Recently I have been talking to my student riders about not looking at their mistakes judgmentally. When I speak to them I talk about what that means. They go to horse shows to be judged by judges. So the word judge is not necessarily bad, is it? No, it isn’t as the meaning of the verb to judge is ‘to form an opinion about something after careful thought? ( With this definition, if careful thought is used, then judging something is okay. That is, if it is done with an open, unbiased mind. But the word judgmental has a different meaning. Its meaning is ‘tending to judge people too quickly and critically. (

Being judgmental of themselves is very common to riders. When making a mistake or having some struggles, riders often quickly get stuck in the blame for what is happening. Yes, they may be doing something that is causing their problems. Thoughtful analysis of what is happening (judging the situation) is perfectly fine. That enables a rider to make an informed response in order to change what is happening. But being judgmental keeps a rider stuck in their struggle, causing reactive actions that often make their problems worse.

When training a rider, sometimes just giving permission to do something without judgment can produce amazing results. We often are judgmental of ourselves due to past experiences when others have stood in judgment of us. So when that permission is given out loud the rider may let go of their judgment of themselves and come back to the moment and find feeling in their ride. This just happened recently in a lesson I gave. It was a group lesson and the riders were individually working on a relaxed canter circle. I was using visualization to help them relax. I asked them to just ride like they were on a fun trail ride on a very quiet horse. All they had to do was enjoy the ride. This worked beautifully with all the riders but one. I looked at her when she was cantering and saw how tense she was and felt her judging herself. I asked her to let go of that judgment and instantly the horse’s canter changed from short and quick to long and relaxed. It was pretty amazing how being judgmental affected her ride and how giving her permission to let it go changed the whole experience for her and the horse.

Often it is hard to stop being judgmental when riding as riders get caught in a cycle of judging and reacting when they are on the horse. That is why it is important to do some good work when off the horse. Some form of quiet, honest inward reflection is necessary to understand when you become judgmental and why. Practicing being nonjudgmental of oneself when off a horse can help carry over to your riding. Meditation and mindful living are wonderful practices to learn in order to gain better self-awareness and self-control in many areas of your life including while riding. Meditation doesn’t have to be long or formal. You can spend five minutes just quietly focusing on your breath as a start. A quiet walk in nature is a form of meditation and mindfulness. Learning to just be in the moment, right now, not worrying about what has happened in the past or fretting about what may happen in the future can help free you from being such a harsh judge of yourself. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and to let go of trying to control everything you do. Your riding and your life will be so much better for it!

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