I’m an overachiever. I strive for excellence. The harder something is, the harder I try. It’s in my nature.
My younger sister, who takes a much more lighthearted attitude towards life, gave me some advice years ago. She said, “Imagine that you grabbed a handful of sand…you wanted to keep it so badly that you kept squeezing your hand tighter. All the sand would disappear.”
I try to follow her counsel, in life and with horses. I have to admit, it’s easier with horses, because I can do for them what I can’t do for myself.
It can be difficult to draw the line. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more and there’s nothing wrong with striving, but there is something wrong with forcing. Especially with horses.
As prey animals, horses are quite willing, in general, to be forced. Some very generous souls will give their best, regardless. Some will resign themselves to giving what is demanded and nothing more. Some will resent or fear or withdraw or shutdown or even become aggressive. Which defeats the purpose.
How many times have you seen riders squeezing the sand right out of their hands when they’re with their horses? Forgetting to reward the try? Forgetting to release and reward?
If you’ve rarely seen it, get thee to a dressage barn and watch riders work on shoulder in. It’s a movement that is relatively easy for the horse (yes, it gets better with suppleness and gymnastic development, but horses who can bend around a corner can bend for a shoulder in). The riders contort; the horses confuse. And the more difficult it becomes for the horse, the harder the riders try. Once they let go and allow the movement, it falls into place.
So hold that sand gently in your hand when you’re with your horse, and trust in time. Especially if you’re schooling shoulder in.