Why I stopped riding horses

One of the participants currently doing our online course- Rewilding with my Horse recently asked everyone in the group whether they were still riding or not or whether they were considering giving it up as she is.
I decided to share my journey as to why I no longer ride horses and why I prefer just being with them from the ground. 
The course isn't necessarily about not riding but this has been part of my journey to rewilding with my horses. 

After my 18 month old colt died from an anaphylactic shock to penicillin whilst being treated for symptoms of Strangles- a highly contagious upper respiratory tract infection, life with horses changed for me. Jake, my colt, had been born to my beautiful mare Ebony and so we had known each other from day one and he meant the world to me. Previous to his death I had great hopes for us riding and competing in showjumping together when he was older which was a passion of mine.

The experience of losing Jake was very traumatic and left scars, scars that would change my whole perspective on horses over time….

Gradually I started to explore working with horses in a different way, initially through rehabilitation work with them and then in the way I do now at Intuitive Horse. This process led to me starting to see them differently….

Spending time with them just hanging out in the arena with no agenda was weird at first but would feel liberating in some ways also because I didn’t have to get the horse ready and tacked up, we could just go and hang out.
The horse was loose and we both just did as we pleased in the space. I had to let go of controlling their every move and I observed how with each of my horses I did this with; they would take their time to move around the space. At first I think they were as lost I was, their conditioning was so deep they had come to expect that something would happen when they stepped into this space be it ridden or lunged.

Over time as I was riding less and less I saw they were more confident moving around the space, rolling, lying down, sleeping, what ever their mood was and I enjoyed this to. It was a time to relax and I would come away feeling closer to them than if we had been riding.

As I reflect on this I think it is because I wasn’t making any demands on them and therefore they could meet me in the space and we could have more of an equal exchange.

This progressed to me spending time out in the fields with them, again interacting, sitting and lying down with them. Others would ride by near the field and be baffled by me lying on the floor with the horses, especially later on when I started taking clients out to the herd to do this with me.
At first I was very self-conscious of what other riders would be saying because that just isn’t what you normally do with your horse but the desire was stronger than the inner critic.

The final decision to give up riding was hard because I was playing an old pattern of belief in my head around what others would say if I stopped riding like, won’t your horse be bored or what a waste of a horse not being ridden or when are you going to get your horse going again….

The progression to not riding took me a few years and was a gradual shift from riding in tack to riding bare back and teaching others how to ride bare back to riding tack-less.
This journey was interesting because to be able to ride tack-less and do it in a way that allowed the horse their voice rather than being so highly trained they wouldn’t know how to put a foot wrong if they tried, I had to learn how to trust myself as well as the horse. This is something I realised I didn’t have to fully commit to and work on when riding with tack as I was relying on the bit to control the horse and the saddle to give me better balance.
Riding tack-less I was stripped bare of all control as I knew it and this was my biggest challenge personally. I will share the story of the horse I went on the journey with this with in a separate post as it is too long to write about it here.
What I will say though is once I had gone through that I realised I had just as much pleasure with horses from the ground, in fact I had more.

I explored taking the tack up to the horses in their stables and in an open space and their reactions were consistent. When I really paid attention, they were showing signs of resistance, sometimes obvious and sometimes much more subtle. I realised if they had the choice they didn’t really want anyone on their backs, they just wanted to be a horse…. Giving them their voice in this way meant I had to listen, I couldn’t deny the signals they were showing me.
This was part of my rewilding journey with them. I had to listen to myself and the horses. I thought I understood horses but realise I wasn’t listening to myself let alone them even though all my intentions were well meant.

This dramatic change in my relationship with horses snowballed in to many areas of our relationship making me question everything I was doing with them....

If this has resonated with you in some way just know it is ok not to ride horses despite what everyone around you may say but what I will say is if you aren't riding does your horse have a stimulating environment to live in? If they are stabled 23 hours a day due to no turnout then riding or walking them out will be essential but if you can find a stimulating environment for them to live in with company of others they will do just fine! 

I'd love to know if you are thinking of giving up riding or maybe you don't ride either? Please comment below and let me know where you are on your journey.

Write a comment

Comments: 3
  • #1

    Hels (Thursday, 25 July 2019 11:56)

    I was really interested to read your post. Basically I've been riding for over 30 years, with breaks here and there. I was never a fearless, competitive rider, but happy to canter, gallop and jump etc. I suffered a major loss of confidence in my mid-20s, and 15 years later have never really got it back. I always expect the worse on every ride even though my guy is very good and steady. Also, the more stressful life is, the more nervous I get. I feel like I'm taking all of my stress out on my horse just by being so tense when I ride him. When I ride out we'll get to a certain point and he'll nap a bit for his friends and I ask myself who exactly we're doing it for. If neither of us really want to do it, what's the point? He's 22 and has a bit of a sway back and I wonder how long it will be comfortable for him anyway.
    The thing is, I love the sound of this rewilding thing, but with 1 acre for 1 large pony and 2 little ones, one with severe sweet itch, a field surrounded by sycamores, in an area at high risk of grass sickness, can you do it if you have to stable them for some of the time, e.g. overnight? I'd love them to live out 24/7 and I have tried it, but if I give them enough space there is too much grass (one laminitic and cushingoid), if I don't give them enough there is too much mud. The sweet itch one is desperate to come in in the evening and they shout for each other if one is in and the others are out :-(

  • #2

    Emma Ross (Friday, 26 July 2019 15:03)

    Hi, thanks for sharing a bit about your situation. I think it is positive start that you are able to recognise the more your stress levels increase, they impact your horse. Sometimes we are just riding because we think that is what we should be doing if we have a horse in our life but if you aren’t fully enjoying it, is your horse?? It is ok not to ride but then we do need to consider how to keep them stimulated in a more natural way.
    It sounds like you may have a few challenges with your environment; my suggestions would be to look into paddock paradise and equi culture for ideas for how to manage your land whilst creating an environment that is suitable to your ponies and their needs, both are helpful for this and can be achieved with one acre!!
    I would also be asking myself if there is any way I can get more land or move to an area that isn’t so high risk for them. This may not be possible but it’s worth really asking yourself if it could be even if the answer is not for another 5 years....

    Regarding sweet itch, I have come across an amazing product called Camrosa which I have been using this year for my Shetland who gets sweet itch really bad and it has done her wonders-we still have a tail!

    Rewilding isn’t just about the environment it is also about a change in mindset and exploring ways to build your relationship with your ponies based on their natural needs. Our online course takes you on a journey to explore all the above, if you join the course you get to join our private fb group where you can ask me and other participants questions as well as share your rewilding journey. Wishing you all the best with your ponies! Best wishes Emma

  • #3

    Tessa (Tuesday, 24 November 2020 00:47)

    Hello! I appreciate you sharing that horses can be a part of your life without riding them!
    I got bucked off a school horse over a year ago. I still struggle with post-concussion vertigo and it limits my ability to go for walks, runs, and backpack. I have lost a lot of physical strength because of this issue and went through a lot of grief over losing my pre-concussion life. I have decided that riding is not in the foreseeable future for me because I know I can't handle another life changing injury. I still love horses and would like to adopt rescue horses some day. Your story gives me hope. Thank you!