thought much about horses; they were just another animal. But after that accident, I was rather afraid of horses. Two years later I decided to try riding that same horse. She was green and very unruly. But with a firm will I conquered my broken confidence with horses and ended up loving them more than ever. Only a horse can teach you this lesson.

  13. When i got my two year old greenie as a teenager i was super excited to go to the barn and ride him everyday, because everyday it was something new. But the day after i brought him home he bucked me off, and i told myself i wasn’t afraid, but then it got too cold to ride for a week and when i could ride again i was afraid of what he’d do. Finally i had a friend come walk him around with me riding, and i regained my confidence with him.

  14. When i was little and i got my first horse i was afraid to ride and i would have been too little to do it without a parent, so me and my friend would go see our horses everyday and lead them around and brush them, pretending we were doing things you would have done riding. Then when i was able to ride i spent less time playing and more time practicing. When i got a new green horse i had to spend less time riding and more time on ground work. It was so boring switching like that that i almost didn’t want to go to the trouble of walking around, but i did and all the ground work has definatly paid off!

  15. Once when I was little about 6 or 7 we had a miniature mare we had just got her and I was the one to lead her to our barn. We was walking toward the barn when she reared and knocked me down she came down on my shoulders and it more scared me than hurt me. It scared me to be around her because I thought it would happen again , but after a while I forgot about and still to this day I try and not let nothing discourage me from being around horses. I think everyone one time in their life gets a little discouraged , but their love of horses always bring them back to doing what they love.

  16. I try to get out to see my horse no matter what the weather is like. I consider myself very devoted. Though sometimes it does get boring. But I try my hardest to think the other way around. Sometimes it’s hard for me to find the time to get to my horse because of house chores, or work. But no matter what, I want to be with my Arabian, Beau.

  17. Sometimes I just plain don’t feel any enthusiasm to ride, or even be work with the horses. Usually its after a bad training session the day before. Or, if I’m reading lots of stories and seeing lots of pictures of pros riding or training, then I get really discouraged that I’m not at that level, which is really ridiculous, because I’m lots younger. Or else I start comparing my pony Sweet Pea with other horses. Like “why can’t you just walk a straight line”, or “why must you rush the jump? Why can’t you just gracefully leap over them”, or “can’t you act like so-and-so’s horse and canter slowly?”
    I need to remind myself that even though I might just have a little backyard pony, and no huge arena or 10 jumps, I can still improve my horse, and my riding. I strive to be the best rider that I can be, and train my horse to the best of my ability. Those thoughts keep me going when I get discouraged.

  18. Like most riders, I have highs and lows in my equestrian life. At times I get bored with the same tedious arena training, or begin to think that I’ll never be able to reach the level of riding that I see in magazines and at competitions. Often when I get in these slumps, going to the barn seems like a chore because it reminds me that my dreams and goals are still a long way off. But what sustains me during difficult training periods, injuries, or my own lack of confidence is the memory that I hold close of galloping with my horse, those few seconds of absolute bliss in which I have no concept of worrying about stopping, or being in the right form, or if my position is up to snuff. For a few glorious seconds I can be one with my horse how he was naturally meant to be, and to me that is of more worth than any trainig goal I can acheive. I live for those few seconds. They’re what keep me going.

  19. Watching Lord of the Rings, and seeing Gandalf riding Shadowfax at a full gallop, motivates me to get better at riding every time.

  20. After I have a bad lesson,it seems like the end of the world. I ask myself why I bother with riding if I’m never going to get better. Sometimes it’s hard to get back in the saddle after a bad lesson. But then I tell myself if I give up, I will never get better. I tell myself that I love horses and the thrill of riding. That’s what matters, not how high you jump or how many blue ribbons you have.

  21. I really struggled this past summer after having a scary experience with my new horse that left me shaken. Suddenly I was unable to do a lot of things that I used to, after weeks and weeks it seemed like nothing was getting better. I was so frustrated and upset because I thought maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to be a part of this sport. My trainer kept pushing me through it though and had me work back up from the basics. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but recently something just clicked. Together we are now making more progress than ever before and the feeling is just so amazing! I know that I’m likely to get stuck in a rut again, but now I know that we will be able to overcome it together… eventually.

  22. I had to start showing a new horse last season after finally “learning how to ride” my previous mount. I was extremely reluctant to switch horses at first. After one step forward and two steps back for a couple months, I started seeing real improvement. This is when I began to enjoy riding again. Now I am a much better rider than I was a year ago, I am so thankful I didn’t give up!

  23. When I find I don’t have the motovation, either because of a fall or just don’t feel like riding, I get back to ground work and grooming. After spending time together with my horse on the ground for a while, we get closer together and I start getting excited again to ride. Works every time 🙂

  24. When I go through periods when I don’t feel much like riding, I remind myself that horses aren’t just for riding and strenuous exercise. My boy’s favorite thing to do is to just stand and doze, breathing in the scents of his best friend while we just enjoy one another’s company. It helps me to relax and remember that owning a horse isn’t all about the blue ribbons. It’s about relationships.

  25. If I don’t feel motivated to ride, I just spend time hanging out with the horses, groom them and do ground work. When we really start reconnecting during those times, it usually warms me up and gets me back in the mood to ride. The ground work and quality time improves our connection when I’m in the saddle, too!

  26. I get motivated by just remembering that my horse is my friend if I don’t ride today I will spend time just grooming him and that normally gets me back in the saddle if not then I grab one of my horsey magazines and start reading and that does the trick I have to go try what I just read. tahts my way of getting over the blahs. lonelioness67@yahoo.com

  27. On those days when I just feel like staying home wrapped in a blanket on the the couch instead of getting off my butt and driving to the barn, I remind myself that it will totally be worth it when its all said and done. I will not regret spending time with my horse. Even if I am just grooming him, mucking the pasture, or doing some lounging in the ring, just getting to the barn is an accomplishment that gets me excited to do more and get back in the saddle.

  28. I never get bored or lack enthusiasum because I am doing Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I don’t just ride, I play with my horses on the ground, either on line or at Liberty, and it is fasinating what we do together as partners. My relationship with my horses goes beyond that of traditional training which I was brought up on. After 25 years of “Normal training” I found Parelli, and this is the best thing ever. I can ride without a bridle, and “Play” with my horses. The joy I get from my horses running to me and wanting to play, makes me count the hours until I can go and be with them. Riding is only one very small part of owning a horse, I get more joy just being around them, especially when they want to be with you, and want to perform for you. Check out Karen Rolfe at dressage naturally also, and watch her perform Piaffe and Canter Piroutes Bareback and Bridless, she is brilliant. She learned Parelli after years of being a Grand Prix teacher and now combines the two. How can one get bored with this type of training? Even when the weather is bad, I will hang out with my horses in the barn, and play friendly games with them.

  29. Motivation,everyday I get up and say another day at the barn, I have my coffee, breakfast,shower, dress and put my boots on and sit down. Motivation gone,then I think about my new horse that I just rescued from the slaughter house and say to myself ” she needs me ” and off I go. I ride a three-wheeler ATV 1/2 mile to the barn in all weather to get to my horse, motivation , I do my chores , water the whole barn ( 15 horses ) muck stalls and finally my horse. ( motivation ) I lunge her everyday to build her up and brush her and give her all the love and training I can till she is ready to finally ride . ( motivation ) I can not wait to get into the saddle for the first time, I know it is going to be special what with all the respect I have earned and all the bonding we are doing. Everyday I do not feel like doing a thing but when I think of my horse. MOTIVATION

  30. Hi,
    Just like some of the other comments, I too donot feel motivated or energetic. But once I get to the barn, and I see those big loving eyes greeting me and a nicker, I’m always glad I went. Sometimes I donot ride, but clean the stall, get food, and water taken care of, then exercise him around the arena. We still have fun and then I brush him and he is pretty contented. I sometimes donot know what I would do without him. I’ve had him since he was a newborn foal.

  31. This all happened about a year or two back. I was just learning how to canter after trotting for a long time. The teacher thought it would be best to start me out on a lunge line for this. We were in the arena next to all the jumps and the horse seemed to get ticked off by going that near into the jumps. So when we finially got near the huge jump, the horse bucked and I flew. After that I felt like it was all my fault and I could never become a good rider. But then I thought to myself “why am I being so stupid? It was just a fall!” Then after my wrist healed from the fracture, I got back on and learned how to canter. Now I am able to happily canter around OUTSIDE.

  32. Sometimes I’ve just had a rough week or couple of days, and I’m tired and/or sore, and I don’t really want to go out to the barn and ride. But I find if I just make myself do it, go out and work on his stall for a while, maybe ride but even just brush him out, I feel so much better. I turn the ringer on my phone off and sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I’ll even just get on and we’ll walk around. Horsey kisses make everything better!

  33. For me…I have a pair of ‘lucky boots.’ An old pair of beat-up Justin cowboy boots…cracking leather and run-down heels. But for some reason, when I pull on those boots, the desire to ride rises in me. So, when I don’t feel like riding, I put on my lucky ‘magic’ boots and head to the barn thinking I’ll groom and hug, and just be with my horse. But when I get there, suddenly – like ‘magic’ – I’m throwing the saddle up, and before I know it, climbing aboard and we are off together riding.

  34. For me, my father impressed upon me the reality that enthusiasm is an emotion, and whether you feel it or not, it is always there. I take great comfort in that fact, because I don’t like to feel as if something I enjoy has ‘lost’ that joy. To be enthusiastic and motivated is a decision you have to make with yourself. It is not a big hyped thing ‘motivation’, but it is as simple as deciding to have a cup of delicious coffee at that moment. I hate it when it does happen, but I have learned the only bad part of losing your enthusiasm is the mental attacks that seems to bombard your confidence of your pursuit of being an equestrian. So what I’d do thru the tough time is anything I could to keep me encouraged that I ‘am’ a equestrian.

  35. I am a professional horse trainer who works with many individuals of varying levels of ‘horse passion’. I frequently find many horse owners need help in identifying smaller specific steps to accomplish on the path toward their larger goals. Seeing and feeling more frequent successes goes a long way in helping the level of motivation it takes for getting oneself to the barn consistently.

  36. I bought a weanling filly in july of 2011, sold my riding horse. I had nothing to ride. I was terribly bummed that i wasn’t riding several times in the last two years. I was not motivated on numerous occasions to go to the barn and spend time, when I knew I wouldn’t be getting in the saddle yet again. on those days I just kept telling myself that “you have a baby that needs attention no matter how much you don’t want to go, she will be a better horse if I just spend the time I would have been with a riding horse with the filly!” Almost two years later I have a wonderful well mannered ready to start riding filly that is the fruits of my labor. I couldn’t be happier!

  37. I am working through one right now! I would say the best thing to do is to just tell yourself it’s for the good of the horse, even if you don’t want to. Whether we like it or not, our equine friends require exercise, so somebody’s got to do it! On especially lazy days I either lunge my horses, or give them “spa” days and do a good grooming session!

  38. from Thanksgiving until Jan 1st my non-horsey but very wonderful husband has the Christmas lights set to come on from 6:30am until 7:30am when I am out in the barn doing morning chores. No matter how cold and dreary it is looking at the lights and knowing the beasts are waiting to greet me is all the motivation I need. Now January and February are a whole different story.

  39. Every day that it’s below 50 degrees I find myself in a battle of self conflict! Still, I ride 6 to 7 days a week and I’m kind of rider you’ll see out in the rain with a poncho on, or trotting through the snow in freezing temperatures. All that keeps me going in the winter (other than my insulated riding gear and the perpetual thought of a steaming mug of hot chocolate waiting for me back at the house after my ride is done) is my love of horses and riding. If I don’t ride, I shut down and spend my day laying around in a daze.

  40. I’m going through this right now, the weather really puts a tole on my attitude towards wanting to get in the saddle…I don’t have a nice barn or a round pen/arena to work in like some people. I do try to do somthing with my horses as much as possible (grooming, walking, and having them walk over poles/boards, and push/ pull things) durning winter weather so that by spring when I get to working them on the ragular basis and taking then places they don’t act like wild mustangs.

  41. I have just been through something like that and i really didn’t feel like riding. My horse was being stubborn, i didn’t have proper gloves, so my fingers were freezing all the time, and it just wasn’t enjoyable. So i took a break for a while. I took a break long enough so that when i went out to my horse, i kind of hungered to be out with my horse more. So then I was excited to ride. I would get frustrated when my horse wouldn’t to move, or he refused a jump. Then if he wasn’t cooperating, i would try something new for a while. I would try teaching him pole bending, or do some dressage moves. Then i would go back to the thing i was working on and he would be better at it then before. I am sure that there is a better way of doing it, but this is what worked for me.

  42. Last year I entered my first hunter show with my very experienced friend. I ended up not placing in any ribbons, but my friend placed in a few. Once I got home I felt like a bad rider. I almost ended not going to my lesson until my sister said this to me, Even if you feel like a bad rider the only way you will get better is if you keep trying. With that message in my head I ended up learning from my mistakes and winning first place at my next show!

  43. Some nights I feel too tired to go to the barn but I make myself do it anyways. If I’ve had a rough day, my horse helps me. However, I once lost motivation when our barn did demos when a stock show came to town. My plan was to ride my horse in a bridle but have a string around his neck and occasionally drop the reins and just steer him with the string. But when the demo actually happened, I didn’t use the string as much. On our last demo, my barn friend came up and said “Why don’t you use the string as much as you practiced?” I replied that I didn’t know how well he’d do and if he would listen, basically just making excuses. She said, “Don’t be chicken, he can do it and you know he can do it. Even if he doesn’t, no one will know except you.” I agreed that I would use the string more and when came our demo, my horse did great! He listened very well even though we were in front of a lot of people. Sometimes it takes barn friends who really understand riding to give you the motivation and encouragement you need.

  44. To tell the truth, I have never let anything change my motivation of wanting to go visit my horse. No matter what, I want to. Every time you go to visit your horse, you don’t have to ride. Lots of times I enjoy just catching my horse and grooming her, leading her around, and teaching her ground work. Otherwise, switch things up when you ride, try something new, ride bareback, don’t worry about working on show stuff or special arena work, just have fun. Think of this, what if you didn’t have a horse? Then everyday you would wish you did, let that be your motivation to go out and ride. Doing something different can lighten up your mood and make things fun, plus your horse will be happy for a change!

  45. I grew up riding and when I turned 16, I wasn’t as into it anymore. I think my life was just over-saturated with horses. I stopped taking lessons to work at a Renaissance Festival. Nine years later, I walked into a tack store with a member of my sideshow troupe and the smell of the leather and the sight of all the horse stuff threw me back in time and I realized that horses were the one thing that made me happy. Then this past year, I found a polo team in my neighborhood and they took me in as a groom. I’ve been at the barn multiple days a week since then and it takes a lot to keep me away. A nine year break from the barn was way too long.

  46. A few months ago a horse that I was very attached to was sold. He ended up leaving the barn on my birthday. After that I considered taking a break from riding becuase I was so heartbroken. I never wanted to go to the barn. I was training a green horse though, so I knew I had to go and work with her. She was the only thing making me go to the barn, but it is still hard without him.

  47. When I find that I don’t want to go out and ride I always think of the Rodeo Bible Camp that I go to every year. I always think that the one less day I ride means the less chance of showing that I have improved in my riding and that my horse has improved in his training. I really find it hard to head out in 10 deg weather the only thing that gets me out there is the thought that my horse is stuck outside and doesn’t get to be in a heated barn all day, and that he just has his coat. So I bundle up in coats and go out and do light exercise just to warm us up a bit.

  48. You don’t have to ride every time you go to the barn. On days where I don’t want to ride I just hang out with my horses. It is super relaxing for both of us and makes us bond even more.

  49. When I find I have no interest in dull arena work as a part of my day, I plan a more interesting horse related outing. Such as a trail ride to somewhere I’ve never gone before or a trail I haven’t ridden recently. If I find I’ve no interest in getting in the saddle anywhere I’ll enjoy some quiet time together with my horse and maybe sketch out my budget and plans for something new for the barn like automatic waterers for example, so that when I do feel like riding again I’ll have plenty of time without work to do so.

  50. Whenever I start feeling like I don’t want to ride, I think about why I am actually riding. For the fun. For the companionship! For the joy of being with an animal that enjoys working with me and loves me. I’m able to renew my enthusiasm for riding and have a fantastic ride with my horse.

  51. Whenever I don’t feel like riding, I tell myself that I will regret not going. Once, I mount I know I made the right chose to ride and after my ride I’m so glad I decided to ride.

  52. I always tell myself I’ll regret it if I don’t ride! Once I’m on, I wonder why I ever hesitated:) I also remember why I even wanted a horse, and started riding! I also make a goal, and once I’ve made it, I usually don’t want to get off. So that works pretty good!

  53. Sometimes I think to myself I’m not a good rider. So sometimes don’t feel like riding. I fell off my horse two times. So sometimes I’m scared I’m going to fall off again. But I put that memory in the back of my head. But I ask myself why do I ride. I ride because I enjoy riding. So if you are scared to ride just think if you fall you fall get back on because your doing what makes you happy.

  54. Sometimes I think to myself I’m not a good rider. So sometimes don’t feel like riding. I fell off my horse two times. So sometimes I’m scared I’m going to fall off again. But I put that memory in the back of my head. But I ask myself why do I ride. I ride because I enjoy riding. So if you are scared to ride just think if you fall you fall get back on because your doing what makes you happy.

  55. When I started riding I fell off my horse two times and ever since that I have been scared that I will fall off again. But I put that memory in the back of m head. I ask myself why do I ride. I ride because I enjoy riding. So if you fell off just say if I fall I fall and get right back up on that horse. I know you can do that because you got to try your best and if you try your best then be proud of yourself.

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