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Frustration…we all feel it when things don’t go the way that we think they should, when we feel that our requests are not being met, when we fail to master a task. Frustration in any form is irritating and generally a bother, but what we do in the face of frustration is what defines our character.

It separates those with passion, determination and drive from those who expect to get what they want when they want it purely on desire. This is true in life and it is true in saddle seat riding.

My daughter, Allison, aboard Chief at JD Massey.My daughter, Allison, aboard Chief at JD Massey.Do I know this because I ride? No I do not. I am the mother of a horse loving kid. She has loved horses from her first ride, and she currently can be proud of a successful Academy career. Does this success include many blue ribbon rides? Yes, it does. It also includes many rides that didn’t go as planned, many shows where no ribbon was awarded and even more rides and lessons during which she and the horse she was riding had a failure to communicate. This led to frustration for both parties, resulted in tears for my daughter and the horse’s desire to “relocate her forcefully.”

Was the horse in the wrong here? Nope. My daughter assumed on these occasions that because she could ride one horse, she could ride them all. This theory is sadly not true. These animals that we all love are as individual as a fingerprint. They often get labels in this business. We have all heard the terms: bombproof, push button pony, 1200-pound babysitter. These are the “good” horses. Then you have the negative: he’s game, hot and cold, not “kid friendly.”

As a parent there are times when it is so easy to want my daughter to ride the horses that are loved for their proven and steady ways. Then I look at my child at her most frustrated moment and watch her try over and over with an animal to form a line of communication. I like to watch her determination and drive to overcome the barriers and advance her skills and ability. She shows her character and mettle in her refusal to give up by asking for that canter again and again, in different ways, until finally her horse accepts the command as part of his known language. The relief in both of their body language is evident. They are proud and they are connected; they are a team.

Allison at a Winter Tournament in Yadkinville, North Carolina this past February.Allison at a Winter Tournament in Yadkinville, North Carolina this past February.That’s not to say that this is the case every time. Just like human relationships the relationship between horse and rider doesn’t always result in a friendship. There are a number of horses that my daughter has preferred not to ride, and a number of them who have preferred she not ride them. As a mom I have learned to let my daughter’s trainer sort out these partnerships. I am not a trainer. Most parents whose kids ride horses are not trainers. Many are like me, with no experience with horses, some are former riders or grew up around horses. But if your child is riding Saddlebred horses in a riding program, chances are YOU are not a trainer or you would train your child yourself. Trust your trainer. They know the horses, and your child’s success is their success.

Expect and appreciate frustration in your child as they grow in their riding. No one said it would be easy, but it can be worth it. Step away from your parenting mode – as my daughter’s trainer tells me, “Go sit in the Mama Box.” It is not a condescending, dismissive or offensive comment, but it does remind me why we are in her barn. Kids today have so much instant gratification. Everything moves so much faster. There is so much concern for everyone’s “feelings.” That is all well and good, but the horses didn’t get the memo. They are grand creatures with hearts and souls that make us all better people. At the end of the day they are still independent in their thoughts and actions. They only know how to respond to requests as they have been trained, so if your child is not speaking their language, step back and let your trainer teach them to communicate.

Demanding a new horse may make you happy and make things easier for your child, but in the long run you will end up with an adult who expects the world to adjust to their demands. On top of that, I assure you that your child’s career in riding will be short lived at best. Let the frustration build their character and determination guide their learning. Success is so much sweeter when earned, not given.  

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