Katrin Silva grew up riding dressage in Germany before moving to the United States at age 19 to learn to ride Western. She’s been riding both disciplines for the last twenty years.
Silva has competed successfully through fourth level dressage on quarter horses, Morgans, Arabians, Hanoverians, and many other breeds. Based in New Mexico, she enjoys improving horse-rider partnerships and believes that good riding is always good riding, no matter which type of tack a horse is wearing. Check out her blog here.
By Katrin Silva
How do horses transform all of us into better versions of ourselves? Let me count the ways:
1. They listen without judgment.
Horses were my therapy as a teenager. The barn became my refuge from adults who did not understand me. I was a loner at school, a social misfit with anxiety issues and a mouth full of braces. I felt awkward and uncomfortable until I rode my bicycle to the local stable every day after school. There, I exchanged barn chores for riding lessons.
What I got in return for shoveling manure was much more than a decent seat.
The horses never criticized, never disapproved. The horses never laughed about me. They did not care about my looks or my clothes or my grades. Their eyes were always soft, their gazes benign. Their sleek necks mopped up tears. They kept me and my friends out of all sorts of trouble.
Still today, horses are therapeutic. The sound of a horse munching hay and the softness of a horse’s muzzle in my hand diffuses everyday worries and reminds me of what really matters
2. They make us more assertive.
My after-school time at the barn also helped me become more self-assured. Horses teach us to be consistent and firm. They don’t respond well to tentative or mixed messages.
Many of the horses I rode had security issues, just like me. I learned to project a confidence I didn’t feel at first. But I knew the horses needed me. Over time, confidence took root and became a part of me.
I still struggle with insecurities, but I’m learning to apply the skills I have learned from my equine friends to real-life situations.
3. They keep us moving.
All the time we spend feeding, mucking, grooming, and riding is less time planted on our rear ends. My husband likes to say that both of us sit all day – he, in his office chair, and me, in the saddle. I love him dearly, but he is not a horseman. Otherwise, he’d understand that riding a horse engages the core muscles like few other activities.
Becoming a true athlete takes cardio and targeted strength training, too. But riding and barn chores alone are much better than a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting a big working trot is not the same as sitting on a sofa.
4. They help us develop a sensible work ethic.
Horses thrive on consistency. Training horses involves physical and mental conditioning with a regular schedule. Not working a horse during the week and then all day on a Sunday probably won’t make your horse a better athlete.
While horses don’t let us get lazy, they also keep us from becoming total workaholics. They teach us that more is not always better. Working a horse for hours and hours without stopping creates resistance, not results.
From being around horses, I have learned:
- Breaks are necessary
- A little bit of progress deserves praise
- Quitting early on a good note beats grinding out a another 20 repetitions of the same exercise
These are all valuable lessons for finding work-life balance.
5. They keep us humble.
Horses weigh ten times more than we do (a fact that becomes obvious every time they step on a foot). They are powerful creatures. Most horses tolerate most riders most of the time, so it’s easy to forget they don’t have to.
Sometimes, horses do unexpected things at unexpected times. They buck, kick, spook, run off, or otherwise remind us not take riding privileges for granted. Horses teach us that there’s always more to learn.
I’ve worked with hundreds of horses over the past quarter-century and spent years as an assistant trainer before hanging out my shingle. I’ve taken countless lessons from several instructors. I’ve learned something from every horse and every human, yet there’s no end in sight. Some days, I feel like a beginner.
6. They calm us down.
Horses master the art of mindfulness without even trying. They live moment to moment because that’s how their brains function. They don’t have a developed prefrontal cortex, which means they can’t analyze or ruminate. They never stress about things that haven’t happened yet or regret what they’ve done in the past.
Being with a horse brings me to the here and now. I don’t look at my phone when riding. Constant two-way communication takes up all my head space, crowding out negative thoughts and pointless mental chatter. Riding makes me appreciate the present moment more than any guided meditation ever could.
Horses are my Zen masters, my life coaches, my therapists. Horses help me find serenity in a frazzled world. They build more confidence than a dozen self-help books. They keep me sane. They keep things in perspective. Thank you, every horse I’ve ever met, for all you’ve done for me – it’s more than I can ever pay back.