They may make you want to tear your hair out, but difficult horses actually deserve your thanks.
The horse that spooks at invisible monsters; the runaway, the bucker, the fusser, the one that's just really, really good at evading the bit. These are all equines that have understandably earned for themselves the label "difficult."
Whether you take on these horses by choice or out of necessity because a difficult horse is the only one you have to work with, there are actually a lot of perks to riding and working with one of these equine challengers.
Here are five of the reasons they deserve your thanks.
They teach you how to really ride.
You may have been riding since you were five, but when you meet a difficult horse, you'll quickly realize how little you know. You'll probably dismount after your first ride feeling like a complete and utter failure. How did you never notice before that you actually know nothing? Not a single thing.
The difficult horse tests your riding skills in an entirely new way, because unlike their "push-button" counterparts, sometimes even if you do it right they do it wrong. Because you weren't doing it as deeply as you could have been. Because you didn't want it badly enough. Because, though your physical aids were flawless, your mind wasn't entirely centered. Or -- best of all -- sometimes for no reason at all.
You will come away from a difficult horse with an entirely new perspective on what it really means to be a good rider.
They teach you about yourself.
There are countless books written on self-awareness and self-reflection, but the best instructor on both these topics is a difficult horse.
Difficult horses are almost always sensitive creatures, and to successfully ride and work around them you have to learn to evaluate your own moods, fears, and preconceptions. If you approach a difficult horse in anger, fear, or anxiety, like any horse, they will pick up on it immediately, but unlike more forgiving types, they will have no qualms in using it against you.
Approaching a difficult horse while harboring any of these negative emotions is a recipe for disaster, so when you're working with a difficult horse, you become a master of self-awareness, out of nothing less than self-preservation.
They never let you rest on your laurels.
No matter how much you care about something, it's easy to get lazy about your art or craft, and riding is no exception.
When you have an easy horse, you can often get away with this, but a difficult horse keeps you on your toes constantly. If you let your reins get the tiniest bit too long, your cues the slightest bit sloppy, or let your mind drift for the briefest second, you may find yourself in a place you don't want to be -- in the dirt.
For better or worse, difficult horses keep you sharp.
They prepare you for future horses.
When you're working with a difficult horse, it's natural to sometimes long for an easier mount, and daydream about a future horse ... the one you won't have to worry about spinning and balking and pulling at the bit. But pause on that future horse for a moment, or any other horse really.
There is a smugness that comes from knowing that if you can ride your own horse you can ride almost anything else that is sent your way. And since your difficult horse spends his days waging war on your self-esteem by not just knocking you down a peg or two, but swiping you off the pegs completely and down to the hard, merciless floor, that's a comforting thought to have.
They make other tasks look easy.
Equestrians know that riding a horse -- any horse -- is hard. Successfully riding a difficult horse is, well, just shy of a miracle on certain days.
But that's the beauty of difficult horses: if you can get a 1,200-pound animal harboring centuries of natural flight instinct to trot past a certain terrifying flag pole, what can't you do? Somehow it makes the rest of life's tasks look less intimidating, and you have your difficult horse to thank for that.
Difficult horses teach confidence, patience, and self-awareness in a way that elevates us and makes us not only better equestrians but stronger, better people. So go out and thank your difficult horse ... just don't go overboard and give them a big head. They probably don't need any help!
Have you ever worked with a difficult horse? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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