Riding is a symbiotic relationship
Maybe you already realize this, maybe you feel it but haven't ever put it in those exact words or maybe you are entirely new to the concept or to riding itself. However you experience it or whatever you choose to call it, it is important to recognize the fundamental importance of symbiosis with your horse. I would like to share with you some of what I have learned over the years through my own experiences and insights others have shared with me. Honestly, entire books could be written (and probably have been) on each of the topics I touch on below. For now, I'm simply going to touch on some of the basics you'll want to consider.
Horses aren't therapists... they're friends
Spending time with our horse can be a wonderful way to relax, release stress, anger, frustration and other difficult emotions and there is nothing wrong with that. Horses are wonderful listeners and offer unconditional love and this can be very healing. However, riding in an angry or highly agitated and emotional state can be dangerous or at the very least unpleasant for both horse and rider. In such a state it is easier to take our emotions out on the horse without even realizing it, or we may simply misread what our horse is doing or trying to communicate, leading to even more frustration and irritation -- on both sides of the saddle.
Does this mean we shouldn't ever ride in an emotional state or after a hard day at work or school or wherever we've been? Not necessarily. It means that we need to remember these three things: 1. Horses are sensitive to our emotional and mental state as well as our physical one. 2. However we are feeling, it is not the horse's fault. 3. When we ride it is our responsibility to make sure both horse and rider are safe. It means we need to pause and take stock of ourselves before climbing into the saddle. It means we need to be mindful.
We are athletes and so are our horses
Just as important as our mental and emotional state is our physical state when we ride. Our physical state has a direct effect on our horse's performance, just as our horse's physical state effects ours. Riding is about flow and balance and the state of our health impacts both. If we are injured or stiff or our movement is impaired in some way, our balance is likely to be off and this can disrupt our horse's balance as well. Similarly, if we are tired or spacey due to lack of sleep or nutrition our riding can become week or sloppy which increases the risk of injury and can be downright confusing and disconcerting to our horse, who is used to being ridden with more purpose and clearer guidance.
Any rider worth their salt cares about the health and fitness of their horse. We make sure they get nutritious food and plenty of water. We watch them for signs of strain or injury and see that they get proper treatment should problems arise. We groom them and we love them. Shouldn't we do the same for ourselves?