The horseman’s journey plays out in two dimensions, the mental and the physical. I normally help folks with the mental dimension, with understanding the nature of the horse and how they can use that nature to reach their goals in safe, effective, and moral ways. There’s lots of meat there and I can talk for days about that. On the other hand, the main suggestion I have for success in the physical dimension is incredibly simple: Ride more. That’s it. Just get on a horse and ride. Anytime, anywhere, for any purpose, and on any horse. While you’re at it, forget the old saw, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” This just begs the brain to get in the way. I find that most people who want to improve their riding are not seeking perfection; they’re seeking greater enjoyment of their riding.

One activity I’ve found that is practical, fun, and perfect for getting your brain out of the way is leading (ponying) one horse while riding another. I did a fair amount of this a few years back with our baby, Sarah. She had a lot of energy, which took a lot of my attention. Sometimes she got out in front of us on the trail. Candy and I would canter along behind her for minutes on end like a skier following a ski boat. What I remember most fondly about that experience is how free I felt, unencumbered by any worry about riding correctly. Yet my riding improved. Lately, I’ve been doing something similar when I walk our mares in the neighborhood. We keep the speed down to a walk or trot and I vary which horse I ride. Oh yes, I’m doing it bareback, which has dramatically improved my confidence about riding without a saddle. Before ponying, my brain had me firmly convinced that I didn’t belong on a horse’s bare back. Sometimes thinking is overrated.

Photo of Marty Marten by Jennifer Denniston for Western Horseman